How to live with COVID-19
There are plenty of people rooting for an end to controls on how we live under the Covid-19 Pandemic. The arguments in favour cite deaths resulting from loss of quality of life when we are locked down and not enjoying the fruits of our labours – or lack of labours. But the big argument, of course, is the economy. Recovering laboriously over many years from the last financial crisis, it has taken a bigger knock than at any time in recorded history. Getting an economy the size of the one we had, back on its feet is no mean task.
There are the prudent medics who don’t want to count body bags of victims. Up to now we have scrambled to save lives. It may be what we should have done. They would surely have been better to do that in the United States. They lost many lives unnecessarily there. Now there is talk, again, of ‘herd immunity’ even though we have no evidence that herd immunity will develop. Of course, over time – maybe a long time – and with enough deaths some people will become immune to this virus, but what about the next one? Will they be able to resist that?
The divide has been categorised as Young Vs Old, on the grounds of relative vulnerability, but it is not as simple as that. There is no perfect balance between being risk-safe on health and risk-safe on the economy. Forecasting the pandemic’s ebb and flow is getting better. It is not yet perfect. We all need to be careful that the cases for and against opening up the economy don’t become too politicised. Even if there is a doable vaccine for this virus it will take a very long time to reach as much as half the world’s seven billion + population. And if it does, there is no knowing how soon another virus will come along to baffle the scientists and muffle the world economy.
Let us ponder for a moment about whether we want to get the economy back to where it was. Of course, for wealth reasons we do. But are we beginning to wonder if wealth reasons are the right ones to drive our lives? Yes, we’d all like a bit more money, some desperately. And yes, the theory of a rich middle class reducing the number of very poor people is an argument. But the planet is groaning with our output and we may like to consider if ‘possession’ is the be all and end all of life. This is especially true as the world’s population burgeons towards 9bn. We certainly need a minimum living wage for all, whether employed or not. Do we need a maximum wage too?
Our course of action should not, in any case, be directed at “getting back to normal”. We are not going to do that. We should be working at “quality living with the virus” – accepting our fate but still finding a decent way of life. Disabed people know that it is perfectly possible to have a great life even if all the opportunities are not available to you. It requires disciplines – disciplines we have somewhat forgotten but which we are capable of regenerating again.
Key among the ‘quality living with the virus’ is a better mask. We need something that sets itself away from the nose and mouth but also fits snugly around them. It must be easily reusable too. Probably something with a box compartment – it doesn’t matter if we all look like horses. No doubt in time some creative designs incorporating the medical essentials can be established. ‘DIstancing’ is widely ignored in many countries. In Singapore everywhere is clearly marked for distancing and a generally obedient population observes the spirit of the effort if not always totally the technical details. Not every society will do this but efforts to encourage it are worth developing.
As well as an acceptable mask we need to know more about what we can do to purify the air in our homes and buildings. Initial response will be that it is pointless but let’s be more creative than that. In public places, distancing would be more obeyed if there were air cleaners at 5-metre intervals. And I cannot believe that a society that lives with air-conditioning cannot find a way to make it more effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Come on, Carrier, let’s see your imaginative and creative side now.
A much improved Zoom is a must to allow participation in Webinars more easily. It must also be much simpler to allow slides and breakout sessions run more smoothly. It will need some clever development, possibly with multi-camera or multi-lens possibilities. At any rate it is a chance to innovate and make a new market. Someone will do it, so don’t be like Skype and let the whole market slip away from you.
Now is the time for everyone to be creative about living with the virus. It will go away eventually but probably not totally, and there are likely to be outbreaks for a long time to come. Can we keep it under control? Can we enjoy our lives even though the virus is rampant?
Can we apply our brilliantly creative minds to coping instead of carping?
If we can, that’s how we’ll invent the new normal.
*Diplomacy: Power or Persuasion By Kishore Mahbubani
SIAS Review Vol. 40 No. 1, Winter-Spring 2020 published by Johns Hopkins University Press
The abstract of Kishore Mahbubani’s article can be seen here.
For those who want to see Martin Wolf’s introductory remarks at our Drink & Think on 18Sep20 you can connect here. The discussion itself was under The Chatham House Rule and was not, therefore, recorded.