It feels like someone has just pressed the world’s reset button. One minute life jogs along pretty much as usual. The next, we have to start thinking in new ways about everything. The repercussions reverberate in every direction – work, health, politics, family, finance, leisure, etc. etc.. On a personal front, last week we visited a museum, went out for a family meal, did our regular volunteering with a charity and walked with our walking group; I sang at my choir’s weekly rehearsal, led a Bible study at church, attended my art group and led a funeral service. Now, none of it would be possible. In every area of life – politics, economics, business, sport – both within the UK and internationally, the same radical disruption has occurred. Crisis deliberations are taking place, and far-reaching decisions are being made, at every level of society.
The practicalities of working out how to cope with Covid-19 are huge, but it also highlights other underlying issues. As a global pandemic, it reminds us of the unity of humanity, respecting neither national boundaries or other ethnic, cultural or religious differences that divide us. It was already becoming clear that we need to work together globally to meet the environmental and other challenges humanity faces, and this virus powerfully forces us to face up to this reality. Organizations that facilitate international co-operation, such as the United Nations, should receive the support and resources they need to do their job, and every country, even the wealthiest ones, need to recognize they cannot stand alone.
The virus is no respecter of persons in terms of who it infects, but as with many other threats to people’s welfare, it will be the poor and vulnerable who stand to suffer most. Those in insecure employment or accommodation, or on benefits, let alone any caught up in the epidemic in refugee camps or war zones, will find coping with it – even surviving it – most difficult. It shows up the damaging inequalities that divide us, and the duty of care on the part of the most privileged, both between and within nations.
The current situation dramatically demonstrates the folly of putting our whole confidence in our own achievements and abilities. An organism too small to be seen and one of the simplest forms of life explodes the myth of humanity’s self-sufficiency and our capacity to find technological solutions to all life’s problems. Science is an immensely powerful tool to improve human life, but today we have to humbly acknowledge that we are not the masters of our destiny that we might have thought. On a personal level, the virus reveals our mortality, something we accept intellectually, but are slow to acknowledge in practice. Politically, it demonstrates the limitations of those in power.
The imposed inactivity and resulting financial crisis is a huge worry to many individuals and businesses. A few will inevitably seek to take advantage of it for personal gain. But also, for those not in immediate and critical need, it provides an opportunity for reflection. As the routines of work and leisure have been removed, many of us face what is in effect a forced sabbatical or retreat, providing time for a reassessment of our priorities. What difference this will make in the long run, both personally and politically, remains to be seen, but there is a possibility, once the pandemic is over, of lessons to be learned and changes made for the better.