Some thoughts on coronavirus

1. You’re living through an historic moment: Not since World War II has the world been so heavily affected by anything of this scale. In fact, never in history have so many people had their lives so dramatically and directly impacted all over the globe at the same time by the same event. Nearly 1 billion students are forced to stay home. That’s scale.

The last global pandemic was more than 100 year ago – the Spanish flu of 1918. Basically, what we are experiencing now only happens once in a lifetime. You and I are living through an unprecedented event. Your grandkids will learn about this in history class, and you’ll be able to tell them “yes, that happened, and I was there.”

2. Being a dad at home: On the one hand, being at home every day with my wife and 1.5-year-old son is a huge blessing. I get to see my son during his waking hours, play with him in the mornings and early afternoons, educate him and see him developing. This hits home for me in a unique way, because I find it hard to drop him off at kindergarten in the morning and entrust him into the care of a ‘stranger’. As loving and caring as the staff at our local daycare are, this goes against my parental instincts and always felt ‘unnatural’.

I, like millions of other parents around the world, have just come to accept that this is how post-industrial societies function: daddy and mummy go to work/school, while someone else looks after our kids for the bulk of the working day. So being forced to all stay at home and having our son here beside us under our supervision and in his ‘natural habitat’ has been a blessing. On the other hand, it’s tough. In the hat that I wear in the outside world, as a professional, a worker, as someone ambitious, it’s hard for me to lose my level of productivity and output. Kids need 100% of your attention. That only leaves about 2 hours of actual worktime a day.

So yes, I’m grateful for this opportunity to be home, to be a full-time dad, to be a partner. But it’s also difficult.

3. What happens next? It’s obvious that the current global state of emergency is temporary. I don’t how long it will take until countries start easing restrictions. It could be weeks, or months, or maybe even closer to a year. The question is, will the reality we return to be the same as the one we left behind?

It’s probably clear at this stage that coronavirus will never be entirely eradicated. It has entered the human gene pool – probably forever — and will eventually stabilize like the seasonal flu, peaking in the winter months and declining during the summer. The train has left the station and the virus is here to stay. The return to “normal” will likely depend on how quickly a vaccine can be engineered, mass-produced and shipped-globally.

Take for example international travel. We will probably witness a total shutdown of international movement in the coming week as countries seal their borders to non-citizens. Israel has just done it. Australia and New Zealand just announced it. Others are in the pipeline. Return to international travel requires a global solution: Even if Israel [or, insert your country here] manages to totally eradicate the virus within its borders – so long as any other country has the virus, travel just won’t be possible, as the virus will certainly be reintroduced. Individual countries can and will eventually beat back the disease internally one-by-one. But even after coronavirus will been contained in Israel (or any other country), borders will probably remain sealed until every single other country has achieved identical results.

We’ve witnessed how devastating air-travel can be in spreading a pandemic: it’s only a 14-hour flight from Wuhan, China to Milan, Italy – the current epicenter of the pandemic. That’s why international travel will only return once a medical solution has been found and rolled out comprehensively on a global level. Otherwise the era of unhindered movement is on hold for the medium term.

4. Certainty in times of uncertainty: I think that Israel is in one of the best positions to cope with this pandemic on a societal and psychological level, because its citizens are already so used to dealing with crises. Some commentators have dubbed this moment a “war”, and Israelis have unfortunately learned to cope with wars and other catastrophic situations that upend the normalcy of everyday life.

Nobody really knows how long we will be in lockdown for or what the post-coronavirus reality will look like. The only thing certain right now is uncertainty and that things will probably be different tomorrow.

5. Cooperation is key: Preserving the social fabric of society depends right now on people’s ability to alter their expectations in line with this new reality, to adapt quickly to the situation and most importantly to maintain mass-cooperation – which, up until now has been the hallmark of modern society. Our mental health in lockdown depends on this, and of course the upkeep and continuation of society through this crisis depends on it.

6. Peace in the Middle East: countries and terror groups are busier with the epidemic than with military adventures. Combating the virus is now at the top of everybody’s agenda, and all previous issues have been deprioritized. In the short-term, we might actually see some peace around here (or to put it correctly: lack of armed conflict). Obviously, I’m skeptical that it will hold, in fact I’m certain that fighting will resume once it’s all over.

But there are some small things that leave me with a glimmer of hope. Last week a top Iranian cleric authorized purchasing a future Israeli vaccine “if there was no other alternative”. Maybe some good will come out of all of this after all, when “they” will finally be able to see some humanity in “us” (and vice versa), and when we realize that we’re all equally vulnerable because we’re made up of the same biological stuff.

7. Using big data to manage the virus: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral” – Melvin Kranzberg. Tracking our movements using our phone location data, along with other data sources (CCTV footage, internet usage, credit card use, etc.) will make it easier for the state to ensure that people comply with health regulations and make the fight against the virus more efficient. This is clearly beneficial for our immediate needs.

The question is, will this legal leeway into our digital footprints be a one-off or will it be used in the future for other less-pressing concerns? Has the Pandoras Box of mass surveillance been opened? At this stage, the effectiveness and speed by which countries manage to defeat the virus, depends on how stringent they are willing to be and which personal freedoms they are prepared to limit in the name of quarantining their populations. Using the power of big data coupled with powerful institutions and a cooperative military and police force, governments have more clout than ever before to contain and eradicate something as imperceptible as a virus and to protect their citizens from harm.

What remains to be seen is if this will be a watershed moment in history and if those same tools that we’ve entrusted our elected officials with, will one day be turned against. us They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Will libertarian civic forces restrain the power of government thereby rendering it less effective in times of crises but more docile towards the average Joe? Or will the West move closer to the Chinese model of governance and start monitoring the behavior of its citizens – which is highly effective in containing a pandemic, but which comes at the expense of privacy and personal liberty.

Coronavirus is the first true test of the global order in the 21st century and it’s also the first true test of the internet and smartphone age. It’s clear that – until a vaccine is developed — the speed at which we return to normalcy, walk back social distancing guidelines and reopen our borders will depend on the policies implemented by our governments. The question is, will there be a cost tomorrow as well?

Originally appeared as a Facebook post

About the Author
Working in hi-tech and living somewhere on the axis between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Avi was formerly a news writer at the Times of Israel.
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