In the last month, governments in Europe have slowly started to ease or completely exit their COVID-19 lockdowns. Non-essential shops have re-opened, some children are back in school and many workers have returned to their jobs. Thanks to lower infection rates and death tolls, people can enjoy a taste of life before the pandemic, encouraging markets and economies that have struggled to adjust to this new reality. But while some countries try to ‘get back to normal,’ China braces itself for a potential second wave of infections, a still much feared possibility in Europe. So, in this era of globalisation, how are we to move forward and what world do we wish to see post COVID-19?
Leaders at the UN, WHO and WWF International have warned that pandemics are likely to emerge more often in the future. Our unsustainable and imbalanced relationship with nature has fostered the conditions for infectious diseases to multiply and pass onto humans. According to experts, a “green recovery” from COVID-19 is the only way to avoid potentially deadlier viruses in the near future. They advocate for new societal models that place nature as the foundation for a “healthy society.” A recent WWF report has, therefore, urged governments worldwide to introduce and enforce laws that eliminate environmental destruction. For post-Brexit trade deals Tanya Steele, head of WWF U.K., has encouraged policymakers to prioritise the protection of nature. The organisation has also called for the public to make sustainable changes to their diets.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, activities such as mining and rapid urbanisation significantly increase the risk of human contagion from 75% of new infectious diseases originating in animals. Besides accelerating climate change, our lifestyles have strained ecosystems and in doing so have put our health at great risk. Zika, Ebola as well as the Swine Flu all developed from animal populations under severe pressure in environments altered to fit humanity’s ways. From the illegal wildlife trade to the destruction of habitats for agriculture and livestock production, human practices are threatening our own security and future. The situation is worsened by the enabling role of climate change as, with rising temperatures and extreme weather events, it encourages the proliferation and spread of viruses.
COVID-19 has permanently altered the way many of us think of our societies and their structures. Healthcare systems have been overwhelmed, revealing the failures of governments’ austerity models. Marginalised communities worldwide have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and the economic consequences of it are likely to still fall on these groups. States closed internal and external borders indefinitely, something unimaginable a few months prior. We all had to adapt to new lifestyles and ways of being that are at odds with what we had been accustomed to. However, these can become the first step towards a more sustainable reality with innovative habits and structures to address climate change as well as social inequality.
The current pandemic is a symptom of larger issues of inequality, sustainability and health. COVID-19 has revealed the weaknesses of our systems and the risks that our own behaviours carry. Governments around the world ought to materialise the changes needed for an equitable society that harmoniously co-exists with nature. Though we can all make impactful choices in our daily lives, it is our right and duty to urgently demand structural changes at national and international levels.
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