By Dr.Parkie Mbozi
THE World did not pay attention nor imagine what TB Joshua meant when on the eve of 2020, on 28th December 2019, he made this prophecy, “This year 2020 will be a year of HUMILITY. This year, the Lord will humble us with our challenges.” He went on, “There is something God wants to achieve concerning this – God wants to achieve humility to the core. He wants everyone to be on their knees, every nation to be on their knees. After that, the solution will come.”
Within five months into 2020, Joshua’s prophecy had already been fulfilled. And what would bring the world to its knees was no other than a small invisible virus known as novel coronavirus, later to be globally known as Covid 19.
On 18th May 2020, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General’s of the World Health Organisation (WHO), in his opening remarks at the World Health Assembly, confessed, “If this virus is teaching us anything, it’s humility. Time for humility. Six months ago, it would have been inconceivable to most that the world’s biggest cities would fall eerily quiet; that shops, restaurants, schools and workplaces would be closed; that global travel would grind to a standstill; that simply shaking hands could be life-threatening.”
On 23rd June, Dr Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention equally confessed that the outbreak of COVID-19 had “brought this nation to its knees.” Redfield told the Energy and Commerce Committee of Congress that. “We’ve all done the best that we can do to tackle this virus,” but confessed that coronavirus had humbled the entire nation.
The COVID-19 virus has thus been described as a fastest-spreading respiratory infection. Within two months (by February 2020) it had claimed 2,750 lives, which was more than the 774 killed by SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – and 8,100 infections over eight months in 2003. Experts say COVID-19 has been spreading at a rate 10 times higher than SARS and its mortality is 2% compared to 1% of SARS. And in less than one year it has already mutated into a variant that is said to be 70 times more infectious.
To say that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the world would be an understatement. In just about a year since the virus emerged on 2nd December 2019 in Wuhan China, and in just less than a year since it first hit Europe and the USA, the disease has upended day-to-day lives across the globe. It has changed everything about us – how we work, travel, learn and interact. The social distancing rules have led to a more virtual existence, both personally and professionally. In this article I discuss how the pandemic has affected and changed the world and our lives for many years to come, if not forever.
The pandemic presents tough choices for governments, local communities, health and school systems, as well as families and businesses: How to re-open safely? How to safeguard people’s lives and protect their livelihoods? Where to allocate scarce resources? How to protect those unable to protect themselves? Answers to questions like these will affect our short-term success in battling the spread of the virus and could have impacts for generations to come.
Within two months, by February, the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the global economy had been profound and yet to be fully felt even to date, a year later. Within two days of the first case in the USA markets across the world had been sent tumbling. In the USA the Dow Jones plunged by 1,910 within two days. Shares and currencies across Asia had slumped sharply. As we ended the year, yesterday, not a single country and economic sector can be said to have been spared. A of number companies across the globe ended the year with Zero profits in 2020 and job losses were reported everywhere because of the coronavirus.
The economic impact was fast-tracked as affected countries stimulated a wide range of measures to prevent and contain the outbreak. Most of the measures have had economic ramifications. They included: travel bans, (for flights, train, buses, etc), closing border crossing, suspending air links, quarantines, ‘complete ban’ on wildlife trade (China), postponement of major events, including sports, and shutting trade links.
Loss of lives due to Covid 19 or various illnesses or complications of diseases occurring amongst the patients, especially the elderly, has been one of the most profound social and emotional impacts of the virus. Zambia and other sub-Saharan countries may have been spared in 2020 but who knows how the disease unfolds in 2021 and beyond? In just over 12 months since the pandemic broke out, as of 30th December 2020, Covid 19 had infected an estimated 82,326,252 and claimed 1,796,477, with the huge majority occurring in Americas, Europe and Asia. The pandemic situation has created fear, stress, stigma, minimising social networks, etc.
Although Africa’s contribution to the global cumulative total has been relatively marginal, just below 3.5% of both infections and deaths, there are realistic concerns that the continent cannot cope with a full-blown outbreak. We ended the year with South Africa being one of the two countries reporting the new strain of the virus, which is 70 times more infectious albeit being less lethal. With open and porous borders and free trade across southern Africa, who knows how this variant (strain) will churn out come 2021 and beyond?
Our personal lives changed
In HIV and AIDS campaigns, the following saying was adopted years back, “it is either you are infected or you are affected.” Who thought this would apply to Covid 19 within a year of its outbreak? As we ended 2020, all of us across the globe (without exception) had experienced the imposition of lockdowns in our countries and across countries, with the imposition of international travel bans. Think about the meetings, workshops, graduation ceremonies, business trips, international conferences, etc we had to miss or hold virtually. As individuals, we have had to make uncomfortable changes – both big and small – to our everyday lives.
