Fixing the Future: What must the world do now and post COVID-19?
There is no gainsaying that the lethal novel coronavirus moniker “COVID-19” has revealed the epistemic limitation of humans concerning plagues. The virus has stripped humans naked, as many countries were caught unawares. Albeit the last minute drastic response measures to contain the disease, the infection rate, as well as the death toll around the world, continue to increase. It thus appears that the headwinds of the virus have deeply fractured and elevated the downsides of the humanist scholarship. The damage from the pandemic is fast upending the global economic gains witnessed in the last decades. At the same time, the social life of people is fast changing as many of the social norms are now considered inappropriate.
The future, it seems, to a considerable extent, is damaged by the virus. Already, before COVID-19, the world was suffering grave predicaments, including growing inequality between the rich and the poor as well as high youth unemployment (in particular low-skilled individuals). The high unemployment among low-end workers is explained partly by the advancement in robotics, InfoTech and biotech in the delivery of work. At the same time, many economies were suffering from slower growth, increased public debt, dwindling domestic revenue mobilisation, and illegal migration management, among others. As a result, many economies were close to recession.
Moreover, the social fibre of the world is also witnessing marked changes. Social norms, including what constitutes “truth” is now fiercely challenged. In the political space, populism and nationalism dogmas appear to have taken hold of the political establishments across the globe. COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already frail predicament of the world.
The world, for many years, has witnessed different kinds of plagues. In the 1340s, the black disease (believed to have started from central Asia) consumed about 75 million lives worldwide. It was not until 1771 that an antidote was found to the disease. Between 1918 and 1919, the world again witnessed another deadly plague called Spanish Flu. This disease ravaged havoc around the globe, killing circa 100 million people. AIDS is another plague that has killed over 25 million people since 1981. The others include malaria, which kills over 2 million people every year worldwide and several thousand also die every year from chorale outbreaks. Other epidemics such as SAS, H1N1, MERS and Ebola have also slain many people around the world. Certainly, plagues have been one of humanity’s worst enemies because of the devastations they bring.
The corollary of these plagues is that not only do they devour human lives, but also the global economy always takes a hit. Healthcare infrastructure gets stretched, and sometimes pockets of social unrests are recorded. Businesses see profit plummet, individuals lose jobs, and many are left unable to fend for themselves and their families. Governments lose revenues and often are unable to provide the social support required during such critical times effectively. Fiscal rectitude gets jettisoned, especially when the disruptions are not ephemeral. Under such situation, countries are likely to accumulate more debt which elevates budgetary imbalance. Such imbalance often takes years to redress. Plagues, therefore, have from time immemorial not been good for the global economy.
The COVID-19 is undoubtedly impacting the global economy negatively. Growth is forecasted to significantly plunge in many countries as various lockdown measures are implemented. Unemployment is predicted to soar to levels comparable to the cold war era. Many businesses across the multiple sectors including; tourism and hospitality, transportation, manufacturing, education, among others have all collapsed or are on the verge of collapse. Already, many across the world are accessing state-sponsored stimulus for their businesses or consumption. Many are also being fed through food bank programmes.
Nonetheless, some positive norms have also emerged out of the pandemic. The key one is the improvement in hygiene standards as more people wash their hands and sanitise regularly. This, in addition to “no handshakes” and people removing their outdoor footwear before entering their homes, is expected to reduce transmission of infection among people. Another vital norm gaining prominence is the use of technology infrastructure for the delivery of education and work. As many are working from home, virtual communication infrastructure has become the surest way of getting things done. Concerning the delivery of education, information technology infrastructure has been quite helpful. These new normal habits many expect will continue even when the pandemic is over and done with.
Despite these identified positives, the virus on a balanced-scale is having a more negative impact on all people. It, therefore, has become obvious that COVID-19 potentially could damage the future of humanity. If this assertion is to hold, is there anything humanity could do to salvage the future? Yes! There are many things the world can do to get the virus to pass by with minimal effect. Below, I discuss some of the things humanity can do to ensure the future is not further damaged and to an extent, even reverse some of the direr COVID-19 consequences.
