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COVID, what’s next

Surely by the end of the summer, the death count will be close to 1,000,000. The infected will certainly be numbered in the tens of millions. And at least for the rest of this year reaching “The New Normal” will continue to be a kind of surreal fantasy. Like Waiting for Godot or a Diet Coke.

If anything should be clear to us from the emergence of a new virus officially baptized SARS-Cov-2 and its consequences through the disease known as COVID-19, there are two things:

  1. The evidence of our fragility as human beings. After the natural shocks at the beginning of a new millennium, in the midst of a new great technological and scientific revolution, when the conversation about the extension of life expectancy in some countries above 100 years begins to be more than science- fiction, the pandemic came to put us all in our place.
  2. Above the “I”, naturally, there always will be the “we”. The great themes are not individual, but collective. They are not national, but global. In a historical moment when economic inequality is greater than ever, in the face of a civilization in which money and pleasure seem to be the highest values, the emergence of a disease with a relatively low contagion rate and that, nevertheless, could be reaching a world scale in three or four months should be a sufficiently clear message: what really divides us are not races, nor ideologies, wealth, or even education. In this as in other great themes, there is nothing, we all go together, we are the human race.

Despite the fact that numerous “experts” and more than one president in orange toupee assured in early February that due to the heat of the summer, by now we would have won the battle against the virus, with broad strokes it is possible to say that summer from 20-20 began with the following panorama:

  • About 10,000 deaths daily in the first few weeks, followed by about 7,000 each day, albeit with a record of new infections several dozen times higher than that.
  • Most of the world’s governments have already accepted that their real numbers of people who have been infected are significantly higher than those officially registered.
  • The epicenter of the pandemic moved from Europe to the American continent. And surprisingly, neither in China nor in India – the two most populous countries in the world – and neither in Africa nor in South Asia, the rebound of the pandemic has been particularly high, yet.
  • The United States, Brazil, Mexico, and the United Kingdom account for almost half of the people who have died from this new disease.
  • From the perspective of different governments, the worst-case scenario has not happened. That is the saturation of hospital systems for patients who need equipment and specialized medical attention to be able to breathe. Except in more or less exceptional cases –such as in Ecuador or some regions of Italy for a few weeks–, the new disease has not effectively overwhelmed the public or private health systems in most countries. Among other reasons, because a significant number of patients die in their homes, without having gone to a hospital.
  • Although in a strict sense it could be said that COVID-19 does not kill – the vast majority of deaths occur due to complications from other related illnesses, such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes -, in recent weeks, a consensus has begun to build between clinical specialists around a small number of drugs that have given positive results in a significant number of patients. Officially it is not a cure as such, but the signs are positive.
  • Something similar occurs with the subject of vaccines. Several versions prior to a formal vaccine have been developed, and according to their different promoters, progress has been unusually prompt. However, it seems risky to suppose that “at the end of the summer”, a complete version may have been developed that can be massively applied to several billion people around the world. Most likely it will continue to be a theme for 2021 and maybe later. If anything, it’s also a business issue, with hundreds of billions of dollars in profit for the final version of the vaccine to be officially approved for global distribution.

A little in parallel to the universal discussion on issues such as diagnostic tests and the usefulness of wearing face masks – almost always with a high politicization burden everywhere – except in China, South Korea and part of Europe where the debate about infection curves does seem to have followed a pattern in the shape of an “inverted V” (rapid growth of cases, a maximum peak, and a more or less vertical drop). In other regions and countries, the most common statistical figure has been that of a kind of “plateau” (with the fast growth of infections, a first peak followed of a kind of stagnation, usually associated with the relaxation of the discipline of social isolation).

Also, in more or less all affected countries, the public conversation on the subject has been shifting, from a strictly medical emergency issue that forced to force preventive self-isolation in entire societies, to the need to reactivate the different national economies.

Generally posed in a binary way – disease or money; isolation or food – the issue of “return” and even the very definition of what is meant by “new normal”, often omit another couple of basic points:

  • The winners and losers of the pandemic. It would be enough to imagine how we would have lived through a disease like COVID-19 before wide access to the internet, so that it is obvious the weight that digital communications have, and will have, in the displacement of much of the economic activity in a hundred countries of high or medium development.

Simplifying a bit: thanks to technology, the white-collar economy has the necessary tools to build a non-contact work culture, which can be even more productive. And if the factor of robotization in the industrial sector is added to this equation, the possibilities of a new productive order seem quite obvious.

In sectors such as finance, health, and education at all levels, this should be a truism. Although, it is true that the change implies the challenge of old mental structures and an important structural reconversion process. Along with the strengthening of connectivity, some digital tools such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, will come out of the supposed marginal world of video games to occupy a central place in these activities.

  • The causes and effects. Without necessarily implying adopting new paradigms regarding the type of life we ​​have and want to have, it seems that what we have had to learn during this 20-20 strengthens a narrative according to which the predatory model of the environment is, in some way , one of the reasons why a virus that could be found within some more or less exotic animals (pangolin type), ends up evolving in such a way that they could enter the cells of the respiratory system of some people and, from there, they will end for infecting just over 5 billion human beings.

Of course, if this “common sense” hypothesis is tested it would provoke great changes in our daily life and the very definition of the future we want. Not to mention the enormous economic and political interests that this line of reasoning would affect.

Finally, even from the perspective of what some specialists call “the first part of the beginning of this story”, I dare to elaborate the following forecast: This pandemic will not be worse than the Spanish Flu, which a little over 100 years ago, caused the loss of an estimated 30 to 50 million human lives.

Endemic optimist, I want to think that, despite everything, as humanity, we have advanced during the last century. Above all, in access to knowledge.

Beyond the scientific characteristics of each microorganism (both of the coronavirus type), the great difference between what caused the Spanish Flu and what can cause the COVID-19 seems very simple: this time, much of the world (little more 80 percent) has access to clean water and basic hygiene services. And although we need extensive advertising campaigns to remind ourselves, we are now aware of the importance of handwashing, whereas then, provoked bleeding and aspirin consume in massive doses were used as a “cure treatment”.

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