Covid-19 has changed our lives. That’s something no one can deny. As we are still getting used to new habits and adapting changes to a new kind of life, we start wondering about future ways to perform daily activities we’ve been used to doing for so long. The world won’t be the same, society won’t be the same, values won’t be the same. We won’t be the same human beings after the coronavirus. In fact, there has already been some significant and fundamental changes in the world and many of these will become permanent, but how will the virus deeply affect our society?
As many countries start easing lockdown restrictions, residents are returning to old spaces that now feel a little unfamiliar. The places themselves didn’t change, but from wearing masks to avoiding crowds, the way we are allowed to navigate them is going to be radically different from now on. Many of these changes will remain for some time. Even when the spread of the virus is contained, the risk of a new wave of contagion will persist as long as a vaccine is not available, which can take between nine months and two years, according to the most recent researches.
It’s fundamental that we understand and accept that we’re facing an enormous challenge of readapting to a whole new world. The pandemic has accelerated ongoing changes, such as working from home, studying on-line, the constant search for sustainability and the pressure, from society, on businesses to become more social and environmental responsible. Other changes were still in the very beginning of a process and some were not even noticeable. However, due to the virus, they will have a new meaning based on a different analysis of our values. For example: will society become more sympathetic and less selfish? Will consumerism still guide our lifestyles? There are many questions about our future, but one thing is for sure – we’re not going back to normal. That kind of life as we knew before 2020 is over.
During the isolation, we’ve learned a great deal about the fragility of global networks of people, goods and services, and also a lot about growth. We’ve seen how a thought or a virus can fly around the whole world, ignoring national borders and picking up pace as it goes. And while many of us could find consolation in the kindness of people, time to reflect and appreciate the beauty of nature; some of us died, others got sick and many others have lost their jobs or, even worse, their loved ones. There’s a collective sense that the ground beneath us is staggering. The global economy is fragile and with the climate crisis, ecosystems are collapsing and mass extinctions have become more likely to happen. All around the world, leaders are being tested through this storm and some are absolutely failing. It seems that the Covid-19 was just the last straw – after decades of radical inequalities, and damaging soils, rivers, forests and ecosystems in the name of profit, our life support systems are hesitating, and the links that bind us together are being corroded.
The coronavirus calamity has shown the kind of solidarity that humanity is capable of, indicating positive changes for a greater society. Even though we have seen images of pure selfishness – remember those people hoarding toilet paper or hand sanitizer? – the vast majority of behavior that we see is an explosion of cooperation and kindness on a local level. For the last 40 years our society has relied on values like individualism and selfishness, and during the pandemic we could realize that they’re not getting us anywhere. So, ideas that a few years ago seemed unrealistic, are now becoming the center of discussion, for example, wealth taxes and basic income programs.
There is a number of possible futures, all dependent on how governments and society will respond to the virus and its economic and social aftermath. Hopefully we will use this crisis to rebuild, produce something better and more humane. Hopefully we will learn to look at the others with more empathy. However, we must be very careful not to slide into something worse.
The responses to the Covid-19 pandemic are the amplification of the dynamic that drives other social and ecological crisis: the prioritization of one type of value over the others. This dynamic has played an important part in global responses to the pandemic and it will lead the way we go through these tough times. It’s necessary to think of the economy as the way we take our resources and turn them into the things we need to live. It’s the moment to start seeing more opportunities for a different lifestyle, consuming just the essential and producing less stuff without increasing misery and the terrible social gap that has endured for so long. It’s a huge challenge that must lead future responses to the Covid-19.
We hope for a strong, democratic society that mobilizes resources to build a strong and universal health system, protecting the vulnerable groups from the whims of the global market. We hope for a system that enables citizens to create mutual aid groups to support each other. What is clear is that all the possible scenarios for our “new normal” leave ground for fear, but also for hope.
The virus has highlighted serious deficiencies in our current system and an effective response to this requires deep social changes, giving us the possibility to build a more human system that leaves us more resilient and sympathetic in the face of future crisis.