We’re all locked in. Suddenly the world has come to a standstill and not even the Black Mirror serie could have reproduced such a situation: a devastating virus of uncertain origin that spreads with a sigh and has caused the governments of ALL the countries of the world to decree the order of confinement of millions of people. And millions of people have obeyed. Far from intimidating us, we must take this crisis as a UNIVERSAL EXPERIMENT whose results must be put into practice immediately if we do not want to spend our lives in quarantine. These are 6 lessons that imply a radical CHANGE of conscience, in order to become citizens who are truly demanding with our governments, critical of our companies and responsible for our actions.
✔️ Lesson 1: Listen to the Scientists
According to the America Society of Microbiology, this global pandemic was already predicted in 2007 when a group of scientists explained in a Clinical Microbiology Review article that the trafficking of exotic animals in southern China and certain extreme practices in some SARS laboratories were a time bomb. In exact words, as shown in the image below, they said this:
- The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, along with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The possibility of SARS and other new viruses re-emerging in animals or laboratories should not be ignored and therefore one needs to be prepared.
However, when the first outbreak was detected in Wuhan and warned of the risk posed by COVID-19, the governments of the so-called “first world”, one by one, ignored or downplayed its seriousness, until the number of deaths skyrocketed. If we have obediently complied with such radical measures as crippling the world economy overnight, why are we so lazy in taking radical action to stop the destruction of the planet? In November 2019, more than 11,000 scientists from around the world warned in Bioscience magazine that “unparalleled human suffering” is inevitable unless there are radical changes in human activity to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other factors that contribute to climate change.
Will we, human beings, be able to stop gawking at what the scientists say and take into consideration that we have to change our model of production and consumption, and demand that those who govern and supply us must also act?
✔️ Lesson 2: If we destroy the natural habitat, the risk of infection is multiplied
If trees are cut down, is there more danger of a virus infecting us? Well, if you pull the string, you’ll see a lot. Viruses are elements of incredible simplicity: bits of genetic material (RNA or DNA) that make proteins and need cells to be able to multiply, that is, something like an industrial mold (the DNA) that makes a tool (the protein) and needs a machine to make many units (the cell). In the case of the coronavirus, the “tool” it makes is a destructive protein that prevents oxygen from entering the pulmonary alveoli and causing suffocation.
But viruses cannot use just any machine, that is, they cannot land on all types of cells and many times some of them cannot infect humans, but need other hosts.
If forests are cut down and the habitat disappears, the probability of contact of an infected host with humans is higher.
Scientists at the University of Berkeley have revealed that bats are the best hosts for viruses, and can easily infect other species. Under normal conditions, with lush forests and wild animals, parasites like coronaviruses would not infect us, first, because they are not “human diseases,” and second, because we are not likely to encounter wild animal hosts. However, if the forests are cut down and the habitat disappears, the probability of contact, and therefore of infection, is much higher. It is believed that in our case the COVID-19 came from the pangolin, a curious mammal whose meat is trafficked in China.
Other similar examples that will ring a bell are the devastating outbreak of Ebola in Africa in 2013-2015 through fruit bats that were displaced by logging, or the malaria outbreak in Malaysia in 2002 through monkeys due to the expansion of palm plantations. And watch out, because according to a study in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, the increase in emerging infectious diseases also seems to be associated with climate change, and they point out that the next outbreak may occur in the Arctic.
Will the coronavirus finally be able to stop the deforestation plans of logging companies, or of intensive agriculture and livestock farming? As consumers we have the power to choose those companies that seek sustainable alternatives and therefore force change.
✔️Lesson 3: Quality food so that viruses don’t prey on you.
Although the mortality rate of Coronavirus is low, it impacts the versatility of its effects, being more aggressive with older people or with previous health problems. The problem is that our health depends, to a very high degree, on what we eat and what we breathe, something that has to do entirely with our environment, and humans do nothing to stop its devastation. There are many sectors in which the patterns of production and consumption that we follow are harmful to the environment and to our health, but, in order not to spread, we will highlight two:
Less meat and more veggie.
The growing demand for low-cost meat in Western and then Eastern countries has increased intensive farming of chickens, pigs and sheep by 600 percent, according to FAO. What does this mean? This means that to eat chicken, far from the idyllic stamp of a fairytale farm, we go to spaces where the animals have only one DINA 4 page to live.
Crowded chickens on a farm
This type of industrial meat production, with millions of animals that are more or less genetically homogenous, stressed and concentrated in very small spaces, requires enormous amounts of antibiotics and results in a product of low nutritional quality, and the production of resistant bacteria, something that currently kills thousands of people and poses serious threats to human health and health systems around the world.
Either we eat the garbage from the bottom of the sea or we fill ourselves with antibiotics
As those of you who follow us well know, the sea beds are garbage dumps full of wipes, plastics and other waste that later comes to us through the fish we eat. The fishermen themselves told us about it in desperation when they arrived in port after a long and unfruitful day. Look at the amount of towels that are entangled in the fishing nets: The alternative to fish farms is not very promising either. These intensive productions generate a lot of waste and have environmental repercussions that can be very serious. In many facilities, chemicals are used for water and sediment treatment, fertilizers, disinfectants, antibacterial substances, antibiotics and other drugs, pesticides, algicides, food additives, anesthetics and hormones are provided. Well, not to be discouraged, but something must be done.
Being aware of what we ingest is the first step in taking care of our health. And although it is not easy, we must choose those foods that have been treated in a responsible and sustainable way. It is the first step for our governments and companies to start making a move and promoting policies that aim for healthier food production.
