A New World by Covid-19 Quarantine – a tragedy or an opportunity?

Bruna Lopes, Diogo Ventura, Érica Gonçalves, Milene Lopes & Mariana Sousa, Portugal (15-18 years old)

On March 11th 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the Coronavirus a pandemic, leading to many changes in our habits. As we were forced to take a series of preventive measures, our lifestyle saw a complete overhaul. Now, we have to learn as a society a new way how to socialize in spite of the anxiety and uncertainty about our future. How does this pandemic affect us socially and individually? Should we stick to our past (wrong) ways of living or do we reinvent ourselves?

Since December 2019, the world has been facing a global health crisis: the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Yet COVID-19 is much more. It has become the greatest challenge since World War II as it has also the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crises. How we respond to the threat and what we learn from it will define our future, our way of life on Earth.

Society and its Health

As social distancing has been enforced during the emergency health crisis, many experts believe that many Portuguese families may be negatively impacted psychologically. Actually, according to psychologist Célia Rodrigues, ‘Although for some individuals with higher resilience the process may become positive, for many, however, this may be problematic, as the stress of social distancing can cause a certain derangement, psychologically speaking’.

As most women have jobs in the tertiary sector and undertake activities that are now considered non-essential by the state of emergency, they’re one of the most severely affected groups by the new containment measures.

‘In fact, women may experience higher levels of stress than men, since they now have to demonstrate more productivity while teleworking, all the while they’re taking care of their children, helping them with their home-schooling activities and maybe even be in charge of every household chore. We should also keep in mind that there may be a rise in domestic violence, now that the victim and the aggressor are in close quarters most of time, compromising the victim’s safety.’

Covid-19 has worried many community groups but one of the most concerned by far is the elderly, who are now avoiding going to the hospital, given the higher contamination risk. However, this has been responsible for some deaths and advanced-stage diseases that might have been prevented with the intervention of the Healthcare system.

On the other hand, in the fight against the invisible enemy, one could argue society has shown its best side: charity events are multiplying. In Portugal, the #Euficoemcasa festival, which took place between March 17th and March 22nd, brought artists, record labels and agencies together in a unique cultural event, bolstered by the support of the media. With the same goals in mind, the #Riremcasa festival, which took place between March 26th and March 29th, took a more humorous approach, counting with the performance of 50 comedians.

The sports world also wanted to invest in the fight against the disease. Cristiano Ronaldo, football entrepreneur Jorge Mendes, football club SL Benfica, alongside many others made donations that enabled the purchase of materials of extraordinary utility and relevancy for the SNS (Portuguese National Healthcare System), and football club SL Benfica made a donation of 5.5 metric tonnes of food to Comunidade Vida e Paz in Lisbon.

Technology and Innovation

In order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, we’ve witnessed a new method, bolstered by technological advances, to control the citizens’ movements. This project, already applied in China and South Korea, is, however, considered illegal in many countries, as the Government and maybe other third parties may have access to everything we do on our mobile phones.

On the other hand, technological innovations such as 3D printing have been used in the production of visors and pieces for medical ventilators.

The elderly have also been more in touch with these newer technologies. According to a care taker at a nursing home in Caneças, Odivelas, ‘most elders have contacted their families through phone calls or in some cases, video calls to avoid feeling lonely and abandoned’.

Moreover, in this new situation, we are now acquainting ourselves with new ways of learning and working. Some experts indicate this pandemic will lead to a shift on how the workplace should function may also lead to an increase in telework, ‘many corporations who implemented telecommuting have realised this new method may be used to their advantage. Telecommuting can be quite useful, even if we don’t take its advantages commuting-wise into account. Many studies suggest that workers tend to be more wasteful in terms of paper and energy when in the working place, at since they don’t pay for those resources. At home, it’s a different story’ as stated by the environmentalist Francisco Ferreira.

