Are all the measures taken by different countries worth it? Will they be efficient? Why do they differ from country to country? How will our world look like when all of this is over?
I have asked myself some of these questions several times. And I have come with some preliminary answers, but I think my answers are not too convincing for anyone. That is why I decided to start doing phone interviews with people from different backgrounds to see how they perceive the current crisis and to get some perspectives on how the future may look like. Most interviewees are students of Leiden University, and therefore they live in The Netherlands. The interviews were held in the third week of March 2020. The answers presented below are the paraphrased versions of their original answers.
I know speculating about the future right now does not make much sense. And yet, I find it quite interesting. Let’s see where this journey takes us.
What do you think of the measures taken by the governments of different countries?
Daniel, 22, German-Czech, international relations background: This concept of herd immunity applied in the Netherlands makes me feel like I’m being an experiment. Maybe the measures should be tougher here. What they do in the Czech Republic is that you cannot leave your house if you are not wearing something covering your mouth and your nose. Like an improvised or actual mask. And I think this is a good way of slowing the spread of the virus. But here in The Netherlands, you don’t really see that often people wearing masks. When I was going to the supermarket, I wore something on my face, and people would just keep looking at me as if I were a weirdo when in reality, I was just avoiding spitting droplets into the air when I speak.
Peter, 22, Indian, business and finance background: This herd immunity strategy indirectly implemented in the Netherlands is not the best but it’s the only chance we have right now. I’ve been also thinking about this: the measures taken after the 2009 swine flu pandemic were not as harsh as the ones taken during this Coronavirus crisis. This might be the case because the world by then was just starting to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. I cannot really guess when the curve will be flattened in this crisis, or when we will be able to resume business as usual. If this situation continues for four, five months more, we will definitely be looking at a recessionary period. And the thing is that financial markets work based on hype and speculation, so a lot of things could happen in these uncertain times. You know, when Ebola came, it was pretty serious, it was more deadly but less contagious. Ebola was not given so much attention worldwide. Maybe this was the case because this situation was particular to Africa. And now with Corona, it seems to be that it is affecting fewer people, there are fewer fatalities. Yet, it is given more credit and attention than Ebola, back in its days. So, I guess it is more relevant because this is affecting not only developing countries but also developed ones.
Catarina, 39, Portuguese, area studies background: The countries that took measures right from the beginning are the ones that are dealing with the situation in the best way. And the Netherlands has been quite a latecomer in taking measures. Yet, I have to say that I have not fully developed an opinion regarding the effectiveness of the measures taken. In any case, I believe this situation must be taken into account very seriously because of the effects that this virus can have. Let’s imagine the virus is not deadly. Even in this case, because of the virus’s high contagious rate, it is possible that millions of people will not be able to work for weeks or months as they recover from the illness.
Will the economic and social consequences of the Coronavirus crisis be larger than the actual health crisis?
Daniel: The economic effects of the crisis may be more relevant for some people than the health effects. But that is exactly one of the things that struck me: we shouldn’t always be thinking in economic terms. It is not all about GDP growth. There are also many lives at stake here. People you may know might die if they catch the virus.
Peter: I am not sure how things can evolve in the future, both from a public health and economic perspective. I really hope this will end up well, but for how long can you really keep paying 70-90% of people’s salaries if the economic activity is going down.
Siina, 22, Finnish, development studies background: Reality check is always important. Not everyone can stay home. Not everyone can afford to stop working, especially entrepreneurs. Also, for the people working in the informal sector, how are they going to feed their families during these times when they cannot work, and no one gives them social aid? And in any case, for how long does a social system like that of Western European countries can remain stable when there is virtually no economic activity? A lot of people will die now, and that is horrible. But the overall social impact of the economic crisis may be even worse than what we see now. I don’t want to sound too negative, though. There is still hope that we will manage to get through this less dramatically. We’ll see.
How do you think our societies are going to look like in the post-Coronavirus crisis times? Will there be some major changes?
Daniel: The world is definitely not going to look the same. I think the question is just to what extent will it change, and in which ways will it change. For instance, many people have to work from home now. Maybe this situation will just show us that it is entirely possible to just work from home. Maybe this will become the new norm. Maybe this would even show that people are more productive when they are in their own environment and don’t have to go to the office. Another thing: this will hit the economy hard. Do you remember the big recession after the first world war? And do you remember what happened afterward? Nationalism, discrimination, violence. Let’s hope this is not going to be the case during these times. The question is: either we will see the global community strengthened, people helping each other to rebuild the economies after the crisis, or the individuals and societies will act merely based on their own interests. This last case is quite scary. If these measures and the whole health and social situation is to remain like today for a couple more weeks, the economic impact may be far worse than that of the 2008 financial crisis. Virtually every country in the world is going to be affected by this crisis. We are in a historical event in the making. This will be something people will have to learn in school, I think.
Peter: Maybe younger people are going to be more wanted in the job market than older people. Another thing is, I hope that people will be sympathetic to the situation. People should be forgiven whatever mortgage payment they may have. It would suck if people have to leave their houses at the end of the crisis.
Catarina: People are radically changing the way they work, study, and live. Accurately predicting how the future will look like is impossible. But I think that a possible situation is that countries move their focus inwardly rather than acting cooperatively. I see a lack of overall coordination and agreement between countries as if we’re repeating post-WWI history. But also, at the individual level, it seems that right now it is difficult for us to act as a community. I’m surprised by the situation in the supermarkets. There’s no reason for us to hoard but we do it out of fear. The big problem with hoarding is that it leads to a vicious, anxiety-based cycle that ends up leading people to accumulate more and more goods and hence empty supermarkets. Maybe this kind of fear-led attitude will crystallize into the future. On the other hand, we may start realizing the importance of community cooperation, and community-building. This is a complex tension that we might see developing in the future.
Siina: I could write a book trying to answer this question. It’s a big question. I can think about many possible panoramas, so, for now, I will only think about what I hope will happen. I hope that big companies will start understanding humans’ role in the company’s business. I hope they will understand that human life is so fragile. I hope that capitalism will take a more human form, where our fragility is taken into account. Likewise, I hope that people will start taking care more about themselves and the ones close to them. For example, these days, I have received more phone calls than in the last three years in university. And I think that is beautiful. As we have some extra time, it is nice to take care of each other more. And this is important as we know how terrible it feels to be alone at home. Lastly, I hope that we will acknowledge more the work performed by those who maintain the structure of our societies.
Is there more?
I guess it is up to you. Are there things you can do in your community to help them get through this situation more easily? Are you able to find meaning in life during these extraordinary times? Perhaps, in the end, it all comes down to how you build your perspectives.
PS: Blog posts series to be continued.