With panic engulfing the globe I thought it would be good to focus on some of the positives of this new pandemic. One is that the Chinese wet markets have been banned. Although this is only temporary for now their very existence has come into focus and discussion. Wild animal markets like this force animals into stressful, crowded environments and in close proximity to humans which can lead to mutations that allow the virus to jump from a nonhuman host to a human one. They should be permanently banned the world over, not just for our sakes, but also for the animals who suffer tremendously. The ethicist, Peter Singer, describes them as “hell on earth”.
For the animals, wet markets are hell on earth. Thousands of sentient, palpitating beings endure hours of suffering and anguish before being brutally butchered. This is just one small part of the suffering that humans systematically inflict on animals in every country – in factory farms, laboratories, and the entertainment industry.
Another benefit is our carbon emissions are down. Climate change will kill many more humans and animals than this virus but has so far failed to generate a response commensurate with the risk. This could be the first fall in global emissions since 2008-2009. Although it too is temporary it may help to change habits with more people discovering they can work easily from home and others rediscovering local travel and holidays. Hopefully, given my first point about wet markets, people may also question the ethics of eating meat.
Another good thing about coronavirus is pollution levels have fallen dramatically in places that have seen large outbreaks which, ironically, may save more lives despite the infection because we know pollution kills. Again this is only temporary but it may help to change habits away from motor vehicle use and also remind people what their cities are like without cars and smog.
Economically it’s not going to be as bad as the Spanish flu which hit the working population the hardest. These were the breadwinners and care-givers who became victims at a time without state-funded social nets. Imagine being a child in a family of ten and losing your mother or father or both? It must have created severe hardship for many families. These victims were also tax-payers which would have had a major effect on the economy. Coronavirus so far seems to be less severe on children and people of working age. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all follow the official advice to slow the spread of the disease as much as possible. We absolutely should ensure the people who really need intensive care will have the support from our health service when they need it and slowing the spread of the disease will help to lessen the load.
There are also businesses that are likely to do well from this virus. Manufacturers of toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizer, and face masks all seem to be doing well. IT companies that produce productivity tools will also benefit – think of software that allows people to work effectively from home like online meeting software, chat tools, and online collaborative workspaces. As someone who has worked from home for the past six years for two different IT companies now, I can’t see why this type of arrangement can’t work for many others also. You just need to use the right tools.
It’s not all bad, folks. Keep calm and carry on!