After COVID-19, the world will be a different place. Let’s make sure it’s a better one

For years now, it’s been looming. As temperatures rose, as populists swept to power promising a return to the ‘good old days’, as the chasm between the haves and the have-nots stretched to breaking point, and somehow, beyond, it was clear something was going to, had to, happen. But few could have predicted this. The scale of what the world faces with the coronavirus is unprecedented: decades of chronic underfunding in public health and scientific research, coupled with a deadly ‘war’ on science and facts, means that few countries are equipped to deal with this deadly new virus for which there is currently no vaccine; as schools and businesses shut down economies everywhere are stalling, millions of workers have already lost their jobs, and millions more will do so in the months ahead; supply chains are broken, with producers and consumers the world over paying the price of delocalisation; meanwhile, the world’s poorest countries are preparing to face the brunt of the economic, social and health crises triggered by this ‘black swan’ event.

In the weeks and months ahead, Equal Times will work with our worldwide network of journalists to examine the many ways in which COVID-19 is affecting our lives, jobs, communities, politics, economies and cultures, as well as looking at the ways it is likely to completely reimagine our futures. We will also continue to cover the multitude of stories unrelated to the pandemic that are too important and underreported to ignore.

We won’t take our eye off the ball. As governments around the world take unprecedented measures to fight the virus, many will use this opportunity to weaken or completely dismantle the (already fragile) human rights, labour rights and environmental protections we have in place.

We know the most vulnerable and marginalised people - the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the informal, the racialised, the indigenous, the migrants, the displaced and across all of these intersections and others, women – will face the greatest suffering, either because they are more likely to catch the disease, less likely to be able to access the healthcare or social protections needed to fight it or because they will be most negatively impact by the social control measures designed to limit its spread.

The crises the coronavirus has laid bare exist on multiple fronts: it is a crisis of inequality, of human rights, of who does and doesn’t have the right to freedom of movement, to healthcare and essentially, the right to life. Underpinning all of this is the climate emergency, which is already here and will accelerate in the coming years. Just as this pandemic knows no borders, neither does climate change.

When a vaccine is eventually found, the virus is contained and the restrictions are lifted, the world will be a radically different place. We must all work to ensure it is a better one. Despite a decade of austerity and two decades dealing with the violent aftershock of 9/11, the coronavirus has already shown us how quickly governments can act to prevent total economic collapse; it has provided a stark reminder that a society is only as healthy as its poorest and most vulnerable; and it has utterly disabused us of the notion that low-paid workers are in some way ‘low-skilled’. When the world was on fire, it was our healthcare workers, emergency responders, cleaners, transport workers, carers, supermarket workers, waste collectors, gig economy delivery drivers, teachers and police officers – often earning salaries that barely allowed them to feed their families – that kept our societies functioning. This we must never forget.

For some time now unions have been calling for a new social contract to ensure a labour protection floor for all workers, investment in public services and a just transition to a low-carbon future that will provide decent, green jobs, skills training and lifelong learning, secure pensions and a commitment to social dialogue. A few years ago, these ideas were considered radical; today, they have been shown to be imperative. There is also a growing awareness and enthusiasm for measures like free wifi, universal healthcare and universal basic income, proving that the biggest global crisis of the 21st century could be the catalyst we needed to re-engineer our societies and economies to work for the benefit of everyone. Only time will tell if we take that opportunity.