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Oliver Callan: Coronavirus shows that all along we worried about the wrong things

Our hope and salvation lie in dreams of new world that will emerge after Covid-19

This is no time to live in the moment. If we think about the now, our minds might become overwhelmed with the information and the realisation of two awful certainties. That many people will die due to coronavirus and that there will be a severe recession for those who live. The only uncertainties being the eventual death toll and the extent and duration of the economic fallout. So the “now” is out of the question. Our only salvation may be to dream of the new world that will emerge at the far end of this.

Every first will have a profound meaning, like a loved one's hand wiping away your tears

We hear the World Health Organisation (WHO) epidemiologists; approximately 96-97 per cent of the infected will survive. When the world awakens to whatever passes for normal we will do so in grief, relief, a fair amount of survivor guilt and hope. There is beauty in even the most simple of experiences after this. It will feel like the first time we’ve ever done so many ordinary things we once took for granted . . . hugging someone, kissing them, shaking hands, grabbing a door handle without thinking, slinking into a swimming pool, shouldering into a rival on a football field, cheering scores next to someone in a crowd. Taking a bus, eating a meal in a restaurant, sipping a cup of coffee, grabbing a pint by its sleek neck, a sharing hand sliming into a vinegary bag of chips. An ice-cream cone handed from one human hand to the next and savoured without fear. A dance in a crowded bar. Every first will have a profound meaning, like a loved one’s hand wiping away your tears.

Frail and vulnerable

Let us hope there will be so much to rebuild afterwards that the task prevents us from looking back. For who’s to blame. For who didn’t act responsibly at the beginning. For who accused the sensible and concerned of being hysterical. For who didn’t make the right decisions to save human lives, the most frail and vulnerable, who we couldn’t even provide with a final farewell or a funeral. For who didn’t prepare us, who didn’t give us the basic services to cushion the blow when it came.

The heroes will far outnumber the villains for all of that. Those healthcare workers who signed up for life and didn’t run for the hills when the meaning of their vocation came charging into our national bloodstream in the devastating spring of 2020. The test takers, lab technicians and pharmacy workers who stayed on their feet. The supermarket people so overlooked before, who kept us supplied and fed and tolerated the intolerable. The postal service and dutiful civil servants who processed record numbers of welfare applications. Ordinary workers in vital businesses who stayed the course and the citizens who kept their heads and helped each other even if flashes of cruelty, greed and selfishness in a minority captured too much attention.

What does it look like, this future? Dare we silently smile through the present sadness with the hope of its rebuilding possibilities?

All along, have we worried about the wrong things, like those trial runs for fascism? But even the neo-fascists were meek in the face of an aggressive virus that spread faster and more infectiously than a lie on social media. In the end, the ignorance of bigots who fought against the truth of the outbreak only exposed themselves to danger. They once wanted to break and remake the world but the virus got there first, though they may try to capitalise on the blame game over a "foreign" disease and the globalism that facilitated its spread. Conspiracy twits tried to claim the virus was man-made, a weapon. Yet no nation on Earth could create an infection as sophisticated as the one Mother Nature sent us from a zoonotic wildlife disease, never mind control it.

Post-outbreak world

For a long time it has appeared like we’ll never find a way to help our climate recover from the damage we have inflicted on it. Has nature beaten us to it? Those early Nasa images of China’s shutdown showed the disappearing dirt cloud of pollution over the planet. The resultant hammering of economies worldwide is certain to achieve the sort of emissions reductions that were clearly impossible when left to the choices of those with the power to make them. If shown to have been effective, it may give the suffering and death of so many people some semblance of meaning in a post-outbreak world.

Post-outbreak world; how we long to fast forward to its warm, carefree, unsanitised embrace. What does it look like, this future? Dare we silently smile through the present sadness with the hope of its rebuilding possibilities? Its potential power to make us finally sort out health systems and value those who supply it? The possibility that we will never be so unready ever again, or that the new recession won’t be marked by a repeat of the cruel austerity that maximised the pain of the last one? This might be a time to live in the moment after all, just not this very moment, but in those that are yet to come.