First pandemic in living memory has created a number of sensational issues in the minds and behaviour of the general population, healthcare professionals and policymakers.
In many countries leadership has gone absent without official leave (AWOL). Particular ethnic groups have suffered disproportionately and the inequality between groups has been highlighted in unprecedented ways. The role of governments in protecting the populations has come into a bright spotlight and many governments around the world have failed abjectly.
Over 4 million cases identified around the world with large number of deaths, the pandemic has laid bare the public health matters, have torn the respectability off the face of globalization and global health. Just when the leaders have to work together there has been an unprecedented rise in xenophobia, nationalism and racism.
Scientists have been working together sharing data and findings and supporting each other in unprecedented ways. The population in lockdown have come up with ways to keep in contact with each other. In our street in London, a WhatsApp group was established early in March to help and support individuals who needed it. Until then we were on nodding acquaintances with our neighbours and those in the street. Every Thursday evening coming out of the house at 8 pm for two minutes with respectful physical distance maintained was not only acknowledgement of the NHS and social care staff but for the neighbourhood and often brief chats would occur.
There is a strong possibility that good will come out of this tragedy. The question is whether we as human beings are capable of and interested in building on it.
To my mind the following 10 positive things could emerge:
1. First one is already there to a degree where neighbours are keeping an eye out for each other, sharing food when possible and chatting. People have been donating money, food not only to the NHS but charities and food banks. This sense of collective responsibility and altruism is clear in abundance and we need to ensure that this continues. Those who need help, whether it is material, emotional or psychological, get it when they require it.
2. The pandemic has certainly illustrated the interconnectedness through social media. Of course there have been abuses, but humanity, kindness and generosity have shone through. Through street wide or block wide groups, keeping each other informed has changed the ideas of friendship and in the years to come can be built upon ignoring fake news, unnecessary Twitter storms and overfilled inboxes. The quality of interconnectedness will have to change and perhaps become more humane.
3. On a broader scene, many of us have been grounded but we have also noted the bird songs, the colour of the sky, empty roads and other scenes which we had taken for granted. As a race we have to take climate change seriously and respond appropriately to reduce carbon emissions and reduce rising temperatures of the seas.
4. In addition to the action against climate change, public and governments have to work on improving sustainability through better transport, aviation control, green spaces.
5. As Nigel Lawson had said, NHS is the closest thing to a religion this country has, the weekly service on Thursdays at 8 pm even though for two minutes by clapping has brought home to people the role of the NHS in our lives. There was a reason when politicians used save NHS before save lives in their slogan. If there are changes or more commercialisation of the NHS, there are likely to be more serious questions to be asked of the political masters. The new social contract for medicine will emerge to look at what patients and public expect from doctors and government, and what doctors expect from the patients, public and government, and in return what the governmental expectations are from the doctors. There is no such thing as free lunch and if people want the NHS they have to pay. A bit of honesty from the politicians in this regard will not go amiss. The social contract for medicine is something I have addressed in a previous blog earlier in the pandemic, you can read this here.
6. Martin Luther King Jr had highlighted four things that need to be dealt with. That is as true now as was over 50 years ago: these are poverty, racism, militarism and materialism. We know that Covid-19 affects BAME communities and poor people discriminately and other social determinants also play a role. Governments have used the term war on virus which is ridiculous as it is invisible to the naked eye. In order to manage climate change and materialism perhaps we come out at the other end with a knowledge that we need to reduce acquisitions and possessions.
7. With an awareness of ridiculous inequalities, perhaps capitalism may change its focus and become more humane and less neo-liberal. It is clear that we need governments to manage pandemics so perhaps more acknowledgement of the role of the government with better social contract may emerge. It may also lead to revisiting globalisation. For the sake of cheap goods being manufactured in different parts of the world with source materials from another part and reducing acquisitions may change the way markets work.
8. There is no doubt that public health, including public mental health, will emerge stronger after the pandemic. It is clear that in many countries science did advise politicians who took note of the advice.
9. The ways we work will change further. High streets were changing to more cafes and wifi spots but now for those who can work remotely, having got used to it with all the accompanying distractions, will like to and continue to do so. Policymakers and employers will have to change their expectations, and work-life balance will change further.
10. Finally we may become more aware and sensitive to our mortality and focus on other things. No one at their deathbed wishes that they should have worked more so spending time with people who matter and things which matter can be another positive thing to emerge.
It may be that some of these may emerge in the short-term and then disappear whereas others may emerge in the long-term.
The glass is half-full rather than half-empty.