✔️Lesson 4: Less travel helps improve air quality and quality of life, and makes us less vulnerable.
Those of us who are lucky enough to have been able to continue working from home during the quarantine, have realized that technology offers us the possibility of doing so with all the guarantees. If your work activity does not require a direct presence in a specific place, teleworking has a positive influence on the mobility of cities and reduces pollution rates. Of course, working every day from home is not a panacea, and physical contact is very often essential to establish lasting relationships or close deals, but there is one obvious reality: it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions and maintain certain activities that bring about positive change in the atmosphere. And to show one button: air pollution in China fell significantly during its confinement by the coronavirus, which forced a halt to all personal and work activities. This is revealed by the satellite images that the European Space Agency (ESA) has disseminated, in which it can be seen that the levels of Nitrogen Dioxide practically disappear. In this sense, it is worth rethinking the dynamics of work that sometimes involves up to 3 or 4 hours of travel per day, with the consequent weight of personal stress.
Will we be able to increase virtual meetings, thus reducing unnecessary or avoidable journeys, and contributing to cleaner air and therefore to a better quality of life after this crisis?
✔️Lesson 5: The army and the weapons of this war are the medical personnel and the respirators.
During these days, the army as such (the one dressed in khaki and depending on the Ministry of Defense) has been mobilized in some countries to collaborate cleaning spaces and adapting them to be converted into hospitals, but the real heroes and heroines of this war have been the health professionals who have put themselves in range to fulfill the mission of saving the maximum number of lives. However, as we well know, we have seen that the world was not prepared for such a pandemic, and despite having a common enemy and having some idea of its lethality, the means available to almost all the world’s health centres have clearly been insufficient, have collapsed and have turned the world upside down.
Until now, the enemy used to have very specific weapons of destruction such as tanks, gases or machine guns, and we armed ourselves to the teeth to respond in case of attack. However, neither tanks, gases nor machine guns are effective against this weapon of mass destruction.
Let us now look at the enormous military expenditure of the different countries of the world. In 2018, for example, it meant between 0.9 and 3.9 of GDP, with the US and China spending by far the most. If defense spending is unimpeachable, and the new enemy has a weapon of mass destruction that can only be fought with respirators, detectors, vaccines and motivated personnel, why not give public health a “military” character and thus invest a much larger percentage? We do not have sufficient data today to compare it with the health expenditure in each country, but according to the statements of the health sector these days, and given the problems we have experienced, it is a proposal that must be taken very, very seriously and that the citizens must demand.
What if we consider our health army into the military budget?
✔️Lesson 6: We will be fine if the neighbours are fine: solidarity as a key strategy to fight a common enemy.
Yes, I know, it sounds like an idyllic headline, John Lenon style with his utopia “Imagine there’s no countries”. However, it’s not something we should park so easily, however hippy it may seem, because the COVID-19 has more than proved two points:
- That the enemy, in this case the coronavirus, knows no boundaries and isolation is completely sterile.
- That it is better to invest in the welfare of your neighbour, to safeguard your own.
As for the first, it is a given that inbred and walled policies do not work. Either we all pull together, or there is no stopping it, because this pandemic does not understand rich and poor’ countries and we need a coordinated global effort, not only at the health level, but also at the economic and social level. It will not be easy to agree. But we already see some movements that we hope will translate into many more:
Solidarity between countries
The WHO has not been slow to act, but in the words of World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “multiple small trials, with different methodologies, may not provide us with the clear and robust evidence we need on which treatments help save lives, but the WHO and its partners are organizing a multi-country study in which some unproven treatments are compared with each other. Good! And we hope it will serve as a precedent and a breeding ground for progress.
However, apart from the WHO, we do not yet see clear movements within the global strategy and it is not yet clear whether governments will travel the path of disunity or take the path of global solidarity. As the philosopher Yuval Noah Harari points out, choosing disunity will not only prolong the crisis, but will probably lead to even worse disasters in the future. Choosing global solidarity will not only be a victory against the coronavirus, but also against all future crises and epidemics that may plague humanity in the twenty-first century.
The policy of the common good as the most appropriate solution
It is at times like this that the weaknesses of certain systems come to light, such as the health system in the United States, which is currently the country with the highest number of COVID-19 infections. It has 28 million people without health insurance, and although certain extraordinary measures have been taken, the social cost will be enormous, causing a wave of devastating side effects and increased inequality. As a hope, I would like to mention the work of Esther Duflo,, who together with her husbandAbhijt Banerjee, won the Nobel Prize in Economics last year. What they claim is that the fight against poverty must be based on prioritizing human dignity when rethinking economic priorities and system building. Because people are more than numbers, and all decisions should be made with that in mind.
This is already underway. Just watch the hundreds of videos that are running about volunteering in all possible fields: people sewing masks, making respirators, virtual classes, taking care of old people. So in this sense, a round of applause for all the people.
Humanity is facing a global crisis. We are currently experiencing the greatest crisis of our generation. The decisions made by governments, businesses and ourselves in the coming months will shape the world for generations to come. We already have a road map drawn up through the Sustainable Development Goals, which makes our job easier. What we have noted in this article are just a few brushstrokes of where we must aim if we are to change things and choose which world we want to live in. It is up to us…
- … to serve the scientific community and take action.
- … understand that climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation and other factors affect where, when and how intensively infectious diseases emerge.
- … know where our food comes from and choose the most sustainable companies and brands.
- … to be aware of how much we are moving and in what way, to reduce emissions.
- … demand policies where solidarity and the common good are a priority.
Cheer up, everybody, and Carpe Diem!