Covid-19: a mirror to reflect current risks and challenges

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Renée Gérard

The shock of a deadly pandemic combined with the subsequent confinement period has made us concentrate on what is important, our values but also the way that we should defend them in a consumerist world.

I totally endorse the topic that was chosen for the next IAW Congress: A caring Economy putting people and the planet over profits. 

Our economy will be deeply threatened but so will many other things. It seems to me that Covid-19, a natural phenomenon, has brutally reminded us that the human species is like any other living species on the planet and can be deeply threatened by a virus. Covid extends to us a mirror, reflecting the very real risks that are menacing us in spite of our technological progress, our arrogance, and our profit-hungry societies. These are the first thoughts I would like to share coming from my French experience during this period.

First of all, Covid-19 has demystified globalization. It has spread rapidly and surreptitiously, breaching boundaries, visas, and human as well as technological devices of detection and repression. It circulates freely between countries and even inside countries, it creates its own contamination clusters, menaces of a new epidemic. The same globalization which was supposed to bring so many benefits can also very quickly bring devastating catastrophes. These catastrophes are currently at work and governments, completely unsettled, have looked for solutions. There is no magical formula. China, who was at the start of the pandemic reacted very rapidly with energetic measures, therapeutic research, protection pieces of equipment. Other countries have had lesser resources and bigger difficulties: inequality of globalization.

Concerning the fight against the epidemic, Covid-19 has demystified our combat strategies as well as our form of organization. In France, citizens were stunned by the unpreparedness of health services, the lack of coordination and the contradictory explanations given to justify those. The number of deceased exceeds 30 000 and Parliament is carrying out auditions of those responsible, including the health ministers that have succeeded one another. Local authorities revealed their efficiency and the medical staff was admirable, but the epidemic took a heavy toll on caregivers since many doctors, nurses, stretcher-bearers, assistant nurses died, even though they had been demonstrating for months against their poor work conditions.

Hence the traditional approach of government and deciders has been debunked, in a period of crisis where Covid shed light on diverging conceptions of crisis and emergency medicine: the first oriented toward therapeutic emergency in order to heal and save as many lives as possible, the other a dogmatic medicine advocating for the research of long-term solutions validated on a methodical and scientific level, as if a necessary distance had to be kept from the emergency.

Even more preoccupying, Covid shows us that our neoliberal system seems to attach more value to the pursuit of the economy than to the pandemic, and that substantial profits can be made out of the pandemic. On top of the black market small profits made in response to the unsteady supply of masks and tests, a stunning campaign seems to have been launched by big international pharmaceutic laboratories to try to impose new and more onerous medication (hence more profitable for them), by systematically denigrating cheap therapies which have been shown to work in the prevention of viral charge.

We were scandalized to observe that during Covid, such a prestigious medical journal as The Lancet published a so-called “Big Data” study conducted in several countries denouncing hydroxychroloquine as very dangerous. Researchers worldwide mobilized to criticize the study’s lack of rigor in so far as the data was collected. They denounced the erroneous conclusions of the study, thus causing the resignation of doctors who supported it and the removal of the study by The Lancet. Without the vigilance of true medical researchers, a wide campaign of disinformation was launched and abundantly relayed by the media. Every means of persuasion had to be used in order to influence public opinion.

As far as Women’s Rights are concerned, it seems the declarations in favor of the resilience of the economy might result in relegating some of these rights to the domain of so-called feminist policies. In the context of the French government reshuffle, the new minister for gender equality is supposed to represent diversity (she is French and Cap-Verdean). She is a distinguished woman entrepreneur, and what weighed most in her designation was her competence in economic matters – versus other priorities defended by CEDAW and feminists.

Finally, the last reflection emanating from the Covid-19 mirror is the demystification of the poor level of consideration we have for our planet and its ecology. The ice floe is melting in the Antarctic, so is the permafrost. It will release elements likely to be dangerous and to contain new viruses. Covid-19 might be the precursor for other pandemics.

I wouldn’t want to be a doomsayer, but a few years ago I read a remarkable novel written by Jared Diamond:  “Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed”.

More recently, after seeing an exhibition at the Louvre on Forgotten Kingdoms – those which existed in the Middle-East and in the Miocene period and that disappeared brutally at the end of the Bronze Age – I read with great passion a book on the subject by an American archaeologist, Eric H. Cline: “1177 BC: The year Civilization collapsed”.

During the confinement period, I reflected on the disappearance of these civilizations, all destabilized by natural phenomena (earthquakes, epidemics, invasions…) and these events questioned me: History sometimes repeats itself. Shouldn’t we see this mirror Covid-19 extends to us as a warning? This had happened in the past, we should look out for the future.

IAW should help us look ahead. And we should all help IAW look toward the Planet’s future and its own future.

