No doubt about it: a pandemic is a drama. A huge drama. We are talking about an event that has already taken more than 400,000 lives and that, at the current rate and given the evolution in certain countries where the curve is still strongly upward, will undoubtedly take many more. By all accounts, the events of the last few months would seem to be a drama that will be hard to forget. And yet, everything indicates that this is not the case, and that the most important aspect to all this, our capacity to learn from the worst, is in question.
In several US states, the average number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 is rising again after several weeks of decline, as the second phase kicks in. We have come out of confinement without any preparations, and quickly forgotten all the precautions: we meet our friends without any kind of protective measures, forgetting that we can respond — but not always — to measures taken by our family members, but not by our friends, let alone our friends’ friends.
We go out for a drink and a bite to eat as if there were no tomorrow, and we behave just as we did before the pandemic, with virtually no additional precautions. Mask? Yes, but ma non troppo… if it bothers us too much, we slip it down or take it off, as if it were a fashion item. Worse, and something I find particularly stupid and uncivilized, we leave our noses out so as to breathe better, as if nasal mucus weren’t specially designed to retain particles or infectious droplets.
Okay, we can’t eat or drink with a mask on, and as nuisances go, it’s quite annoying. But it isn’t such a giant step from there to relaxing other precautions and on to provoking a resurgence of the pandemic. The thinking seems to be that since it is now summer and the confinement measures have been relaxed, we can relax too, but the virus is still out there, and will continue to be for quite some time. We need to remember that de-escalation is not intended to prevent spreading the infection, but simply to prevent another mass outbreak that would overload our hospitals again. What’s more, this is a virus that will cause many more side effects than we initially thought: in other words, we must continue to take all necessary precautions, and not just relax and hope for the best.
Now that lockdown is almost over, once again we are all using our cars and clogging up the roads, as if the blue skies we and clean air we now enjoy were some kind of temporary outcome, and that exposure to contamination was not the most important factor in establishing the severity of the symptoms of those affected by the pandemic. Do we need to get the economy going again? Yes, but with the necessary precautions.
What should we learn from the pandemic? The first thing, which was no accident: we caused it. The virus comes from the growing pressure of man on ecosystems, from invading the habitats of animals that were the natural hiding place for viruses and obviously, not eating them or cramming them into wet markets, as well as through the uncontrolled and cruel breeding of many other animal species. Reducing consumption and reusing and recycling are important, but we now need to apply social pressure to avoid business practices that involve the exploitation of certain ecosystems, and to stop consuming animals bred on farms with poor hygiene. The idea the pandemic was the result of chance and not human intervention is absurd and proof of our ignorance. Biology and ecosystems are related.
Learning from the pandemic means understanding that we cannot just go back to doing things in the same old way. If we do, we will simply be creating the conditions for the next pandemic, or exposing ourselves to a much bigger problem: the climate emergency. We must seize the moment to reduce emissions and try to bring a problem far more important than the pandemic itself under control, one that causes more than seven million premature deaths worldwide every year.
In case anybody needed reminding, when we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it.
This post was previously published on Enrique Dans and is republished here with permission from the author.
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