What important lessons can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?
While COVID-19 is having a serious impact on our economy and health system, there are some positives to focus on
We’re currently living through an unprecedented event in human history. A global epidemic has not gripped the earth since the likes of Influenza in the late 1960s which killed an estimated one million people worldwide.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread across the world at an unbelievable rate. This can be traced to the easiness of travel for a huge amount of people, via plane and sea, linking every nation across the globe. While these links have been extremely important in the development of our global structure and political landscape, here it has led to the situation we currently face. The situation which has gripped the world has begun to expose some of the major issues and inequalities which still exist in the world today for millions of people
We have seen the massive divide in our community and political structure exposed once more. The gap between the working and higher classes of society have shown once again the need for a universal basic income scheme and a living wage for all people. In a recent study, it was found that almost half of all people working are just three pay cheques away from poverty.
Our current minimum wage, coupled with the high cost of rent and living, shows that we need to rethink the importance of our economy versus our people’s livelihoods. People are struggling with the day-to-day cost of living. This was reflected by the change in the rate of the unemployment benefit due to COVID-19 job losses. The initial introduction of an unemployment payment of €203 per week then being increased to €350. Why is our standard Jobseekers Allowance only €203 maximum, when we have now seen that this isn’t enough for people to survive? Following this coronavirus situation, we need to increase our minimum wage to that of a living wage. We need to ensure rents are frozen in place until the housing supply is significantly increased and the cost of housing comes down.
Our healthcare system
We have also seen the issues surrounding our healthcare service in Ireland amplified. Hospitals and care homes are understaffed, nurses and doctors are operating without necessary resources and equipment, and many of them are not being paid a fair and equal wage for the work they’re doing. At the best of times in this country, our healthcare service capacity is severely stressed. Now, in the face of an infectious virus, staff are expected to perform an incredible amount of work, in very try circumstances. In 2019, there was roughly 300 people on trolleys every day in the country.
Standing to applaud our health service the other day felt so artificial to me. If these politicians really wanted to show support for our healthcare staff, their wages would be increased, their resources and equipment would be improved, more staff would be hired to ease pressure and reduce patients on trollies in normal times, not just crisis situations.
Once this pandemic is over, we must examine the structure of our health system. Is it fair to have a system divide of public versus private? Can we move to a national form of healthcare? We need to examine the positives of a system like the NHS in the UK and ensure that we never move towards a system that exists in the United States.
Looking at the positives
Greater sense of community
More positively, there has been a massive sense of community in the recent weeks also. People have been checking in on neighbours, Gardaí have been doing grocery shopping for older and vulnerable people. It’s unfortunate that it has taken this situation to do some of these things which we should look to continue doing in the future. Humans rely on each-other; we are pack animals. We should do our best to look out for the most vulnerable and less able in our society, always - not just a crisis.
Keeping in contact online
As well as a greater sense of community, we’ve once again seen how powerful a tool social media is. It helps us remain connected to each other during the weeks of social isolation. Hosting group calls with work colleagues, online games with friends, even our own SpunOut.ie Town Hall event via Zoom this year. People have been sharing exercise regimes, social media challenges and story templates to occupy themselves. The use of Netflix watch parties and YouTube livestreams has allowed us to continue our social activities and keep up with friends, albeit at a distance. These facilities are always available for use and we should continue to make the effort to check-in on our friends and family from time-to-time.
School and college work online
We have also seen that a huge amount of our work and schooling can be done from home. Whilst it may not be ideal, it is possible. This means people can spend more time with families, less time and money on commuting, and work at a more comfortable pace for themselves. We now have the opportunity to run exams online which can be helpful in the future for people who have accessibility issues.
Lastly, we have seen the immediate effects to our planet’s climate and air pollution due to the restricted movement and travel of people. While this is not the method that I, nor many others, would like to curb climate change with, it has shown the potential for extreme action, which is exactly what this planet needs.
While this is a scary time for many of us, it’s also a chance to reflect on how we want to positively move forward once the pandemic is over.