COMMENTS

9 Responses

  1. Dear Renée,
    My congratulations for this excellent contribution to our lives under the pandemic. With you, I very much welcome the topic chosen for our forthcoming Congress. Whoever made this choice had done well against the proposals voted in Geneva. We only can hope that there will be sufficient time during Congress to discuss this theme in a thoughtful manner it deserves. It is IAW’s opportunity for us to look ahead and should become IAW’s contribution to a feminist and green recovery after Covid-19.
    Did the lockdown really make us concentrate on our values and priorities? Maybe in the private sphere. Didn’t I read or listen to much national egoism, a prioritizing of the “us” against the “others”, the revival of the “homeland” ideology that an open European society, based on the four liberties/pillars (free movement of people, of goods, of capital, and establishment and provision of services) should have had overcome since long ago?
    Hand in hand with this ideology women experienced a renewal of the housewife glorification. Young women may have experienced it for the first time under home-schooling and home-office conditions, but we elderly recalled it very well, from the situation of dependency of our mothers to the hypocritical films of the 1950s.
    Applauding those women and men who kept essential services running during lockdown, may have been signs of general gratefulness. Why is then that now feminists have to claim investments in the care economy, thus reacting to cuts in public health structure, staffing, services; privatisations and stripping away worker’s rights, instead of governments acting in consequence of their own appraisals? Did Covid-19 bring change in this neoliberal thinking? Not really, as you rightly point out, as it seems more interested in the pursuit of the economy looking into the “substantial profits” that can be achieved by the pandemic.
    The few weeks since lifting lockdown have had curious consequences and only seem to support my pessimism as to the capacity of learning from experience of the majority of people. How can we explain the apparent thoughtlessness in which people restarted life, as if corona would have disappeared together with lockdown. Personal responsibility? Consequences for a more sustainable lifestyle, demystification of globalization and our combat strategies? I wish I could believe in it.
    One last point, dear Renée. And speaking as a grandmother. What did the closing of schools and universities during lockdown do to our children? What consequences will our societies have to face from these serious cuts in personal mobility, in a youngster’s life where social bonds, friendships, clubbing, get-together are being forbidden, or restricted? I wish somebody would tell me not to worry in this case and to have confidence in the ability of our youth to overcome.

  2. Dear Rosy
    Thank you for your comments, so accurate and so interesting.
    During the lockdown we had an opportunity to think over the challenges but it seems that new challenges have emerged when we consider the behaviour of young people, their frenzy to get together in large groups,to dance, to feel alive again disregarding that the COVID 19 is still there gaining ground

    Food for thought:
    Re IAW plan of action and our younger members
    It seems that they don’t realize that there is a danger that they have integrated a consumerist behaviour (having lived all their lives in the consumption society), that they are not aware that they have a responsibility not to contaminate others, even their parents
    All the best
    Renee

  3. Dear Rosy and Renée,
    To me the Covid19 pandemic has laid bare teh great inequalities within and between countries.
    Inequalities in my country:
    the neglect of culture and art workers, the poor payment of “essential” workers, the black markets for medical equipment.
    In other countries: the plight of domestic workers in Arab countries, the thoughtlessness of the Indian government in calling a sudden lockdown, forcing people to walk to there villages, without money and food.
    We may very well link the subject of our Congress to the SDG’s as decided in Geneva. Anything to end the harshest inequalities, and neo libealism. Fortunately there is talk of the poorest countries introducing a basic income , though temporarily. Lyda.

  4. Dear Renée,
    As to the situation of young people under Corona I couldn’t find a text more corresponding to my own feelings concerning the situation of youngsters under Corona as this one taken out of the British Shop Newsletter, August 2020.
    “Young people deserve special mention at this point, who behave considerately, even though it is more difficult for them than us older people for various reasons: They have seen less to look back on with gratitude and are full of lust for life and impatience. Exactly what is most important to you is subject to severe restrictions: traveling in groups, getting to know people, falling in love, dancing, making music together, partying at festivals – almost everything is difficult or impossible at the moment. Respect how well so many of them get along! So let’s not concentrate on the outliers like the party-goers in Manchester who were just in the headlines, or the shooters – but rather on the others, who at least in our experience are significantly more numerous. Thanks to the next generation, we can rely on you!”
    My grand-children are behaving as such. And I have to acknowledge that they live up to a responsibility that our generation of consumerism, individualism and neoliberalism would never have been able to achieve.
    Rosy

  5. Just a tiny quibble: Jared Diamond: Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed is not a novel, it is a work of non-fiction.
    I am reading Eric H. Cline: 1177 BC: The year Civilization collapsed now for a discussion on it in April 2021. I am sure it will still be relevant as SARS-CoV-2 resists all our efforts to wipe it out before it does us in.

  6. The story of the Lancet articles (there were at least 2) is more complex. It is important to mention that following these articles ethical questions were raised: leading to renewed international discussions on the ethical acceptability of conducting human trials.
    Resulting into the WHO to publish criteria for such ethical acceptability on the advice of an international working group. WHO includes in its statement “there should be public engagement and broad consultation with civil society” on this.

  7. The discussion is supposed to focus on the risks and challenges – the Lancet article is none of these
    So as I told you it should be another discussion involving opinions of different actors (you mention WHO but we saw that researchers, physicians, scientists had differences of opinion )
    If you are interested and if you believe that IAW might benefit from this new discussion, you might start it.
    Personally, I am very concerned about the social and economic global impact of the CoViD crisis on human societies (and on women in these societies). It is why I quoted the books of Jared Diamond and Eric Kline and I want to indicate a new book by Amin Maalouf in French: Le naufrage des civilisations 10 Juin 2019

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