When push comes to shove, we are capable of changing our ways
If I could travel back in time to last year and tell my 2019 self that, in 2020, the world would be held hostage by a virus that would bring everyday life to a complete standstill, I wonder what I would say.
Especially if I then went on to inform myself that an outbreak of the coronavirus disease called Covid-19 would rapidly evolve into a pandemic leaving almost 4 million people infected worldwide (confirmed cases, that is) and over a quarter of a million dead and that there would be a financial and economic crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen in our lifetime.
My 2019 self might feel that 2020 me had been bingeing on far too many disaster movies and advise me to cut back on my Netflix viewing.
Consider being told that governments across the globe would close borders, recommend self-isolation and quarantine, and go as far as imposing lockdowns under which we would be confined to our homes. Or that offices, shops, restaurants, and cinemas would be closed with people working from their homes; that we would practice social, or rather, physical distancing; and that those venturing out would don face masks and gloves when doing so. 2019 me might be forgiven for thinking that 2020 me was plagiarizing some dystopian novel I had been reading.
I would most likely be met with scepticism and be accused of having an overactive imagination if I were to let slip that the onset of the pandemic would lead to a shortage of toilet paper across the globe, because that was the one thing people thought they needed to hoard.
Or that the president of the United States would, at an official briefing, suggest that injecting disinfectant into the body might kill the coronavirus.
My credibility would probably be further eroded if that I said that even though hospitals would be overwhelmed by the numbers of Covid-19 patients and have a lack of medical equipment and ventilators, that health care workers would find themselves working unspeakably long hours without adequate protective gear; and that despite all of the media coverage and scientific data, there would be protesters, some even toting guns, taking to the streets claiming the entire pandemic to be a hoax.
And while the economy would be failing, with huge numbers of job losses and people dying not only from the virus but from hunger, these protestors would argue that one should have the freedom to go to the local burger joint or indeed be able to get one’s hair dyed at the salon. How plausible would I sound?
I could also tell 2019 me that we are one of the lucky ones with a roof over our head, food on the table, and the ability to stay in contact with our loved ones. For some, lockdowns have meant losing their jobs and not knowing where or when the next meal will be. For others, isolation and separation from family and friends has had an impact on mental health and physical wellbeing, and for those living with domestic violence, being confined to their homes has meant no escape from their abuser.
As far as time travel goes, it’s probably for the best that I cannot visit 2019 me as I would have no answers for questions such as: How does it end? When does it end? Is there a vaccine? Do things go back to normal?
It is the uncertainty of the situation that is frightening. We have no idea what the “end” of the crisis will look like. As for “normal,” one would hope that we learn some valuable lessons and look forward rather than backward trying to recreate what we had.
Just because we think things are normal does not make them right.
In our frenzied desire for growth and love of consumerism, we have made high GDP our Holy Grail. So much so that economic growth has taken priority over our personal health and happiness, and we have little or no regard for the impact of our actions on this planet.
For my 2019 self, who by this stage would be shooing me back to 2020, I could offer a word of solace and provide a silver lining to the global crisis we are facing. Inadvertently, we have had to slow down our pace of life.
Lockdown has given the opportunity for families to reconnect, parents to get to know their children and vice versa. Communities are coming together to help those more vulnerable and in need, and we are learning that our needs are far less than our wants.
This virus has done what the likes of environmentalists such as Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough, and Al Gore have not been able to do. It has, by default, given this planet a brief moment of respite from us, allowing Mother Nature to breathe and regenerate. The reduction of industrial activity and the halting of most forms of transportation has also led to a marked drop in air pollution.
If nothing else, it has shown us that when push comes to shove, we are capable of changing our lifestyles and working practices.
I wonder if the 2019 me would believe me if I said that there had been sightings of kangaroos hopping down empty roads in Adelaide, wild boars gallivanting in Barcelona, coyotes roaming the streets of San Francisco, and Kashmiri goats having a nibble of shrubbery in northern Wales.
Therefore, it would be prudent for 2020 me to refrain from offering any more information that might have her (me) question my (our) sanity.
Nadia Kabir Barb is a writer, journalist, and author of the short story collection Truth or Dare.