Generation C: The virus that changed everything

New tomorrow: All our futures will be deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. © Reuters

What will the world look like when the pandemic ends? We might be far from seeing the back of the coronavirus, but the rest of the 21st Century will be defined by how we overcome it.

A baby born today will grow up into a different world.

Such children – call them Generation C – might hardly believe that there was once an age where almost anyone could get on a plane; a time when people shook hands with strangers.

It is equally possible that they will grow up in a world where people are better at looking out for one another, and healthcare is central to society,

British science writer Ed Yong has just written a compelling piece about the fallout of the coronavirus for the magazine, the Atlantic. In it, he presents these two drastically different outcomes.

In his words, either “foreign plagues replace communists and terrorists as the new generational threat” or “Sars-CoV-3 emerges from nowhere, and is brought to heel within a month”.

One scenario imagines that we see viruses as something we have to shield ourselves from; the other assumes that they can only be defeated through science and global collaboration.

Arriving at either scenario depends on how we overcome the virus, and how we allow it to alter our societies. But no one knows what the end of the pandemic will look like.

Dozens of countries and billions of people are under lockdown for the foreseeable future and we do not know when the draconian measures limiting our freedom might be lifted.

The WHO is encouraging every country to “find, isolate, test, treat, and trace” and even says that lockdowns are not enough if countries do not “use this time to attack the coronavirus”.

But many nations are not testing enough to know the true scale of the outbreak. Some experts say that we need to wait over a year until a vaccine is developed.

For many leaders that might be too long to wait. Fear of economic collapse could take a higher priority than public health.

Today, the US has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. Nonetheless, President Donald Trump recently announced he was hoping for crowds of people in churches by Easter.

In the one country – China – that has moved past a lockdown and where Apple deems safe enough to keep shops open, journalists are still sceptical that the virus has indeed stopped spreading.

However it ends – whether we close borders and hide indoors until the infection rate slows, or whether we work together to trace and eradicate it – the pandemic will have created a new normal.

So, what will the world look like when the pandemic ends?

Fallout

World leaders are failing to act together. Death rates are rising and jobs are disappearing. For future generations, a pandemic will represent a constant fear, an enemy that is always just around the corner. Faced with that threat, people will turn to what they know best, to what brings them the most comfort: their own nation, their own strong leaders. Nations will fold inwards, fearful of new infections.

Alternatively, as in the aftermath of World War Two in the UK, society will learn to value and invest in healthcare systems. The civilisation we have is a fragile one, and we will have to better appreciate the elements that truly hold it together. The only way to defeat another pandemic, future politicians might say, is to make sure the world works together to stop it from spreading.

You Decide

  1. Before the new coronavirus, which event do you think had the most influence on the world you grew up in?
  2. Which is more likely as a consequence of the pandemic: being more open towards others, or staying inside and protecting oneself?

Activities

  1. In a group chat with friends, make a list of 10 things you would like the world to do differently after the virus. Rank them in order of importance.
  2. Put away your screens. Take out a pen and paper. Write a letter to someone being born this day, outlining what the world was like before the virus.

Some People Say...

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born physicist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We already know that the outbreak will have an immeasurable impact on the global economy for many years. People will likely feel poorer, and jobs will be harder to come by. The political priorities of future governments will almost definitely be shaped by the events of 2020. Healthcare and welfare systems will return to the forefront of political debate.
What do we not know?
We do not know what the cultural impact will be. People could become more insular, fearful of catching diseases, reluctant to shake hands. Others might see the world as a fresh and exciting place, waiting to be explored – at least until the next quarantine. We do not know if the virus will mutate and return every year, much like the flu.

Word Watch

Fallout
Impact, consequences (usually negative) of a major event.
Sars-CoV-3
The current coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2) is responsible for the ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Any similar outbreak in the future would be Sars-CoV-3.
Scenario
A description of possible events.
Alter
Change, modify.
Draconian
Harsh or severe measures or punishments, named after the ancient Greek legislator, Draco.
WHO
The World Health Organisation, global body providing guidelines and advice to countries about public health and dealing with health crises.
Deems
Considers.
Sceptical
Questioning.
Eradicate
Get rid of, wipe out.

Subjects

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