Covid-19: not just bad news

Covid-19: not just bad news

Written on 04/24/2020
Charleen Clarke

Covid-19 has been utterly horrific for humankind and the economy (both here in South Africa and globally too). But it’s not ALL bad …



I’ve just read an article about old people who are dying alone in Spain. Their bodies are being discovered by the military. In some cases, they have been abandoned by their caregivers. In others, they lived alone.

I cried as I read that story – because I could visualise them battling to breathe and then not being able to breathe at all. It must be terrifying to face that alone. I honestly cannot imagine anything worse.

The coronavirus world in which we live is sadly full of these horror stories. This is indeed a dreadful time for mankind. But I decided that, amid all this doom and gloom, I just had to write about something positive. And, incredibly, there are some positive stories to have come out of Covid-19. Yes, really …

One is the fact that I’ve never experienced a greater level of caring amongst the people I know. Instead of rushing to the shopping malls and eating out, we are now finding time to cherish people. I have long had what I call a “care list”. It contains the names of people who I know who are going through a rough time – I have a very dear friend in America, for instance, who was recently diagnosed with stage four cancer. I have another very dear friend who recently had her heart broken. Both of those people are on my “care list” – along with many others. I have always consulted it regularly – and then contacted those people. But, since the advent of the coronavirus, I’ve had more time to do that – since I haven’t been filling my days with irrelevant stuff. This is a good thing, I think.

There is another more tangible benefit of Covid-19. I’m referring to the massively positive effect of this virus on our environment. As we all know, airlines have either stopped flying or have reduced their flights dramatically. Many businesses have closed (sadly, some of them, permanently). This has meant that carbon emissions are lower than they’ve been in a really long time. According to the BBC, compared with this time last year, levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50 percent because of measures to contain the virus.

Other environmental benefits, according to the broadcaster, include:

• A 25 percent reduction in emissions in China at the start of the year;

• A 40 percent reduction in coal use in China in the same period; and

• In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions fading away over northern Italy. A similar story is playing out in Spain and the United Kingdom.

CNBC has also reported substantial environmental benefits. “Canal water in Venice has cleared up without boat traffic. Air pollution in China has plunged amid unprecedented lockdowns. In Thailand and Japan, mobs of monkeys and deer are roaming streets now devoid of tourists,” it notes.

Some people say that we would be mad to get excited about these developments. “This really shouldn’t be seen as a silver lining,” McGill University associate professor and epidemiologist Jill Baumgartner recently told the New York Times. “It’s not a sustainable way to reduce air pollution, and the long-term economic and well-being impacts of this crisis are going to be devastating for many people.”

Others disagree. Stanford University environmental resource economist Marshall Burke believes that the reductions in air pollution in China caused by the coronavirus have saved 20 times more lives in China than have currently been lost directly due to infection with the virus in that country. It would be fair to assume that the same could be true of countries elsewhere.

I don’t know whether the coronavirus will have long-term environmental benefits or not. But, right now, I will grasp whatever good news I can find.