The 20–20 Pandemic Vision
Location: An auditorium
In the beginning…
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls. Ten years ago, in 2020, when many of you were still at school, the world stood as a pandemic was declared by the World Health Organisation in March. COVID19 was first declared an epidemic when it started in Wuhan in China and it spread around South East Asia during Chinese New Year in February. Wet markets and the consumption of certain animal species were declared as the main culprit and China declared a state of emergency by locking down its main cities. For the rest of the world, a rather cavalier attitude was adopted as naively most of felt it was similar to the SARS outbreak of 2003 which was successfully controlled. Often we were told ‘You are safe in the West’. It was business travel as normal, financial centres were thriving and no one thought of closing borders or restrict travels from East to West or vice versa. That until the world watched cases and casualties rise in Italy and Spain. A frenzy built in the air as people felt the need to stock up on food and toilet paper! One by one, European countries started closing their borders and only essential shops were open whilst hospitals struggled with medical equipment. Countries were in lockdown once the pandemic was officially declared and finally, the U.K. decided to adopt ‘Social Distancing’ and stricter measures to ‘flatten the curve’. That is when you as children paid close attention to what was happening. You watched your parents running in circles, to make sure that you were mostly well equipped with remote learning, and google classroom became the norm. The world just stopped. Your parents worked from home and you were home-schooled and shielded from your friends and non-household family members. By the time the pandemic reached a crisis point in the U.S.A., the world was aghast. Many states had actioned lockdowns in early March and yet, hospitals were reported to be underequipped in some parts of the country. Social unrest crept in and parts of the country went up in flames. In some other parts of the world, such as some city-states major social malpractices were reported as the true extent of the ill-treatment of poor migrant workers was exposed as the virus spread amongst them.
Theories and opening up…
In hindsight, this inconvenience of lockdown brought some order as no one felt the need to queue up for toilet paper, there were no crowds in supermarkets and the pace had slowed down. However, guidelines were loose as nobody could quite tell us whether we were meant to keep 2 metres apart or 1 metre apart. In some cases, 8 metres were suggested! We were told to wipe everything and literally sanitise our shopping as soon as we got home. 20-second handwashing and eternal hand sanitising became second nature. What was first considered as a virus that would spread by contact, was then hypothesised to be in fact airborne and that the wearing of masks could reduce the spread. Even that, is not quite clear as COVID19 was detected in sewage waters in Milan and Turin in 2019, well before the outbreak of the disease. So it appeared to be also water-borne. Additionally, with the destruction of the habitats of some animals such as bats, the otherwise benign virus needed a new host. That became us, and of course, it was not so benign for human beings.
It was reported that the virus had multiple medical implications, including causing strokes in otherwise healthy people to impacting the brain. The extent of the illness was also considered to be dependent on blood groups, and but in truth, nobody truly knew. Medical staff nobly dealt with the contagion, whilst many sadly lost their lives. The hospital use of ventilators was also questioned as many patients did better under non-invasive procedures. During all that time, there was a race to develop a viable vaccine and effective rapid testing kits to allow society to go about its business as normal. The question we often asked, however, was how effective would a vaccine be against a mutating virus? Strains were reported to be different in various countries and it was not concrete whether the virus behaved differently in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Conspiracists blamed COVID19 on 5G signals and there was a rise in the anti-masks and the anti-vaccine movements. In truth, we just watched helplessly as the frustration built in lockdown. The authorities would not dare talk about the economic and social ramifications as long as the curves were flattened and the number of casualties was kept down.
By the time countries opened up, protocols were still very loose. Children were slowly allowed to go back to school, non-essential shops and restaurants opened, and yet it felt like a ghost town in Central London. The British people were enticed to Eat Out to Help Out and finally in July we were told to wear masks in public transports, in shops and museums. Even members of the mask resistance movement gave in as the President of the U.S.A. donned one in public gatherings. As the summer ended and schools and universities were fully opened, as usual, the U.K. government felt the need to declare a new rule: the 6 people rule. Many students felt they were being unfairly targetted as case numbers began rising especially amongst the young and we were again told to keep granny safe. Testing kits were relatively readily available but were somewhat unreliable with wide error margins.
