As 2020 draws to a close, people are exchanging wishes willing it to go away and take with it the disasters it brought. Topping the list is, of course, coronavirus which bred the COVID-19 pandemic that has shaken the entire world. The pandemic has distressed nations and governments, altering lifestyles on all levels: political, economic, social and cultural. It impacted sports, arts, music and cinema; it redrew classic education and work models; and it fettered human relations by restricting or banning gatherings, and separating families, friends and loved ones. It imposed a restructuring of human interaction, substituting distancing for closeness. The pandemic introduced the business world to the predominant use of remote communication technology, digital transactions, and prioritisation of cautionary measures against spread of the virus.
Did coronavirus, however, redefine human beings as innate “social animals”? Will people in the future gradually drift into behaviour dominated by reluctance to socialise? Such questions seem shocking to one and all; the majority around the world wish to believe that coronavirus is an unwanted guest that will sooner rather than later leave, bringing the warmth of human contact back to life as it used to be. But can the global wish come true? Can coronavirus meet its demise with the end of 2020?
The truth we must all grasp, expressed repeatedly by scientists and virologists working on coronavirus, is that it is highly unlikely for the virus to pack and leave in the near future. The virus will not be leaving any time soon, so humans must learn to live with it. This naturally implies working for and looking forward to finding a vaccine to protect against it, and treatment for those it infects. In short, the state of panic engulfing the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic does not hinge on wishing coronavirus away, but on reaching successful and safe preventive and treatment means. Only then will humans be able to live without fear or fluster alongside a virus which has in one year infected 66 million people around the world and claimed the lives of 1.5 million.
Let us not panic in face of these painful figures; rather, let us visit recent history when some 100 years ago the influenza pandemic hit the world. It, too, hit hard, claiming the lives of millions upon millions of people. Back then, science which was much less sophisticated than it is today, was called upon to study the new virus, comprehend its nature, and come up with a potent treatment. Among humanity’s greatest all time achievements in the field of health was the discovery of antibiotics, and these had a magical effect in treating complications caused by the influenza virus. Today decades later, influenza did not go away; it has become a regular disease that can be dealt with by modern-day medicine. Pharmaceutical companies produce seasonal influenza vaccines able to cope with various mutations of the virus. These vaccines are made available on the market every autumn for those who wish to boost their immunity against influenza which normally hits in wintertime.
I am not happy with the persistence of coronavirus as a daunting, unwanted guest and, like everyone in the world, I wish it would leave for good. But I try to be pragmatic as I listen to health experts and scientists who all believe it will not depart. I am sure that human beings will ultimately live with coronavirus, embracing cautionary restrictions, and using preventive vaccines and treatment drugs. With this in mind, I accept without undue alarm that coronavirus will remain with us for some time. And I again say we could take the case of the influenza pandemic as a guiding light towards understanding and tolerating what is yet to come.
11 December 2020