The Covid-19 Pandemic – A Force For Change

Monday, 18 April 2022
By Patricia Lustig & Gill Ringland

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As the Covid-19 pandemic continues into its third year, it is becoming ever clearer that it has had a wide range of effects. Many commentators have discussed the economic effect[i], the effect on the travel and hospitality industries[ii], and on education - the rise of online education has been world-wide[iii]. Further, it is clear that women have disproportionately suffered through job losses, reduced hours, increased pressures of care and domestic work, access to education, and strains on both physical and mental health[iv]. Plus over 11 million girls may never return to school[v].

In this Pamphleteer we explore three effects that are less discussed – about science, the emergence of ’Covid rage’, and organisations growing and evolving through enforced virtual interactions.

A recent Scientific American issue[vi]How Covid Changed the World” was dedicated to “Lessons from two years of emergency science, upheaval and loss.” Some useful highlights for us were:

A high speed scientific hive mind emerged – researchers found new forms of rapid communication and collaboration.” - for researchers, the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was an all hands on deck moment. The scale of cooperation was amazing. Large scale surveys of scientists in 2020 and 2021 showed that roughly one third of researchers in the US and Europe contributed to the effort. As we pointed out in New Shoots[vii] , there were six hundred authors on the paper announcing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – a number of co-authors seen before in other disciplines but rare in biological and pharmaceutical research. It was an amazing collaboration of teams to be organised so quickly.

Inequality got much worse – the poor, no matter where they live, will suffer the greatest lasting toll.” Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stieglitz points out that the pandemic hit the poor hardest, whether through having jobs that could not be done from home, lacking access to vaccines and testing facilities, or due to underlying poor health. He writes[viii], ”The economic shock of the pandemic most likely will linger. It will be those at the bottom – poorer Americans and most people in poorer countries – who will still suffer the consequences years from now.”

People with ‘Long Covid’ (called ‘Long Haulers’ in the USA) have raised the profile of chronic diseases, potentially leading to increased scientific investigation and investment[ix]. “Long Haulers called attention to chronic diseases – but society is not prepared for the growing crisis of Long Covid[x]. I (GR) am sensitive to this as in 1996 I caught a virus on a plane journey which lived in my sinuses for 10 years. It led to ill health with a range of symptoms - from chronic fatigue, toothache and arthritis to irritable bowel syndrome and brain fog. Doctors thought I was depressed – but that was an outcome not a cause! Hopefully, the substantial number of Long Covid sufferers will ensure a fresh look at auto-immune disfunctions caused by viruses.

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The next effect has been less widely commented on[xi]: ‘Covid rage’ and the breakdown of civil behaviour. The global pandemic seems to have brought with it not just frightening physical symptoms but also a change of social behaviour.

Politeness, such as simple acts of courtesy and consideration for others, is giving way to antisocial meanness and irrational behaviour. Our friends who work in customer facing jobs are finding that hostile language, invasions of personal space and threats – once a “late Saturday night” occurrence – are now frequent. They need to call police more often to remove or warn customers. Staff wear personal alarms and shops have panic buttons.

A friend in Africa found that after he had recovered from the immediate physical symptoms of Covid-19, he was subject to terrifying rages. He was worried about the impact of his rages on his family, friends and work. He saw a physician who knew him well, who explained it like this: “You’re a fixer. You always want to fix things. You’ve always been able to, because you were always in control. The illness has made it clear to you that you AREN’T always in control, that you can’t control everything, which led to your rage. You have been frightened out of your skin when you were threatened by a disease that took over your body. The only way I know to help is to give you – for a few weeks – an extraordinarily strong tranquiliser normally not available for people but used on animals.” He told us that it was the fact that he’d always assumed he was in control and now had been forced to see that he was not, that made him so angry. The tranquiliser has helped as has his self-awareness – but many people do not have this help or level of self-awareness.

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The third effect that we have seen is the change in a range of organisations as those past their first youth get comfortable with virtual communication. I (GR) have seen the effect at u3a (University Of The Third Age)[xii], Ethical Reading[xiii] and have heard of the reinvigoration of the Fine Art Trade Guild[xiv].

Perhaps the most telling example we have experienced is the Association of Professional Futurists (APF)[xv]. I (PL) observed that in the past year the organisation has shifted from a Chair, Vice-Chair and Treasurer from the Americas and mostly over 60, to an Asian Chair, a European Vice-Chair and an American Treasurer, ranging in age from 30’s to 50’s. The board make-up has shifted accordingly with members across world regions: the Americas, Europe, MENA, and Asia/Australia. While the organisation was moving in this direction before, I observe that the effects of the pandemic enabled a faster transition. The organisation has succeeded in passing the leadership baton to the next generations.

We wonder: how many more effects of Covid-19 will emerge, as the pandemic drags on? The authors would be delighted to collate what other people have noticed, for a future blog!

[i] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/01/global-economic-outlook-5-charts-world-bank/

[ii] https://www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/tourism-in-2022/

[iii] The rise of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

[iv] https://worldrelief.org/blog-the-compounding-effects-of-Covid-19-on-women-and-girls/

[v] https://en.unesco.org/Covid-1919/educationresponse/girlseducation

[vi] Scientific American, March 2022

[vii] Lustig, P., and Ringland, G., New Shoots: people making fresh choices in a changing world, KDP, 2021.

[viii] As 5

[ix] As 5

[x] O’Rourke, Meghan, The Invisible Kingdom, reimagining Chronic Illness, Riverhead Books, 2022.

[xi] https://aish.com/Covid-19-rage-and-the-breakdown-of-civil-behavior/

[xii] https://www.u3asites.org.uk/newbury/home

[xiii] https://www.ethicalreading.org.uk/

[xiv] https://fineart.co.uk/

[xv] https://apf.org/