However, during the whole time, nobody addressed the mental impact loneliness caused, triggered by fear and anxiety of the unknown but also the rise in domestic violence and emotional abuse. We were told to go to work but stay at home, we were told to go about normal but avoid the use of public transport. The sheer number of homeless people was heart-breaking. It just felt that we navigated about life without any great plans, and as young children then, you witnessed unprecedented times. Governments felt the need to keep our optimism up with a magic vaccine whilst not perhaps not correctly reporting recovery rates (the U.K. and Spain come to mind). In the end, we all felt that herd immunity was perhaps the way forward, whilst shielding the vulnerable. In any case the vulnerable and aged would always require shielding during any viral outbreaks so why would COVID19 be any different? Protocols changed again and if we showed any symptoms we had to stay home and not even go to hospitals unless it was absolutely necessary. All in all, it felt that year 2020 was a write-off.
The aftermath: Matrix-esque and The Great Change…
I would like you to ask you a question: did you often feel like Neo, following the white rabbit as you lived in a bubble-like world. Was this all an illusion or was in the ‘New Normal’. The expressions ‘Stick to your bubble’ and ‘Social -distancing’ was on everyone’s lips and minds. However, I am quite happy to see many smiling faces this evening but I do respect that a few of you feel the need to wear your mask today. Perhaps you have a cold and do not want to spread the lurgy. But one great thing is that you no longer feel paranoid about distancing from one another, although you may no longer tolerate large crowds, or destroying your skin with hand sanitisers!! We learnt to live with wearing masks but hopefully, we dropped our personal masks, metaphorically speaking.
One great thing that came out of this is that finally plastic has been banned. Who now carries a plastic bag, a plastic bottle, and wears disposable masks. Dumping plastic wastes in remote villages or in our oceans is no longer accepted. We needed this huge wake-up call, as Mother Earth was stifled in pollution and our oceans were soiled in plastics. We were clearly heading for self-destruction as we were killing our planet and this pandemic slowly turned things around. We are now required to invest in our environment and well-being as people are encouraged to invest in sustainable farming and green energy ventures. An oil-driven economy is pretty much a thing of the past. As college students and young professionals, you have driven this force to build a sustainable world economy and hold authorities accountable for their actions. You live healthily and appreciate the need for deep human connections and meaningful relationships. You live in minimalism, you do not feel the need to hoard gazillions gadgets and shop for the sake of shopping or go on flashy holidays or drive powerful cars. Products are now finally built to last, just as it used to be once upon a time! You believe in One Earth where every being, deserves respect. Many of you seem to adhere to a shared economy: a doctor by day could be a chemistry tutor by night on Zoom and if you have a bedroom or a car to let out, you do so.
As young children, you lived through the era of remote schooling and as much as I am not championing online classrooms, many young people of limited means are now able to do their degrees, online, from world reputable institutes, and work in burgeoning industries in their own countries. Migrant workers are almost a thing of the past as the definition of economic poverty has been redefined. Techpreneurs are now choosing to be working tourists, living abroad for a year or more thus helping to build the economies of some countries that perhaps struggled in the past. You have witnessed a shift from the cheap availability of goods from the East to a rise in local manufacturing and cottage industries as well as a momentum to shift industries to some African countries. The world no longer depends on one country for manufactured goods! Technology is no longer used to replace human manpower but to assist whilst creating wealth in a sustainable manner. Some large corporations are finally paying their dues and although you question the billionaires and trillionaires systems, you accept that they are a critical contributor for wealth creation. Poverty has no longer the same meaning.
Government actions are now continuously questioned and accounted for as we started the fight against corruption and malpractices. You witnessed many of us members of the older generation taking to the streets demanding answers, and yet you have made sure that world leaders are NOW listening and working for US the people, and NOT vice versa. You have questioned a system that was failing, the fast life, and rush. Why rush anyway? Why pay a football player silly money when we can no longer attend matches in cramped and crowded stadiums. Why do we now need to squeeze in public transport in metropolises when we can perhaps work from the countryside and come into town once or twice a week. Many of you are listening to me in remote locations and abroad and the message will still be the same. The last ten years have taught us to slow down whilst reminding us how important we are to each and one another. Humanity once again came together to become stronger and if I may say wiser. As young people, I salute you for being the driving force of this self-sufficient and sharing society, where you no longer depend on the authorities but work closely to make governments and leaders work better for us all.
The beauty in this is that humanity rose together to build, not to destroy.
Finally, to the readers of this piece.…
Information reported was gathered from the press since the beginning of the COVID19. The view I have for the future is personal but hopefully, some things mentioned do become a reality.