What happens when all this is over?

Alexandra Zalokosta is a Greek third year Medicine student. She is passionate about climate justice, women’s issues and empowerment, and art in all forms. She strongly believes in the power of knowledge and political discourse. Currently Alexandra is serving as the Environmental Impact & Health Current Event Reporter of The Clandestine.

[Featured Image: Crayon drawing of four healthcare workers in green nuances on a blue background]

What happens when all this is over? Over a year into this crisis, this question is starting to come up more and more. While the pandemic is still very much at large, the vaccines and treatment innovations being rolled out mean that there might finally be an end in sight. Thus, many leading experts in fields related to medicine, but also experts in issues of economics, politics and sociology, have taken to trying to predict what exactly the other side of COVID-19 will look like.

So, naturally, as a person with no qualifications whatsoever and a lot of free time because of the lockdown, I will also be trying to answer this question. As such, in this article I am going to be presenting some – qualified – predictions, some hopes and some things to be learned about the future after the crisis that seems to never end.

Healthcare

This aspect of global life is the obvious one to start with. This pandemic has exposed some of the problems that have existed in healthcare for a long time, both nationally and globally. Healthcare systems all over the world have been strained to the limit due to this pandemic, and there may be consequences yet to be seen. The vast inequalities in the provision of healthcare continue to be seen, with the latest issue the unequal distribution of vaccines, leaving developing countries with minimal doses. Additionally, even within healthcare systems, the consequences of discrimination of patients based on race or gender have been spotlighted.

Our healthcare is in crisis. But this crisis has served to make the larger public aware of the problems faced by healthcare systems and their staff. The recent history of budget cuts from health and social care programmes has shown its consequences, and sadly when we need these systems the most. However, this crisis has also shown what can be done when the science and healthcare communities of the world work together. We have seen the impressive speed in which medicines can be developed with collaboration and sufficient funding, and how collaboration of a global community dedicated to health can be a reality. Although unfortunately a patent pool agreement for COVID-19 treatments was not achieved, the support of such a concept has grown, possibly allowing for it to occur in the future.

Politics and the economy

Our perceptions of our political leadership have radically shifted throughout this past year. We have seen examples of good and bad leadership during a crisis. While in the past decade, after the recession, populism has steadily risen to power in many countries, the pandemic has collectively reminded us that in times of crisis, a demagogue with an easy answer is not the leader that is needed. The pandemic has shown the value of electing competent, qualified leaders. Hopefully, this will carry over to future elections, now that the question “Who would I trust in a life-or-death crisis?” is a recent one in the public mindset. Furthermore, one can hope that healthcare, an aspect not usually at the forefront of issues that voters are concerned with, will become a bigger part of political life, allowing for better funding allocations in this sector.

However, many political and economic experts speculate that we can anticipate a period of uncertainty in our politics. With perceptions of what democratic leadership is and what it should be having been shaken deeply, a turbulent time in all democracies may loom, as evidenced by the events of the last month in the United States, namely the Capitol riots, which have awoken fears about the preservation of democracy during. Lastly, from an economic perspective, there may be hard times ahead, with the rise in unemployment already having appeared as a major consequence. What will happen next is even more uncertain, especially with small businesses having been affected by the pandemic the most, and large multinational companies experiencing exponential economic growth.

Society and mental health

The most often discussed aspects of what our post-pandemic world might look like are those that involve the very thing that every person has had disrupted, in one way or another; everyday life. What will our lives look like, once we are able to restart them? How will we work, socialise, live? With working from home having become a staple of most careers, it is expected that some aspects will be kept, even after there is no necessity, such as splitting work weeks between commuting days and working from home days. Escaping the horrors of commuting has been liberating for many – Londoners being the prime example. Socialisation may also change, although possibly not as much. Although it may be a long time before any of us feel comfortable hugging another person, once this is achieved, sociologist Dr Nicholas Christakis predicts a second “Roaring 20s” with society reverting to increased indulgence, as it did after the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

Along with trying to predict how life is going to restart, there is one looming crisis that needs to be addressed. The looming mental health pandemic, whose true toll we may only be able to see after the crisis after the crisis has passed. As predicted, there are increased rates of depression and anxiety across the world, and a generation of children whose future mental health may have been affected by the pandemic in ways we are yet to see. Furthermore, more and more people are displaying symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. The groups that are seemingly more affected in such a way are individuals who come into direct contact with the pandemic, namely frontline workers and COVID-19 sufferers.

In conclusion, the world right now is a mystery. All we know about the post-COVID world is what we can predict or imagine. We can choose to view it hopefully, or grimly, or to not at all. It will be different in some ways, but also in some ways it will be the same. But the one thing each one of us can try to understand is how this year has changed us as individuals, not how it will change society. I, for example, will never not feel uncomfortable when I have to touch anything in public transport. Really.

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