The View From Here: COVID-19

Volodymyr Kish.

Usually around this time of year, I am getting ready for Easter and enjoying the spirit of renewal and new life that the arrival of spring brings. It is a time of hope and joyful anticipation, as I put behind me the constraints of being cooped up in the house all winter and look forward to being in the great outdoors and a new season of travel, deck parties and other opportunities that spring and summer bring with them.

This year will be different. The hope and joyful anticipation have been replaced with an uncomfortable sense of apprehension and unease. The world is suffering, and the culprit is a miniscule virus approximately 120 nanometres (billionths of a metre) in size going by the name of COVID-19. Scientists can’t even agree whether this virus is a “living” thing, yet this microscopic rogue piece of genetic material has brought the world to its knees.

As of the time of this writing, COVID-19 has infected some 1.2 million people globally, including about 12,000 in Canada. It has killed about 60,000 people. Although only 187 Canadians have died so far, this is expected to rise dramatically in the coming weeks. Although the Canadian government has been quick to react and implement stringent measures to fight the outbreak, we should be aware that currently, the largest number of cases happen to be next door, in the U.S. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the American response so far has been far more disjointed and problematic. The Trump administration, after initially discounting the seriousness and even the very existence of the pandemic, is now struggling in its efforts to deal with the crisis, and this does not bode well for Canada. Whatever happens in the U.S., from a health and an economic perspective, is bound to have a significant effect on Canada.

To say that this pandemic has profoundly changed our lives, would at best, be an understatement. Normal life has been effectively put on hold. Aside from essential services, most of the world economy’s job and production activity has been suspended. Educational institutions have shut down. People have been ordered to stay at home. Most travel, both domestic and international, has ground to a halt. Hospitals and medical services have shifted into a state of crisis management. People are hunkering down and going into basic survival mode.

Despite Donald Trump’s naïve and woefully uninformed predictions that things will get back to normal in a matter of weeks, most medical and scientific experts agree that we are in for many months of “hunkering down”, and it may be a year or more before we are able to totally and effectively defeat this viral scourge. We should not underestimate or downplay the seriousness of this challenge. It is likely the greatest test that our civilization will face in our lifetime and in this century.

Despite the gravity of the situation though, we should have no doubts that we have the ability, the tools and the smarts to deal with this problem, and that with some perseverance, discipline and concerted effort, we will emerge from all this and be able to resume our normal lives in the not too distant future.

I say this not on the basis of wishful thinking or unsubstantiated optimism, but because I know what current science and technology is capable of.

In contrast to previous viral outbreaks, COVID-19 was identified, analyzed, genetically sequenced and biologically understood within a matter of weeks of its first appearance. Within the past few months since it emerged, a number of treatments and vaccines have already been developed that are currently undergoing clinical trials. In the past several weeks as shortages of masks, sanitizers and ventilators became apparent, contingency plans were rapidly developed to ramp up production, and the supply should catch up to the demand very shortly. One example of this that I read about last week was how Dyson, one of the world’s premiere maker of vacuum cleaners, within a matter of ten days, was able to design, prototype, and put into production a compact new ventilator that is critical to treating acute coronavirus patients. They will have produced 15,000 of these by early April. We should not underestimate what we can do when faced with an emergency situation and when we are sufficiently motivated.

The other advantage that we have is the fact that our Internet technology is enabling us to track, communicate and understand what is happening in real time. Getting critical information out to the public is vital, and nothing works faster and more effectively than the Internet. Further, the open nature of Internet media prevents governments from hiding from accountability or trying to “manage” or hide the truth behind what they are or aren’t doing. Through the Internet, the public at large wields a powerful influence on the authorities to take urgent and appropriate action.

The biblical Easter story has some timely relevance to what we are going through. We are in for a period of suffering and sorrow, but there is a resurrection of normalcy coming, and we should not lose hope or sight of that happening.