Home » Tragedy of COVID-19 also has some potential benefits

Posted: April 11, 2020

Tragedy of COVID-19 also has some potential benefits

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

So, we’ve finally found the cure for world-wide pollution – COVID-19. Surely this is the classic example of the “cure” being worse than the disease? But it’s true!

From plummeting air pollution levels over most major cities to the Great Wall of China, the atmosphere hasn’t looked this good in over a century. But we’re paying a heavy price. As of April 11, almost 1.7 million confirmed cases and over 107,000 killed worldwide by the pandemic and thousands of new infections every day.

When will the contagion end? No one knows, and for that matter, even when it does end it may come back again. Perish the thought! Historically, even though it spread like lightning around the world, COVID-19 is a very mild pandemic as pandemics go, killing little more than one percent of the victims it infects.

The fatality rates of the Bubonic Plague (Black Death) and the Spanish Flu were much higher, killing in the millions. So, believe it or not, we’re getting off relatively easy. But the economic cost is going to be much higher leading to another recession for sure and quite likely a major depression like the “Dirty 30s” a few generations ago. And how many of us are prepared that? Not many if you consider how COVID-19 surprised us all.

So, while it’s nice to see clear blue skies over the Great Wall and relatively clean water in the previously putrid canals of Venice, we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s going to have to be changes in the way we live. Big changes! And how many of us are prepared for that or even contemplating them?

One of my favourite philosophers, Leo Tolstoy said: “Everyone thinks about changing the world, but no one thinks about changing himself.” Wise man that Tolstoy. Having had a few thoughts myself over the years about changing the world, but precious few about changing myself – as my beleaguered wife will attest – I’m now going to have to take the big step of thinking about how I will be forced to change to adapt to the post- COVID -19 world.

Don’t laugh, because you’re going to be forced to change too because the world has changed and we can’t avoid changing with it.

Get ready to live on less. Already forecasting agencies are predicting unemployment rates of 25% or more before the end of the year, comparable to the Great Depression rates in the 1930s when there were bread lines, work camps and people did without the luxuries of such things as shoes.

And keep in mind that Canada was largely rural then. People were closer to the land. Almost everyone had big gardens, hunted and fished, made their own clothes and meals. No takeout back then and far fewer restaurants.  My grandmother canned vegetables from the garden and redfish (Kokanee) from the Slocan River. My father shot deer. Not too many do that now or would even know how. Rural folk were resilient. We not so much.

Yes, we have a social safety net they didn’t have in the dirty ‘30s. But if the pandemic continues, how long will that social safety net last? And what will happen if it breaks or tears?

Can Trudeau keep shovelling money off the back of a truck? If he runs out will the Bank of Canada print more money? Will inflation skyrocket then like it did in Germany and other countries after the First World War?

For all of us over 65, will our pensions continue? Mine has already been clawed back once. And you of the top one percent or so, don’t be too smug. The value of your investments, bonds and equities could tumble. What then? I could go on but I think you get my drift.

But I do see some silver linings to the COVID -19 calamity.

President Trump could be brought down by the disastrous way he’s mishandled the pandemic, with more than 7,000 deaths in New York alone and more deaths in the US than any other country in the world. No politician can seem to do it. But maybe a pandemic can.

Finally, maybe COVID -19 can do what no politician has done until now, pave the way for a UBI – Universal Basic Income – that we’re sorely going to need in the depression following this medical tragedy.

One can only hope and pray.

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, whose predictions are occasionally right.

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