As I write this, COVID-19 has infected 1.2 million people, 64,000 of whom are dead. The true scale of the pandemic, particularly in developing nations, will likely never be known; estimates will range in the millions. To reduce those numbers as much as possible, the entire world has come to a screeching halt. Humanity is in lockdown. Nobody knows how long this will last, but unemployment is certain to spiral as entire industries are being wiped out. Governments are mobilising in ways not seen since World War II, writing blank cheques to mitigate an economic collapse rivalling the Great Depression. Undeniably, these are historic days. Not since 9/11 has the world been so suddenly upended, so irreversibly divided into distinct eras before and after the event. While this is less ‘spectacular’ and less symbolic than jetliners knocking down skyscrapers, it is no less deadly; it comes with its own sense of the surreal, wholly quieter and eerily dispassionate.
9/11 and its repercussions were horrific: the Middle East was set ablaze, civil liberties were eroded, trillions of dollars were wasted, and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. It’s hard to think of a single positive resulting from that September morning. If peace is the only real tribute to the victims of war, then the victims of the War on Terror are yet to have their tribute. But perhaps they finally will if we learn not to make the same mistakes; those who die from COVID-19 needn’t die for nothing. We have an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild our economies in fair and sustainable ways which will improve not only our quality of life but that of future generations. It’s clear that generation-defining action to a crisis is possible; if we can do it to stop a virus, we can do it to stop ourselves from becoming a virus. We can tackle climate change; we can work to end poverty; good can come from bad.
After all, the Black Death helped spark the Renaissance.