Beyond health, coronavirus pandemic is challenging our mind. Quarantine and other restrictions set up a situation never seen before, of which we don’t know the end. It will end, of course, but at the moment it’s hard to make a prediction. Countries imposed social distancing to flatten the curve of the pandemic, aiming to spread the infections on a longer period of time not to bring the healthcare system to collapse. This will end either when enough people will get the disease in order to reach herd immunity, or when a vaccine will be available. We just heard good news from China, where there are no new coronavirus cases. Does this mean that the pandemic is defeated in the country? Of course not. We have to accept that the new coronavirus will be part of our lives forever, like any other virus. As long as someone has it, a new outbreak will always be possible. This will end when a vaccine will be available, and we won’t feel it as a threat anymore.
How life will change until a vaccine becomes available
According to the most optimistic hypothesis, a vaccine for novel coronavirus will be available not earlier than in 18 months. What to do in the meanwhile? To maintain the pandemic state is unthinkable: too much damage to businesses that rely on aggregation of people (cinemas, theaters, pubs, restaurants, hotels, gyms, nightclubs, sport events, shopping malls), too much stress for parents having to homeschool their children, for people trapped in toxic relationships or who are taking care of elderly relatives. So what to do? Although at the moment it seems unthinkable, after this massive wave of infections we will be able to deal with the pandemic. Let’s not forget that most fatalities are due to lack of beds in intensive care units and late diagnosis. The current situation is similar to a war scenario like Pearl Harbour, when the enemy made a surprise attack and caught the Americans unprepared. At the moment we are doing our best, even though it’s not sufficient because no country has a strong enough healthcare to deal with the pandemic. In some weeks we will benefit from the current social restrictions, and infections will decrease. Soon we will be able to go back to a resemblance of social life. We will find compromises to meet with our friends and relatives, maintaining social distancing. This means that people will pay attention to reduce contacts as much as possible (shake hands, hugs, many hands touching the same object), so that they will drop by 75%, therefore reducing the risk of passing the virus. About businesses that involve large number of people, several adjustments could be made. For example, gyms could introduce booking systems for the training, not to get overcrowded; pubs and nightclubs could also reduce their legal capacity; cinemas and theaters could impose a free seat next to one taken.
How life will change after a vaccine becomes available
Ok, 18 months passed and the vaccine is available to everyone. What happens now? “Finally when the pandemic will be over, we will go back to normal life”. I bet you thought of that at least once in the last weeks. But are you really sure we will go back to normal life? Let me tell you why the pandemic changed our lives forever, in good.
Telework is successful. Why people that could work from home during the pandemic – and did it efficiently for several weeks – should go back to the office, meeting with colleagues they might not like and spending hours travelling? Telework would reduce pollution and traffic, and would optimize people’s time and reduce their stress. This situation might not be easy for companies if they will oppose it. Let’s see why with a historical example: women, at the end of World War II, during which they were employed in factories and offices while men were at war, refused to go back to domestic lives and movement for women’s liberation began. So, if people want to telework, companies will have to accept it.
Business travels drop. When the coronavirus outbreak began, traditional face-to-face meetings have been successfully replaced by Skype or Zoom video-conferences. This solution is environmental- and family-friendly, and employers would benefit from significant cost-cutting, making it a win-win solution.
Online learning is successful. If online learning was introduced as a valid alternative to courses at universities, when possible, it would reduce traffic in the big cities, save students’ time and preventing thousands of them from moving to another city and spending hundreds of euro/dollars per month of rent.
More part-time jobs? The pandemic determined a massive worldwide economic crisis and companies might consider dismissal of personnel to face the losses. How to avoid that? With more part-time contracts. To explain this, I take you back to the US during the Great Depression. At that time, people worked 6 days a week. In 1908, the owner of a factory allowed his Jewish employees to take Saturdays off and to work on Sundays, but this offended the Christians. So he decided to introduce 2 free days per week to all the employees. This strategy was followed by other factories, which spotted in lighter salaries a remedy to underemployment. What if coronavirus could kick the prejudice that part-time jobs are chosen mainly by women with children, and make them a general trend?
People will react if a government decides to cut the healthcare budget. Work and pensions are appealing topics for politicians; the pandemic just taught us that health is above everything. We just assumed it was an intrinsic condition of our life, and now we are paying for the wicked cuts to healthcare budgets. Let’s see if some government will dare to cut them in the future.
Pharmaceutical companies will change the direction of their research. In recent years, pharma companies prioritized other fields than antiviral and antibiotic research. Preferred paths followed lucrative cures, such as for male baldness, food supplements, and so on. Now it’s time to get back on track.
Listen to the real experts. Nowadays, a quick search on Google can make everyone feel expert about anything. The pandemic taught us to listen to the real experts, and not to politicians or “informed people” that would say anything to get a bit of notoriety. If we had listened to the real experts when the pandemic was just a limited outbreak, we might have prevented it, or at least reduced its impact.
Nature is not so bad. I am Italian, and originally from the district of Bergamo, which is hit the most by the pandemic. Everyday news sounds like war bulletins. Sometimes, it happens that in the desert of sadness there is an oasis: for the first time fishes came back to Venice archipelago, dolphins play next to Sardinia, air pollution almost disappeared from Po valley. Coronavirus showed us how the world would be without air, water and acoustic pollution, if humans were able to live in harmony with nature. When this mess will be over, do we really want to behave like before? Or maybe we could respect nature and benefit from it?