By Jim Poling Sr.
So here we are, one year later. Who would have thought that in an age when contagions are quickly spotted and quickly dealt with that COVID-19 would still be with us, more deadly dangerous than when it first arrived?
More than 109 million cases worldwide and 2.4 million deaths. Canada still experiences roughly 3,200 new cases every day and has had 21,200 reported deaths.
Beyond the actual sickness and death, COVID-19’s toll has been horrifying. Economies devastated, small businesses dying, health care systems exhausted and hundreds of thousands of personal lives shattered.
Millions of people not touched directly by the disease have had their lives changed dramatically.
There is no end in sight. Some experts say that after the pandemic is beaten back COVID-19 will be endemic – a disease that stays around requiring constant vigilance and vaccine updating. Much like polio, whooping cough and other diseases that are controlled but still erupt from time to time.
An important question now is what life will be like after the COVID-19 pandemic finally is subdued. Certainly, it will not simply return to what it was before the pandemic.
Social distancing policies designed to contain COVID-19 already have changed the world of work. Companies are finding that they operate reasonably well without large, costly offices.
However, more people working from home widen gaps in society. Humans are social animals who need to interact with others, and the gaps created by working apart will have to be addressed.
Workplace and work habit changes brought by COVID-19 come on top of changes already occurring. Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence have brought dramatic and stressful changes and will bring many more.
Similarly, the future of education as we knew it is in doubt. Almost 200 governments around the world closed schools during the pandemic. Tens of millions of learners were sent home to continue their learning remotely.
This has led to a huge number of drop outs, creating more less-educated people seeking work in shrinking work places.
It also raises the question of whether remote learning will increase in an attempt to save costs.
All this is creating uncertainty and anxiety. Our sense of safety and certainty about the future and our jobs and lives in general is being shaken badly.
My biggest worry is what COVID-19 is doing, and what it already has done, to our moral instincts.
When a society malfunctions, moral instincts begin to dissolve. We see this already. Tired and stressed, people have become nastier. Crime is up. Disputes are rising in once stable relationships and friendships.
The BBC reported recently that British divorce rates are soaring with one leading law firm reporting a 122-per-cent increase in inquiries between last July and October. Similar increases are being reported in the United States and China.
Sweden reported a 15-per-cent increase in joint divorce filings last summer.
Many jurisdictions around the world report increases in domestic violence during the pandemic. Close to home, Simcoe County shelters are reporting increases of 40 to 50 per cent in crisis line calls.
Post-pandemic life will be different and will require answers to questions about how to adjust to the changes.
Interestingly, some wise thinking about life after illness has been around for almost 400 years, provided by a British cleric named John Donne. After almost dying from an unknown fever in 1623, Donne wrote Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions in which he reflected upon death and human need.
Meditation XVII of Devotions contained two famous thoughts: “No man is an island” and “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
The first expresses his belief that no one is self-sufficient and everyone must rely on others to achieve a safe and productive life.
The second is the concept that one person’s death diminishes us all because we are a community of human life, not simply individuals removed from what is happening in other places.
Donne’s concepts never really had huge impact on the way we live, probably because they were written in Old English during the middle ages.
They are worth thinking about now in a society that too often puts individualism ahead of working together to achieve a better world.