According to José Tribolet, teacher at Instituto Superior Técnico, education ‘will never be the same. A 25th April revolution is underway.’ The pandemic has forced the necessity for home-schooling, which to the expert’s mind, will ‘strongly impact on how the educational system, professional development and workplace relationships work’.

The economy

The world may have to face a more serious crisis than that of 2008. With a global recession and underemployment rates worse than those of 12 years ago, Southern European countries and Ireland will be the most affected given their high public interest accrued.

Covid-19 may threaten the lives of millions of people and may be a devastating blow to the economy, international trade and jobs in general. Economist David Bessa posts that this economic situation is ‘worse than it could’ve ever been during wartime, either in terms of halting all production or in our ability to recover from this. This means we’re descending ‘a very steep slope’.

Although the Government has put in place certain measures to help corporations cushion the effects of the pandemic, others have made a dent to trade centres, several services and many economic activities, whether by totally halting those or by decreases in revenue.

Another economist speculates ‘the Coronavirus will take its toll first on the banking sector. But in our modern conjuncture, it’s highly likely to see its effects trickle down to other sectors.

On our online survey about the Covid-19 pandemic to a sample of 182 individuals (52.7% aged 14-30, 30.2% aged 31-64 and 17% aged from 65 onwards), although 55.5% seem to contradict our experts’ prediction, stating they haven’t felt any repercussions of the pandemic, more than 20% assume a huge shortfall in income, either by having been made redundant or by having suffered salary cuts.

Pie chart about how the coronavirus affected the respondents’ way of life.

On our online survey about the Covid-19 pandemic to a sample of 182 individuals (52.7% aged 14-30, 30.2% aged 31-64 and 17% aged from 65 onwards), although 55.5% seem to contradict our experts’ prediction, stating they haven’t felt any repercussions of the pandemic, more than 20% assume a huge shortfall in income, either by having been made redundant or by having suffered salary cuts.

Despite these daunting prospects, many businessmen have shown signs of great entrepreneurial spirit by reinventing themselves and adapting their companies to new business opportunities, ensuring job security to their workers.

The environment

Environmental associations have expressed their concern about the unwanted tipping of masks and other kinds of protective equipment, which has caused a new environmental problem and health hazard: the dissemination of germs and infections from hospitals. In Wuhan, by the end of February, there had been produced more than 200 metric tonnes of medical waste, more than quadrupling the average.

Yet this pandemic has not only brought bad news to the environmental crisis. There is a brighter side of the quarantine.

With the decrease in air pollution and in greenhouse gases emissions, this pandemic bodes well for the environmental crisis. In just two weeks, as industrial production ceased in various regions of China due to the imposed lockdown, pollutant gas emissions dropped by 25%.

According to Carbon Briefs, an internet portal specialised in energy efficiency and climate control, the two main factors surrounding this massive drop in emissions can be explained by an accentuated break in energy production and consumption, which caused coal power plants decrease their energy output by 36% and all flights by 10%.

In Lisbon, according to EEA (European Environment Agency), the average levels of nitrous dioxide (NO2), an air pollutant produced mainly by internal combustion engines, dropped by 40% over the span of just a week.

In Venice, with the city brought to a halt by the state of emergency, dolphins and other aquatic fauna have returned to the city’s clearer waters. What is more, Italy has also observed the same overall decreases in greenhouse gasses emissions and other air pollutants as China in a two-month timespan.

Environmentalist Francisco Ferreira perceives this time period as great source of information for what could happen in the future. He states that this drop in emissions ‘provides a great deal of information as to how to manage a similar situation in the future’. Vincent-Henri Peuch, from the Copernicus Programme, argues that ‘whatever lessons we take from this crisis will do well to rethink our current problem with air pollution’.

Quoting the Portuguese economist Manuel Alberto Maçães: ‘The world will look completely different from the other side of the tunnel we’ve just stepped into’.

The question remains: In this new situation Humankind finds itself in, should we cave in and stick to our own (wrong) ways? Or do we reinvent ourselves, taking this tragedy as an opportunity to create a fairer, more charitable, environmentally friendlier world?


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