The world has been given a radical shake up by COVID-19. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic and within 30 days the world turned upside down.
The microscopic, invisible pathogen forced governments and central banks to temporarily set aside political and economic ideologies and create drastic measures in response to a global crisis facing humanity. As the death toll mounts, governments, policymakers, political elites, and powerful multilateral lending agencies have responded by declaring they will do ‘whatever it takes’ to restore global order.
Trillions of dollars have suddenly been identified in emergency fiscal and monetary relief packages to meet human needs. And more will be needed. Whether you are a socialist or free market capitalist, it doesn’t matter. Everyone now wants to save lives!
Here are five ways I believe the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world.
- There is greater realization that the world needs a fundamental change in its structure. COVID-19 has disrupted everything and brought the world to a standstill in the year 2020. As job losses and unemployment rise and global productivity falls, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the United Nations (UN) Secretariat are predicting the worst economic crisis the world has seen since the 1930s. Global debt has escalated. Recovery will be long and slow. The impact will be far-reaching and devastating on the world’s poor. After the global pandemic is brought under control, the world will then face the big question: will a ‘new normal’ emerge that sees a restructuring of society in ways that are sufficient, more equitable and just, and more sustainable for all the peoples of the world, especially for the ‘bottom billion’, as economist Paul Collier has suggested?
- COVID-19 has focused minds in unusual ways. Just as the 4th Industrial Revolution has taken off with the launch of the digital age, and the new tech age offered profound new solutions to societies’ problems, COVID-19 signals a massive setback to science and industry. Questions about the knowledge and understanding of the mutations of this novel coronavirus have left the scientific community scrambling. No antidote is available. No vaccine has yet been found. By the time the first round of COVID-19 passes it is projected that more than 100,000 people would have lost their lives. And there are real fears in Asia of a new wave in areas that were thought to be under control. Compared to other pandemics in history, could the digital age be viewed as a contributory factor to the relatively low death rate of COVID-19? Has it made healthcare more accessible to the poor and more vital and dependable as a necessary part of the common good? For sure, there will be other epidemics in the future. This is not the last one. We do need to accelerate investment in scientific research and push policymakers to take the healthcare systems of the nation much more seriously.
- Human life and social and economic systems have been upended. The impact of the global public health emergency that has been declared by the WHO has forced individuals to think about what matters most in life. Personal and corporate plans, programmes, principles, practices, and policies have been radically reshaped. Things like jobs, business houses and financial securities that have been relied on have had their foundations badly shaken or destroyed. That which seemed impossible to change, like the structure of the global financial system or access to health care by the poor and underserved in society, is now on the front line of change and reforms.
- COVID-19 arrived in the midst of a global youth rebellion on every continent. It made an emphatic and dramatic statement that it cannot be business as usual. Prolonged street protests in Hong Kong, Chile, Paris, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Baghdad and elsewhere, have not been overtaken by the virus. The ‘Greta Thunberg generation’ that had been calling attention to the state of the planet will not be stopped by a pandemic. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2020, the young Swedish teenager who had spoken bravely and boldly to world leaders at the UN and who symbolizes a global youth awakening, challenged business leaders with the radical message that the ‘world is on fire’ in regards to the global environmental crisis. She was rebuffed and told to go to college and get an education. She was rudely told she must learn how business runs before she can dare to challenge business leaders. Who now needs to learn how business runs and its relation to the environment?
Environmental activists have been warning of a global threat produced by global warming and climate change. This, they insist, has been influenced by human lifestyle activities that impact the planet. Declarations of a global ‘climate emergency’ and urgent calls for strong governmental and industry action to mitigate impending disaster have largely fallen on deaf ears. COVID-19 is more than a ‘wake-up call’. It is a time for action call. In 2012, before the UN Paris Agreement on Climate in 2015, an international conference on creation care was held in Jamaica. It drew 57 global participants from 26 countries as diverse as India, Argentina, Bangladesh, Benin, Kenya, Uganda, Singapore, the UK, the USA, and Canada. Their collective resolutions, known as the ‘Jamaica Statement and Call to Action’, warned of a ‘pressing, urgent crisis that must be resolved in our generation’. This movement has since spawned a very active global creation care campaign that is leading a global network for creation care activism.
- Religion has not been left unaffected. COVID- 19 has forced faith-based communities to rethink old assertions and modify religious beliefs. In India, where 1.3 billion people were placed in ‘total and complete lockdown’ for 21 days, the predominantly Hindu country faced a major humanitarian crisis, the mass migration of millions of urban dwellers in cities as they fled to rural areas due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus grew.
Christian churches everywhere have been forced to make radical adjustments to their self-understanding, their ministry and mission. COVID- 19 has led to the first digital celebration of Easter! Perhaps this has stripped away the commercialization of religious festivals and allowed the real meaning of such events to be the focus of the celebration. Many parishioners, young and old, seem to have discovered new ways of fellowship, even bringing those in the diaspora closer in live, real time contact with services at home. It may turn out to be that the church is able to reach more people with ministry now more than ever.
Pastors who act in defiance of emergency public orders have been arrested by law enforcement. Claims of religious liberty over civil authority have been thrown out. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” has taken on new meanings.
On the theological front, theologies of prosperity that are based on Bible verses such as, “If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will come to you. No sickness will come near your house……” (Psalm 91:9–16) or “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”, (Jn 10:10), are now called into question. As pastors, priests, and parishioners are among the fatalities of COVID-19, burial practices for victims of the virus pandemic, as well as ritual practices of serving holy communion among the faithful have had to be reviewed and amended. New ways of doing church have emerged. That’s a refreshing change for many. Perhaps a new post-COVID-19 world is being born.
Las G. Newman, PhD, JP is the retired president of the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology