Life during a pandemic means we all wake up every day to even more alarming news than the day before. Living in Hong Kong, we have been semi-sequestered since January.
The concern and panic continues as the virus is now besieging other parts of the world, and a resigned understanding that we are in a potentially long-term fight against Covid-19 has begun to set in.
Even as we are still learning to deal with the virus and the ensuing instability, perhaps it will help to think about what positive changes this crisis could yield. I am no purveyor of false hope and don’t ask you to pause your concern even for a moment or lower your guard.
I understand that this can end lives and severely damage others by suddenly destroying livelihoods and life plans. None of us are immune to these terrible circumstances.
But, let’s allow ourselves to dream a little as we try to survive this nightmare. What could happen after we wake up?
The virus has made some companies transition to letting employees work from home. Perhaps flexible and remote working will become par for the course, and more industries will adapt to it.
This might allow more people to work in ways that benefit them more than current standard practices, and allow for access to a diversity of talent. More institutions could take to useful technology and usher in an age of further efficiency and access.
Re-evaluating the value of labour
More people are realising the immense value of different types of labour in this world of shutdowns and quarantines. Some professions have to keep going, and the loss of some services is proving particularly painful.
For instance, being forced to home-school children who can’t attend schools is leading to an appreciation for the hard work that teachers do, and more people relying on delivery workers is creating a stronger appreciation for their efforts.
Compensation could improve for these types of jobs, which are ill-paid in most places, to reflect their value to society. We live in an extreme culture of bailing out corporations that have questionable tax-paying practices, and that needs to be re-thought.
Valuing a social safety net
In Hong Kong, we have access to public healthcare with affordable co-payments. Some countries notoriously don’t have these systems, the US being a glaring example.
A public health crisis is a sad reminder of how crucial free or cheap healthcare is, to stem a disaster and protect lives across income brackets.
Rethinking growth and productivity
We live in a world where GDP is still considered a primary measure of overall economic health, even though it doesn’t count a giant chunk of unpaid labour, or account for the gross inequalities our systems create.
We live through clouds of air pollution which we have normalised because sneakers ‘need’ to get made by exploited workers, and higher paid workers fly ludicrous numbers of miles for unimportant meetings. We burn out because of over-work.
This global crisis may make more people, businesses, and governments consider what it means to be productive, and how we can live more sustainably. Maybe we will make real strides in considering ways to decouple our economies from environmental destruction and the oppression of people, and rethink our current addiction to growth at any cost.
Perhaps we will realise, at long last, that it simply isn’t safe to continue the way we have been, and embrace ideas like the Green New Deal being parlayed in the US by progressive politicians.
Regaining solidarity in communities
The global stress has led to a discussion on morality; for instance, the morality of price-gouging, or socialising when you may be an asymptotic carrier and thus risking the spread of the virus. Reclaiming morality from religious verbiage is a positive change. It makes it accessible and applicable to everyone.
Noteworthy examples of people coming together and exhibiting decent humane behaviour also make their mark and create examples in these times. I met a small business owner in Hong Kong who has used his business ability to manufacture hand sanitizer to distribute it to those in need during the weeks we were all panicking over the lack of stock.
Some people I know are also pledging to share their Hong Kong government financial handouts with their domestic workers, who will not receive them because of work and visa discrimination. Times of disaster can serve as a reminder to think communally in this way.
Awareness of mental health issues
Uncertainty over health and paychecks is a recipe for anxiety, even for those who haven’t dealt with it too much before. Perhaps this crisis will elevate conversations about mental health, make people more comfortable discussing mental health issues, and reduce stigmas as we all realise that everyone can have mental health problems.
A renewed, real dedication to fighting the climate crisis
For many years, lukewarm global responses to the existential threat of the climate crisis has disappointed and infuriated those of us who are awake to it. Now that we are dealing with a pandemic, every country is awake to at least one threat that transcends boundaries, and requires the global community to fight it together.
Perhaps the climate crisis isn’t killing your loved ones just yet, but it is killing the victims of cyclones and wildfires and doing things to our planet that will make it a very difficult place for us to thrive in.
It will be useful for us to all work together to change our ways and deal with it, including learning how to exert pressure on institutions that could create systemic change, just as we are now finally attempting to do with the virus pandemic.
I wish us all luck and courage as we deal with this fast-changing situation, and commend the people of Hong Kong in our efforts to rein in the virus spreading in our city. I hope we can continue to do so, but in the manner of the author Rebecca Solnit who warns that hope is only a beginning, not a substitute for action, only a basis for it.