SWITZERLAND, MAY 06 – The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has exposed how interconnected the world is and has constrained mankind to discard some of its most fundamental habits. Businesses, churches and schools are closed, economies of once vibrant countries have nosedived, and the fabric of community socialization has been torn apart as we are all compelled to become distant to the people and things we love.
Although, there is still a lot we do not understand about this virus, including the final price mankind will pay in this battle with an unseen enemy, what is certain is that the world will never remain the same. Several things are going to change going forward. Some of the decisions being made by authorities and communities around the world today will lead to permanent changes and some of our most common and acceptable habits will be gone forever. Already, scientists are saying that people should never shake hands again, post COVID-19. Several companies are discovering that what they used to achieve with endless physical meetings in big office spaces can actually be achieved through technology by people staying miles away from one another.
There is already an argument against city densification, which was the ideal model for urbanization, because scientists had argued that when people stay close together, they conserve energy. Now, scientists, authorities and city planners may be having a rethink because COVID-19 is telling us to do exactly opposite that. The potential move towards de-densification may also lead to a radical change in economic structures. There are so many other ways life is going to change including the increasing importance of digital technology and the reduced importance of privacy. The longer the pandemic, the more far-reaching these changes will be.
For many believers in conspiracy theories, the COVID-19(coronavirus) pandemic is a sign that the world is coming to an end. A certain character who is vocal in providing solutions to the pandemic has even been labelled the antichrist. They are right; the world as we know it is coming to an end. But they are also wrong because this is not the first time the world has ended.
The current death toll of less than 300,000 pales in comparison to historical estimates of the cost of the Spanish Flu pandemic (1917-1920), which allegedly took up to 50 million lives. For many of those living in Europe or America in this period, that was the end of the world. And yes, the Spanish Flu did change the world. According to an article in the BBC, the flu spurred the development of public health systems across the developed world, as scientists and governments realised pandemics would spread more quickly. The Spanish Flu taught the world some of the techniques with which it is currently fighting the coronavirus.
Perhaps, the staggering death toll from the Spanish Flu makes us think it is the biggest pandemic in history. Wrong. About six centuries earlier, the Black Death ravaged Europe and Asia over the course of decades, decimating up to 200 million people (Up to one-third of the world’s population at that time), according to historians. I believe Europeans in those terrible times must have thought the world was coming to an end.
It is not only pandemics that have ended the world order in history, wars also have. The Second World War from 1939 to 1945 caused the death of over 55 million people, reduced great cities to rubbles and brought about enduring changes to international economic and political systems. According to the Guardian, 1945 was different, so different that it has been called Year Zero.
As nations across the world battled Adolf Hitler’s Nazi minions in Europe and the Japanese empire’s desperate expansionism in Asia, many people must have thought the world was coming to an end as they witnessed unprecedented suffering. Many must have thought Hitler was the antichrist. Terms like ‘Displaced Persons’, ‘Genocide’ and ‘Holocaust’ emerged during the war as millions lost their homes and the Nazis murdered over 6 million Jews. The suffering of the Jews led to the creation of the Israeli State in the Middle East in 1948.
Many of the great international institutions we have today, including the United Nations, World Bank, International Court of Justice and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were created right after to war to prevent another conflict of that scale in the future. Also, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the two superpowers of the new world, even as the influence of the great colonial powers of Europe dwindled. The war also fast-tracked technological development as warring parties sought advantage over each other. The world discovered Nuclear Energy with the development of the atomic bomb, which eventually ended the war.
Indeed, the Second World War was the end of a world and the beginning of another. Yet it was not the first time that war had changed the world order. The Mongol conquests which took place during the 13th century has been described as one of the deadliest episodes in history, killing over 5 per cent of the world’s population at that time. Originating from Central Asia in the early 1200s, the Mongol empire conquered much of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, killing millions of people and inducing population displacement on a scale never seen before. If I was living in China in the 13th century, I would certainly have believed the Mongols have brought about the end of the world. Several other catastrophic events have shaped the history of mankind. These include the Plague of Justinian in the 5th century AD, the Crusades of the 10th-12th centuries, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars of the 19th century. All these catastrophic events have marked the end of an era and brought about the beginning of another.
As the world battles against the coronavirus, let us be rest assured that, just as all the other catastrophic events had passed, this one also will. Nevertheless, we should ensure we survive to become partakers in the new world that will emerge, post-COVID-19. Not only that, we need to position ourselves right now to emerge on the right side when the pandemic is over. Like an analyst recently asked on TV, COVID-19 will not last, but will you?