It has been more than two years since a microscopic virus originating supposedly in the previously nondescript city of Wuhan in central China, began its conquest of Planet Earth. Modern transportation technology made sure that within a matter of months it had spread to virtually every corner of this world. Even remote Antarctica has not been spared. As late as last week a couple of dozen cases were detected at Esperanza Base, an isolated Argentinian naval station located on Hope Bay of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Since it burst upon the scene, it has infected some 350 million people and caused just under 6 million deaths. As I write this, the pandemic continues to rage unabated as the virus mutates and sends new waves of infection upon a COVID weary world. There is hope though that, with on-going research and development of vaccines and treatment options, we should have the virus “under control” in the near future. What that future will look like, however, maybe somewhat problematic.
There are many in the medical community that feel that the virus will become endemic, or ever-present like the seasonal flu, and we may need regular, perhaps annual booster shots to avoid any serious issues. Nonetheless, the fatality rate and incidence of serious illness should decrease significantly as more people are vaccinated and new drug treatments are developed. The qualifying factor though, is that it may take several years for the situation to stabilize enough to allow our lives to return to some semblance of what we used to consider normal.
There are other side effects of the COVID pandemic though, that may take far more time for us to get over. Many businesses have been hurt significantly and will continue to suffer as some people will be reluctant to get back to the level of public activity that they were formerly used to. No doubt, many will close or go bankrupt, particularly smaller businesses that operate on thin margins. Particularly hard-hit will be the small or family-owned businesses in the food, entertainment and personal services sectors.
Also hard-hit will be religious, social, cultural and sports organizations. These all depend on group activities, events and public gatherings and after two or more years of being unable to do so, many people may have lost the interest or the desire to return. Many of these groups have also been affected financially and may never recover. Many churches for instance depend heavily on the Sunday collection plate, and with personal church attendance down significantly, their income has plummeted. Church halls and community centres depend heavily on catering and renting out their premises for various functions, and with those activities mostly suspended, many may not survive. This will cause collateral damage as many of the social, educational and cultural programs that depend on these institutions may also disappear.
The pandemic has also exposed some significant fault lines in various public and private institutions such as education, health care and assisted seniors’ living facilities. The stresses, frustrations and challenges that many front-line workers faced in these institutions during the pandemic have caused many of them to consider alternative careers or employers. It has brought into sharp relief the fact that these services were inadequately funded and organized to deal effectively with the challenges that this pandemic has brought. With the certainty that there will likely be similar other pandemics in the future, we need to significantly reconsider and amend the policies, funding and structure of these institutions. This has critical implications for staffing levels, compensation, training and oversight.
On a more personal note, what has disturbed me the most about the pandemic’s consequences is the degree of polarization and social division that has come about because of a lack of agreement or consensus on how to deal with the pandemic and its effects. A substantial minority of people have chosen to reject a fact-based, scientific approach to dealing with the pandemic and adopted irrational and conspiracy-based beliefs that have hampered vaccination, masking and social distancing efforts.
I have been shocked by the number of my otherwise responsible and intelligent friends and acquaintances that that have fallen prey to this destructive behaviour. The strength of our society depends on people behaving in a socially responsible and safe manner, and indulging in conduct that puts the lives of others at risk is to me essentially immoral. Our hospitals and ICU’s are clogged with unvaccinated COVID victims, often preventing folks with critical medical needs from getting the services and treatments that they desperately need. I think it will take a long time before these social rifts and divisions heal and we regain the trust in our fellow man that is required for our societies to function amicably and effectively.
There may be light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but I am not at all certain as to what we will see on the other side.