Forecasters see a new world after the pandemic

Pristine planet: “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” said Winston Churchill.

After Covid-19, will the world be reborn as a better place? Though the crisis is taking a terrible toll, some predict it will bring about far-reaching changes that will benefit humanity.

The medieval peasant who had survived the Black Death was counting his blessings. The plague had been devastating for Europe, killing between a third and a half of most countries’ populations. But the resulting shortage of labour meant that workers were able to demand better treatment and much higher wages. Suddenly, a ploughman could earn five times the amount he had been used to.

Covid-19 is not expected to cause anything like as many fatalities. But it too could change people’s lives for the better. Yesterday, we conducted a review of the experts – scientists, sociologists, and professional forecasters. Here is a summary of their conclusions.

Everyday life may benefit from the sense of community the pandemic has created. People have learnt to look out for others – particularly the elderly – and realised how rewarding it is. And they have rediscovered the joy of shared activities, like cooking.

Now that we are doing more online, we could make much better use of the internet. Families might find they enjoy home schooling; students could learn remotely instead of paying high fees, and businesses might realise that employees can work effectively without having to commute to an office. Consulting a doctor online instead of queuing in a surgery could become the norm.

The environment might benefit too. In some cities, daily emissions from cars are 60% down on last year. People can see how much better life is with less pollution. They may now feel that they can get by with fewer journeys – for both business and pleasure – and live with fewer things made in factories.

Conservationists also hope for a better life for wild animals, particularly if the Chinese authorities permanently close markets like the one in Wuhan where the pandemic is thought to have started.

Politically and economically there could be a shift towards valuing and rewarding those who do vital work, such as doctors and teachers, more than those who simply make a profit for their employers. People may also realise that their own health depends on that of others, so everyone should be properly housed and fed.

Globalisation could be reversed as countries wake up to the importance of being able to supply themselves. This would lead to a revival of local manufacturing, and force China to be less intransigent as its exports fell.

After Covid-19, will the world be reborn as a better place?

Hatching a future

Yes, say the majority of experts. It has already made us more resourceful as we work out ways to get by – and more imaginative as we have to abandon old habits. We have had a chance to think more deeply and rediscovered the importance of caring for others: John Donne wrote his famous line, “No man is an island”, while recovering from fever.

But a few disagree. For them, the crisis has given politicians an excuse to introduce authoritarian measures, such as increasing surveillance and postponing elections. Enforced social distancing has increased loneliness and abuse. And we have already seen a rise in nationalist xenophobia, with distrust of foreigners growing swiftly.

You Decide

  1. What is the best thing that has come out of the pandemic for you?
  2. How useful are historical examples in analysing an outbreak such as Covid-19?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are a medieval peasant asking the lord of the manor for a pay rise after the Black Death. Write a two-page diary entry about the experience.
  2. Write a manifesto for a new political party seeking to change how things are done after the pandemic. Give a speech about it to your household this Easter, and invite questions from the floor.

Some People Say...

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”

Sydney J Harris (1917-1986), American journalist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The pandemic has resulted in governments playing a bigger part in people’s lives. Some aspects of this, such as lockdowns enforced by the police, may be seen as infringements of civil liberties which set a dangerous precedent. Others, such as paying a large proportion of employees’ wages, could pave the way for a more compassionate society in which there is greater state intervention to look after the vulnerable.
What do we not know?
Whether the crisis will result in temporary changes or permanent ones. At present, there is a spirit of generosity, with people volunteering to help health workers, and theatres making plays available online for free – but that may not last when businesses try to make up for the money they are now losing. On the other hand, major political shifts could occur, like the creation of Britain’s welfare state after WW2. Governments that do not handle the crisis well are likely to be replaced.

Word Watch

Black Death
A pandemic which began in Asia and reached Europe in 1348, with further outbreaks in the 1350s and 1370s.
Globalisation
The expansion of trade across the world, with large companies operating in many different countries.
Intransigent
Uncompromising; unwilling or refusing to change one’s views or to agree about something.
John Donne
An English writer (1572-1631) famous for both his poems about love and religion.
Authoritarian
Demanding strict obedience.
Xenophobia
A strong dislike of foreigners. The term comes from the Greek words “xenos” (a foreigner or stranger) and “phobos” (fear).

Subjects

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