Education – To fix the future requires that we correct the present education system since it’s the sure way to an unknown future. Despite the relevance of education in determining the future we desire, no one can be certain of the type of training that will be relevant to the future. This assertion is so true because human’s prediction of the future has been often imprecise. So, it’s evident that we have a problem in determining the relevant education system for the future. Improving on our prediction of the future is crucial since what we learn today must be based on our prediction of what the future will be like. As the capacity of technology keeps expanding, it becomes imperative that the present system where schools cram information into students’ brain is revised. Some few decades ago, the cramming system was perfect because information was scarce. To make education responsive to modern problems requires a complete overhaul of the present system. Our schools must begin to emphasis the 4Cs – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. We must leverage technology to aid in the delivery of education in line with the education 4.0 concept which encourages cyber-physical interactions. This will require investments in technology infrastructure and also making them accessible to every school-going child regardless of geography. These investments must be made since humankind will continue to deal with plague nobody has ever encountered going into the future. With the advent of supercomputers, artificial intelligence and advancements in biochemical technologies, for humans to be relevant would require that education does not only afford us stability but also afford us the ability to learn and reinvent knowledge continually. The new education system must enable people to be able to harness the community of knowledge to address societal problems.
Prioritising healthcare infrastructure – If there is one thing that COVID-19 has exposed, it is the weakness in global health infrastructure and systems. COVID-19 has created an unprecedented disruption to global health systems in modern history. The World Health Organisation’s recent acknowledgement of significant gaps in global health investments has elevated health and welfare concerns around the world. As such, the need for adequate investments in equipment and staff training is most pressing if the world is to have a health system resilient enough to meet this pandemic and future pandemics. It is also critical that much attention is devoted to building robust cooperation, especially in the areas of information sharing among the various national, sub-national, regional and global health systems. Such fruitful cooperation ultimately will become the foundation for the much needed global health security.
Enhance connectedness and built consensus on global commons – Another area that is critical to fixing the future would be the extent to which the world cooperate in addressing the three most dreadful challenges of the world – destructive technological advances, persistent Nukes threat and the ecological destruction by anthropological considerations. Cooperation in other equally important matters such as science and research, fighting various forms of crimes- financial, cyber, drugs and human trafficking – just to mention, but a few would be a critical enabler for the beautiful future we all envisage. The adverse impacts of these global concerns are not geography-specific and could affect anybody in any part of the world. Need I mention though that the magnitude may vary from one place to the other. Human connectedness has reached levels that it will take a lot to reverse. In such complex connectedness, cooperation among nations is the sure way all countries can benefit. Institutions established to advance the global agenda must continue to reinvent themselves while engaging new actors. To fix the future depends on us fixing what is broken within the current global governance architecture. It will require us all to repurpose international coordination on global problems from the perspective of national to global solidarity.
The new normal – One element of the future is about cultural changes that are to come. Some of the prescribed protocols to control the COVID-19 have a direct impact on the culture of many people. For example, among many Africans, shaking hands is seen as an expression of affection, respect and connection with each other. This practice is now strongly discouraged as it is one of the amplified ways for the spread of the virus. People are now frequently washing hands under running water and sanitising hands when necessary. Social gatherings have been constrained to a limited number of people with strict adherence to social distancing. These are new normals. It is imperative to note that to fix the future, these “new normals” must be taken into account as a new fixture of life.
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To conclude, it has become apparent that the future requires fixing if humanity is to avoid the lacklustre way COVID-19 pandemic has been dealt with. The weak coordination among nations, the poor state of global health systems due to years of neglect, and inadequate education on the COVID-19 pandemic need not repeat in the future. The world needs to make the right investments and interventions required to sufficiently position it to deal with future pandemics. This will require all of us to build strong global solidarity against future plagues and through that protect humanity.