Beyond the virus

Nobody could have known how much life would change within a matter of months.

As Japan prepared to celebrate the turn of the year and revelers gathered to watch a sparkling crystal ball descend on New York’s Times Square, a deadly pandemic was secretly brewing in a landlocked province in Central China. Over the following months, it would leap from country to country, causing chaos and devastation wherever it appeared.

Not long ago, this might have read like the beginning of yet another dystopian novel. But 2020 saw reality move unnervingly close to fiction.

When the novel coronavirus hit the sprawling city of Wuhan early last year, the world watched in disbelief as China’s government employed ever more draconian measures to contain its spread. The threat of a global pandemic was in everyone’s minds, but as the virus had not yet hit our shores, it was as though we were watching the horrific events unfold behind the safety of bulletproof glass.

The outbreak was impacting the lives of others. Not ours.

But I guess nature has a way of making us check our privileges. Because despite China’s efforts, the virus inevitably spread beyond the country’s borders. And what we thought of as a problem that befell a region on the other side of the globe suddenly knocked loudly on our doors.

Around this time last year, the first few deaths related to Covid were being reported in Italy, where over the course of the following weeks, thousands of traditionally close-knit families were sadly torn apart. Italy’s death tally quickly overtook that of China, and concerns then grew that other developed nations could suffer similarly large losses of human life.

Democratic governments all over the world implemented unprecedented peacetime measures to stop – or at least delay – a further spread of the virus. International flights were cancelled. Borders were closed. And when that didn’t prove enough, nationwide lockdowns were imposed, effectively confining people accustomed to roam freely to their own living quarters.

Businesses have had to adapt to this environment by announcing temporary closures or enabling employees to work from home. Parents had to learn to juggle work and childcare, while other people questioned what to fear more: the virus or the potential loss of their livelihoods.

In the months that followed, we quickly learned that while these measures may have slowed down our invisible enemy, we were still powerless to its attack. As at the time of writing, Covid-19 has claimed the lives of over 2.5 million people, with the U.S. now topping the table on John Hopkins University’s Covid-19 Map. Meanwhile in Europe, the U.K. overtook the death rate of hard-hit Italy.

Unlike a finished novel with a beginning and an end, our story is still a work in progress. While vaccinations have been produced in record time, providing us with a glimpse of hope, we don’t know what the effects of both the virus and the various measures deployed to combat it will be. Or how the world will look like once we emerge from our homes and banish the term ‘social-distancing’ from our lives.

Will the world revert to what it once was, or will the pandemic change the trajectory of history?

Let us imagine a world beyond the virus together. How do you think will it look like?

And how would you wish it to be?

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