SUSTAINABILITY

COVID-19: Reasons to be Cheerful

June 1, 2020

English rock singer Ian Dury

IMAGE: Miles Seecharan

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Writing about optimism in the face of COVID-19 may seem a difficult task. As we enter the month of June, we have no vaccine and no idea when the pandemic might end (or even any certainty it will). The global death toll is now over 400,000, the economy is on its knees and many businesses may not survive the economic backlash. Now more than ever we all need to find our inner optimist, and with the late Ian Dury’s song that gives this Final Word its title playing in our heads, we give you our Reasons to be Cheerful: 1,2,3.

 

1: We are making progress against COVID-19

 

Several existing and new anti-viral drugs look promising as treatments to reduce COVID-19’s effects, and according to the WHO, there are now 123 vaccines in preclinical evaluation and 10 in clinical evaluation. While we know COVID-19 has mutated, Professor Pouton from Australia’s Monash University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences told pharmaphorum.com that these are the minor mutations you’d expect as an RNA virus circulates. “The consensus is that SARS-CoV-2 is quite a stable virus… so that when effective vaccines arrive they should be useful against COVID-19 for some time,” he said.

 

And while a second wave is likely, particularly in countries where lockdown, tracing and testing have been too lax and/or too late, countries like Finland, Croatia and New Zealand have shown other countries how to cope: always be prepared, and act quickly and decisively. Finland’s coronavirus death rate is so low that statistically, it’s made no noticeable difference to the country’s total mortality rate. Croatia began testing people almost immediately—27 days before discovering their first case. New Zealand locked down hard and fast for a month; on May 9th, the Lancet reported that the country had effectively eliminated the virus, and as of a fortnight ago, their last COVID-19 patient left hospital.

 

In understanding COVID-19, which has proved a complex and novel disease, doctors and researchers are steadily understanding more about the human body and how viruses of all kinds can be treated.

 

2: The economy can and will recover

 

Theo Vermaelen, writing on the blog of INSEAD Business School where he’s Professor of Finance, points out that this crash isn’t the result of a collapsing asset bubble, but an interruption of economic activity. “In contrast to 2001 and 2008, there is no reason to assume that asset prices and economic activity will not revert to their previous levels,” he says. “This reversion could come soon, depending on how long it takes to manage the disease.”

 

And indeed, over the last couple of weeks, optimism has seen an improvement in many markets around the world, including Wall Street. Encouraged by this, some economists, such as the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane, are predicting a V-shaped recovery—a rapid return to pre-pandemic levels of prosperity. However, a U-shaped recovery is the one predicted by most: a full recovery will happen eventually, but we’re going to spend some time in recession first. Writing for the London School of Economics blog in April, the LSE’s Professor Iain Begg and Fusan University’s Professor Jun Qian were also cautiously optimistic—but warned that “cooperation among all economies is vital” to avoid an L-shaped recession. “If most of the largest and developed economies can more or less contain the outbreak by the summer and start the recovery process during the third quarter of 2020, then a global ‘V’ recovery by the end of the year is possible,” they concluded.

 

3: Optimism is a force multiplier

 

It’s worth remembering that while the pandemic has undoubtedly caused fear and huge losses, it has also brought new insights and benefits.

 

The title of Thomas Friedman’s book about optimism ‘in the age of accelerations’, Thank You for Being Late, refers to the reflection time he’s been gifted when other people have been late to meet him. Coronavirus has given many of us time to reflect, which we can welcome rather than resent as Friedman does, and the stimulus to reflect, too: a change to our daily routine.

 

People have learned new skills and made new life plans. Spent more time with their children. Been more creative and resourceful. Found a new appreciation for their homes, green spaces, loved ones, and life’s simpler pleasures.

 

“A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it / You're welcome, we can spare it,” sings Ian Dury, and that’s what we’ve seen: people proving their resilience and pulling together as a community, swapping, sharing, donating and helping. And in some countries, governments are working harder to tackle homelessness and only issuing business grants or bail-outs if recipients commit to greater sustainability.

 

So what are some of the other important things we have come to understand?

 

  • That materialistic concerns mean nothing when lives are at risk.

  • That we need to be well-prepared and well-resourced in case this happens again.

  • That many of us don’t need to travel to work or use a car as much as we thought.

  • That political differences can and should be put aside, as they have been in Croatia and Canada, to present a united front and leadership when needed.

  • That money, resources and radical adaptions can be put into place quickly to deal with a crisis, proving the potential for this to happen for the climate crisis.

  • And, most importantly, that we are stronger together than we ever are apart.

 

Writing back in 2016 about optimism in dark times for The Independent, political scientist David Rothkopf wrote: “Optimism is the most logical, sound, and defensible position to arrive at after a rigorous study of history... We do not live in a perfect world. But we live in a perfectible one.”

 

We think Ian Dury would have agreed.

 

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