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29 June 2020

Are We Prepared for Another Pandemic?

If you were to ask me when I first acknowledged the existence of the COVID-19 virus, I wouldn’t have been able to offer a definitive response. However, one thing I do recollect vividly is headlines of a spike in the number of installations for the game Plague Inc.

In the game, the player would have the option to evolve a pathogen and see its exertion in demolishing the population as it expands throughout the different countries. The transmission of the virus is represented by an expanding mass of red — transforming into a global plague.

Screenshot of the game, Plague Inc.

A subtle (but very prominent) feature of the game is the headlines and updates on the virus transmitted within the virtual countries as each day passes in the simulation.

Suddenly, it hits.

Our reality has become eerily precise to the game as we start seeing similar headlines all over the news. If this were all part of the game, these would be some of the headlines we’d see racing across our screens leading up to the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic:

  • A 55-year-old individual from Hubei province in China may have been the first person to contract a newly identified virus. Health authorities are still assessing, but it seems to be the only case discovered.
  • The contagious virus has been identified as COVID-19. It’s quickly spreading globally. 
  • Scientists are continuing to study the virus and work on treatments, including a vaccine.
  • Scientists now suspect this coronavirus originated from a bat. The disease is now spreading between people without any animal intermediary.
  • There are now 148,000 COVID-19 cases globally and 20,000 confirmed deaths. 
  • Countries are shutting their travel borders to stop the spread of the virus.

You wouldn’t have expected the spread in the game to be a portrayal of what could happen in our lives, considering a day isn’t an exact representation of real-time.

But, in actuality, it seemed like the game mirrored how quickly COVID-19 began to spread. As though the gas pedal stalled out and, in that acceleration and momentum, the steering wheel becomes all jammed up too. In just a few short months, after it was first identified in November, we were obligated to enter the lockdown phase in March.

COVID-19 truly has the world in its grasp.

COVID-19 is certainly, not the first of its sort, and not the worst Mother Earth has seen.

In the 14th century, the Black Death resulted in a mortality rate of 200 million — around 30% to 60% of the Europe population. The Spanish flu that occurred in the last century infected 500 million — an approximate one-third of the world’s population and killed 20 to 50 million people. The virus is evidently mild by contrast, yet it became a household name because of how notorious it was in its spread as well as the high mortality rates, affecting the whole human race.

But this begs the question:

What’s the real cause of the spread and could we have avoided it?

The pandemic is more than a health crisis. It is rooted in how we treat our planet and the way we behave. It revealed how easily we can be herded and manipulated which really goes to show that, though we’re more advanced in science and technology, we still lack substantial preparation and the mindset to be prepared against a pandemic.

Our short-sightedness contributed to a great deal of frenzy with hoarding daily supplies and other necessities when we got wind of the news of a possible lockdown — which were rather superfluous the more you think about it. Aside from this mayhem and reluctance of the public to adhere to the laws, in the beginning, incidents of discrimination have escalated during the pandemic where authorities call upon the coronavirus as ‘the Chinese infection’ resulting in the seclusion of ethnicities following the generalisation that being a Chinese is an automatic feature of the coronavirus. 

It truly is a global pandemic. Not only has the disease of COVID-19 emerged, but also our narrow-mindedness, numbness, negligence, and selfishness. Under a year, our humanity has flailed wildly. Our world experience doing a 180° overturn. It felt like the beginning of an end.

So what now? What can we do to prevent this from influencing our future?

An antidote lies not only by the works of a scientist or the hands behind a pharmaceutical industry but extends to all of us, even us students! We can contribute significantly to prevent something of this scale from happening again by understanding the impact of our work, studies, and daily tasks.

Here are some of the ways our degrees could help in influencing the future and giving back to our community:

  • If you’re studying sociology or psychology, begin contemplating herd mentality and methods to forestall undesirable circumstances like pointless purchasing.

  • Studying bioscience is an ideal opportunity to consider ways for when a crisis as such was to occur. 

  • Pursuing a law degree? Account for the current structure of our legal system. Do we, at this point of time, have a framework in place to mitigate the impacts of a pandemic? Provided that this is true, which parent act is relevant and what is its purview? Proceed to draft regulation and put your expertise in legal research, journal publication, or even a model UN conferencewhich I myself am a part of.

Tip: Forgo a procrastination session, play a game of trivia with the United Nation World Food Programme where every correct answer will enable you to donate 10 grains of rice from its ad revenue. Not only will this permit for an intellectual practice, but simultaneously you can do good to society.

Even going beyond our degree, we can make a decision now to advance our aid in the COVID-19 situation through virtual volunteering opportunities which not only allows us to make a difference but also develop our own skills. 

It’s time we make a conscious decision to be a utilitarian and aid in the renewing of our community by...

  • Being motivated not manipulated.

  • Being valuable, not rudderless.

  • Concocting changes, not pardons.

  • Choosing selflessness, not selfishness.

As Sherrilyn Kenyon, an American author, once said, "No misery or bad situation is ever infinite or final until we make a conscious decision for it to be so."

 

Let’s start by making a conscious effort towards what matters.

And right now, that’s winning the war over COVID-19.

 

Stay safe everyone!

Megan Choong Jieh Yue is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Law (LLB) at Taylor's University. She is also the Deputy Secretary General and Assistant Director of the TLMUN annual conference, Director of HR for Taylor's Legal Aid Centre, Director of Public Relations for Centre of Research and Development of Law in Asia, as well as the sub-editor for Lexicon.

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