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Through the Magnifying Glass

During a crisis, the problems and challenges of living together become evident. And suddenly, things are possible that were previously considered inconceivable. An overview of the lessons, as well as considerations and tasks for the future.

2. Globalization

During the crisis, the whole world distanced itself. Global trade collapsed. Dependence on China, in particular, became a focal topic. More than a third of all industrial products worldwide, and close to 80 percent of the global supply of medicinal raw materials originate from China. The lack of personal protective equipment and medical products has highlighted this dependency. Did Corona in fact herald the end of globalization? Not really. “COVID-19 ignores borders, and the solutions to address it will need to overcome them too”, emphasizes Rory Horner of the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester. Medicines and vaccines must be made available to as many people as possible. This is hardly imaginable without China and India. It is true that European countries are now discussing ways in which strategically important production capacities could return to Europe.Turning their backs on globalization, however, is a strategy that nobody can afford. The price to be paid would include higher personnel and raw material costs, considerable losses in the standard of living and a regression to nationalistic thinking.

2. Health Care

More basic research and international collaboration: according to experts, this must be the response to the global pandemic with respect to health care. “Fundamental science is the only weapon we have to anticipate and prepare for new challenges in health and other areas such as the environment, and thus defining public policies that safeguard European citizens’ health”, says biochemist Mónica Bettencourt-Dias, director of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Portugal. Would better communication at the beginning of the pandemic have been able to stop the spread of the virus? Many facts affirm this possibility. While governments can order lockdowns at the local level to stop transmission, these measures are only effective if countries around the world make similar efforts to prevent renewed outbreaks. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been weakened by the withdrawal of the United States. However, only increased support for international organizations will be able to counteract future epidemics.

3. Economy

For many companies, the pandemic was a wakeup call. Not only trade, but traditional industry and mid-size firms encountered a backlog and the need for digital upgrades. Overnight, many companies had to adapt their IT infrastructure to accommodate work from home and replace conferences and business trips with virtual substitutes. This process allowed firms to experience a boost in digitalization, and many intend to continue along this path.

A solid digital infrastructure is a prerequisite which must be ensured by the public sector. According to Armin Grunwald, expert for the Prediction of the Consequences of Technology at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, businesspeople should appreciate their stark dependency on technologies and economic processes. Without electricity and the Internet, without global supply chains and mobility, everything would collapse. “We have become too accustomed to everything working perfectly, all the time”, says Grunwald. “We need Plan B, and we need technologies that do not put all their eggs into one basket. Decentralization is an option – for example, in energy transformation and digitalization.“

Environment

Planes were grounded, factories stood still, air pollution decreased. On the surface, the environment benefitted from the pandemic. This effect, however, is short-lived. For this reason, a broad coalition between politics, the economy and NGOs in Europe demands the restart of the economy under a green banner. Further to climate protection, the conservation of species is high on the agenda. According to the environmental organization WWF, the unsustainable trade of wild animals following the destruction of their habitats constitutes the second largest threat to biological diversity worldwide. At the same time, the wild animal trade is a direct threat to human health. According to the WHO, COVID-19 is of zoonotic origin – as are 61 percent of all human pathogens. “We’re calling on world leaders to support the closure of high-risk wildlife markets wherever they threaten public health and biodiversity”, says Jan Vertefeuille, Senior Advisor for Advocacy at WWF-US. More public relations work and support for affected countries could contribute to a decline in the demand for wild animal products.

5. Society

What is really important in life? The corona-crisis has forced many of us to ask existential questions. “We should think about how vulnerable we really are and how thin the ice is on which we walk. We now have a rare opportunity to reflect on such questions with respect to one’s lifestyle and society as a whole”, says theologist Thomas Schlag of the University of Zurich. The corona crisis has triggered a number of incentives; for example, workers in grocery stores and agriculture, in medical and long-term care facilities, in waste disposal and transport, were finally recognized as being “systemically relevant”. In many cities, people stood on their balconies and applauded them for their work. These professions, however, deserve more than our applause. They deserve better working conditions and better pay. Politicians have shown what they are capable of: in many countries, they reacted quickly in order to absorb the negative effects of the crisis. Such decisiveness is also needed in other areas, for example the climate crisis – and it is evident that it can be done.

6. Education

The corona-crisis struck students, parents and teachers out of the blue. Schools without hardware and functioning WIFI; teachers without a background in online learning; concerns about privacy. The corona-crisis has mercilessly revealed the failure of many states with respect to digital education. While some schools enthusiastically embraced online lessons, students at other schools either did not hear from their teachers at all or they received their assignments in the mail. The pandemic is a wakeup call to finally invest in (digital) education – and in the future. Markus Pissarek, professor for German didactics at the University of Klagenfurt in Austria, points out that during analog teaching, the actual effective practice time is often negligible – for writing, it is approximately two percent. During the crisis, students invested more time in practicing and their own writing. “Digitalization will give students the opportunity to gain more practicing time”, says Pissarek. The biggest challenge is self-organization – one more thing that today’s students will have to learn.