I remember back in February watching online newspapers and talking with colleagues at work about what was happening in Wuhan, China. We were staring at photos and videos of empty streets, people saying that those streets were full of people just a couple of days earlier (Wuhan is a city of 11M people). There was news about doctors with special equipment taking people in the streets and (fake?) news about coronavirus as a bioweapon leaked from a lab near Wuhan. We were just watching and making considerations, the emergency was far away, at that time.
But like many things in life they are far, they are impossibile until they happen to you. And you don’t realize that the distance is actually shorter than you can imagine. Just to mention: some colleagues visited a condo in my city and a couple of days after their visit the first positive case to Covid-19 was found in that condo!! It wasn’t that far though.
Then the virus spread to the World, starting from Italy is now a real pandemic, and, want it or not, you have to deal with it and it will affect your life.
Let’s see what I believe is a missed opportunity and what is the real issue.
A missed opportunity
Once in a while there are events in human history capable of reshaping our culture and the way we live, a turning point in history, where humans are forced to react and adapt.
The Covid-19 emergency is one of those moments and humans are reacting. We could have done more and be proactive instead of reacting.
This kind of menaces, the fight against the virus, is different from a classical war between two or more countries. The virus is (almost) invisible, it has no boundaries and easily jumps over walls, it doesn’t care if you live in another country or the colour of your skin or you age sex wealth, if you are rich or poor, it’s new and mutates in time, sometimes in ways that you need to start over. And it’s fast.
Maybe the best response to this kind of emergency would’ve been a global response and, for global, I mean all the human race at once: no countries, no races, no familise: just humans against the virus.
This could have been the shift in our culture brought by this emergency. But to date I don’t see it. In Europe we even fight about what Italy can spend to deal with the emergency.
Now I realize that we have Countries, identities and so on. And I believe in social structures. I see a man like a small dot and many concentric circles, each one representing a social structure.
So there is you > your family > your friends > your neighbours > city > Country and so on. There also some other circles depending on personal interests: Ferrari or McLaren, Pizza or Pasta, coffee or the, and counting. So the broader view is that a country is a social structure and everyone in it is bounded in some ways (parochialism). Every country has its interests and decides how to tackle the emergency, sometimes not sharing right information or reacting the opposite way of other countries.
But we could have done more if we had got rid of those social structures and acted like once single race: humans.
I admit it sounds a bit utopic and seems we have still not realized it, but we need to converge to this in the future, if we want to survive to future emergencies.
The real issue
These times there is a perfect book to read: Spillover from David Quammen, where the author talks about the spillover. What is a spillover? It’s the moment when a pathogen, a virus or bacteria, makes a ‘jump’ from an animal to a human, causing a zoonosis. This is not frequent, but sometimes happens and brings new diseases that our body doesn’t know how to fight.
But why a spillover happens? There are many reasons, but for sure our modern lifestyle is helping spillovers to happen.
So as I see it the real problem is not the Covid-19 itself. We’ll get throught all of this eventually. But the truth is that new spillovers can come in the future and might be faster and deadlier than Covid-19 (e.g.: Ebola virus fatality rate is 50%, so think of a virus like Ebola that can spread like Covid-19).
Even if we win this time, the virus is still hiding somewhere, waiting for the next spillover. So what just happened in Wuhan and the rest of the World can happen again.
We don’t know when or how or where this will happen, we only know that at some point a new virus will again infect a human. This is why we need to be prepared and think over the world that we created, we need a change, a shift in culture to face the new emergency.
(ps: clearly Ferrari!!)