Dismantling the family relationship and intimate relationships with relatives, neighbours, various communities, etc. These conditions were predicated to lead to interpersonal conflicts and domestic violence in the family. And indeed there have been reports of increased domestic and gender-based violence in countries such as South Africa. Studies focused on mental health have also revealed deterioration in this area too.
We have also experienced disruptions of schools, universities and vocational education as optional strategies (e.g. e-learning, virtual lessons, etc) to cover up their educational goals have had to be experimented for the first time, especially among lower level educational institutions (schools). In Zambia educational broadcasting has been tried but initial assessment reveal that these have been total failures, what with the massive digital divide (e.g. low radio and TV ownership and Internet access in many parts of the country). All supply chain networks in the education field have been interrupted. These challenges have resulted in irreversible gaps in learning outcomes.
As predicted by economists, there has also been downward trends of family economic conditions and several lower hierarchy social classes have faced unbearable economic hardships due to lack of daily or monthly earnings. The purchasing power of families has been severely affected even though goods and service supply chain networks (i.e. markets, shops, supermarkets, etc) have been in place by and large.
At a national and global level economic recession and increase in poverty level in society were predicted and have taken root. This has led to financial crises such as a decline in monetary values, share market values and businesses and changes in supply chain networks. As we have heard from our leaders, the pandemic situation has directly negatively affected attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defined to be achieved by 2030, since some countries are unable to allocate financial resources to meet the country-specific targets.
As they say, every crisis presents its own opportunities.
First, the health guidelines, such as social distancing, have also allowed us to explore hobbies and interests and learn new skills that we might never have had before, such as virtual platforms for various purposes – learning, church services, social networking, etc. We have earnt to turn to social media to solve real–life mysteries from our homes. So, while we have been forced to be physically distanced, the Internet and social media have allowed us to reach into each other’s homes and places of worship.
We have learnt to hold meetings while physically separated and to run businesses for clients or customers who cannot turn up at our restaurant or shop. Overall, social relationships for many seem not to have suffered. As predicted by Manuel Castells, the father of the Network Society theory, it is time for survival of the networked. The innovative have turned the Covid 19 crisis into an opportunity. It is no longer business as usual. The report of the World Economic Forum, for instance, says, “Global billionaires managed to increase their collective wealth by 27.5% during the four-month period, to $10.2 trillion.”
Down here in Zambia, for instance, while some protestant churches resorted to virtual service and prayer meetings soon as the lockdown measures were announced, the Catholics just stayed away and kept waiting for relaxation of the measures. When they finally resumed in-personal service a few months ago, they may have many their flock for sure.
Behind all the suffering and disruption and economic hardship of the coronavirus pandemic, an even larger global crisis was lurking: climate change. There were questions about whether our experiences with the international lockdowns could help or harm the environmental cause. Fortunately, humanities miseries have turned into rising fortunes for Mother Nature. One report on environment impact reveals an “improvement in urban environments – with cleaner-smelling air, calmer, safer roads and bolder wildlife – which offers a glimpse of what a greener world might be like to live in.” Fellow satellite TV watchers may recall images of cheetahs literary ‘sleeping’ on the roads of Krugger National Park in South Africa. How nice!
Satellite data have revealed a drop in atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide (a key air pollutant released by the burning of fossil fuels) over cities and industrial centres across Europe and Asia as traffic and factories quietened. In some regions of the world temperatures were reported to have fallen by 30-40% compared to the same time in 2019 and before. So alongside slowing the transmission of the coronavirus, the lockdowns and consequent reduction in industrial air pollution is itself predicted “to have probably saved the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of people.”
It’s been estimated that the slowdown of the world’s economy caused by the pandemic would reduce global CO2 emissions for 2020 by 8%. A group of scientists say, “If we are to limit global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement, we would need to reduce emissions by this amount each year for the coming decades.”
When these positive and negative impacts are considered, it is very clear that COVID-19 has caused more positive impacts to the nations, regions and the world, particularly to South Asian countries. For better for worse, 2020 will indeed be remembered for many years to come in the same way we still remember the 1918 – 20 Spanish flu that killed about 500 million people globally.
Farewell 2020! We will miss you – for the opportunity of working (or is it waiting for some people) from home. That opportunity enabled us to make our farms more productive.