The COVID-19 Pandemic has been the most significant worldwide event since the Second World War. No part of the globe has been unaffected either by the virus itself or its consequences.
I know nothing can be taken for granted, but coronavirus has permeated into every aspect of our lives. Worst of all, the level of uncertainty it has created impacts on our decision-making ability. It’s left us in a position where we can’t feel confident in planning ahead. Government, business, education, community and individual are all dragged into the unknown.
We still don’t fully understand the virus. Although testing, treatment and now, hopefully, vaccination are well advanced, there are enough unknowns to keep the scientists busy. In the meantime, we have to go on guard against transmission and infection.
That’s easier said than done, though. As with all viruses, they are invisible to the naked eye. They may be airborne or rest on surfaces hoping a new host makes contact. Not everyone who becomes infected displays the same symptoms, if they have any at all. That all makes avoiding the virus much more difficult. The best we can do is minimise the risk: social distancing, regular hand hygiene, get tested at the first sign of symptoms.
It’s widely accepted that the focus on managing the virus has impacted on the myriad of other health treatments. Routine non-emergency medical interventions have been delayed, screening tests postponed, and General Practice appointments reduced.
Not all of these have been the result of health professionals withdrawing their services. Many people have been either too frightened to attend a medical centre through fear of contracting COVID-19, or don’t want to be seen to be putting a strain on the health service. Either way, today’s minor ailments can become tomorrow’s major health risk.
The Government has poured unprecedented money into preserving the economy. The furlough scheme, working from home, grants, loans, increased welfare benefits: the cash costs of these grows by the second. Unemployment will rise, businesses will fail, growth will be stunted.
At some point, there will be a time of reckoning. The billions pumped in has not been harvested from the Magic Money Tree. This is our money, raised through taxation mainly, that needs to be recouped. This will be a long haul, as we can’t repay such a huge debt quickly. Rather than grumble, I think we have to accept this as inevitable. The consequences of not supporting the economy during the pandemic would have been much, much worse.
Education at all levels has been impacted. Primary school pupils have missed out on the foundation of their education: reading, writing and arithmetic. Just as significantly, the social skills hard wired at a young age have been interrupted. For those in Secondary education, important examinations have been missed, and preparations for adult life impacted. Students in Tertiary learning have had to cope with lessons delivered remotely, new relationships not established, and first experiences of young adulthood curtailed.
Education is more than attendance in classes. It requires the embedding of learning, consolidating subject understanding and developing examination techniques. You hone your skills in presentation, research, debate, analysis, creativity, relationships building, working to deadlines, and using your initiative. Harder to do remotely, but not impossible.
The speed with which the virus circumnavigated the planet was down to modern day mobility. The virus doesn’t travel, people do. Planes, trains, and automobiles all transported infected hosts from villages to towns, through airports and harbours, along roads and railtracks, within households and community settings.
We are now accustomed to staying local, reducing usage of public transport and seeing holidays cancelled. It will take some time, even with a vaccination programme in full swing, for the majority of us to feel comfortable with travelling.
Humans are social animals. We need human interaction to thrive and learn. Being isolated from family, friends, colleagues and even strangers has been a struggle.
We have become conditioned to keeping a distance from others, or avoiding them completely. Physical contact has all but been eliminated. Zoom is no compensation for a good old-fashioned hug. Weddings have been postponed or number of guests restricted, funerals have taken place with barely a mourner in sight and babies have been born without their father present.
I think, though, these hardships have made many of us take stock of what is important. People matter more than products, friendships have a greater importance than Facebook “likes”, and love is an undervalued word.
Nothing can ever be 100% certain, but the closer we get to that, the more confident we are in taking the next step. History proves that we will overcome the events of 2020. We are, as a population, resilient. It will not be easy, I know, but we have done it before: wars, pestilence, and climate change are nothing new.
Rebuilding confidence is key. Remembering what it was like to look ahead with a reasonable expectation that plans will, more or less, be achieved. The vaccine may be the catalyst for the return of something close to normality, but it will be how we react to that new normal that will define us.
We’ll know we have got there when confidence overcomes fear, rational thought replaces anxiety, and smiles replace face coverings.
We can do this. Hope springs eternal.
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.” Donald Rumsfelt