The amount of times I’ve heard the word ‘coronavirus’ mentioned in the past two months is laughable. I for one am getting tired of the vast amount of negative press coverage for this new virus. However, that’s not to say that all this information on the necessary preventative health measures, the unstable stock market, and the ever-increasing number of mortalities isn’t useful; of course, we need to keep updated on these key facts. Nevertheless, I think it’s time to focus on the positive effects of COVID-19, don’t you?
The one area that’s benefited the most from this outbreak is the environment. I’ve heard many theories that link the virus to climate change. In fact, famous “Luther” star, Idris Elba, has gone as far as stating that coronavirus is the Earth’s revenge after “…taking a kicking…’ by the human race. It does seem highly ironic that just at the time when humanity is squeezing the last possible droplets of nature out of the world (with annual increases in deforestation, over-fishing and pollution rates), planet Earth launches a counter-attack of an infectious disease of which we have no pre-existing immunity.
COVID-19 really does feel like an attack on humanity; hitting us in almost all areas of life. In terms of the economy, every day sees a new vulnerable industry experiencing loss upon loss. The most obvious example: the airline industry. The best way to stop an infectious disease spreading is to reduce the chances of people getting infected. The next logical step for authorities across the globe was to start enforcing travel restrictions; unfortunately making airlines one of the casualties in this war. The situation has worsened to such an extent (with more and more flights being cancelled every day) that ‘many airlines have probably already been driven into technical bankruptcy’. As a result of countries from the US to Australia announcing their travel restrictions, all of these restrictions may end up costing the industry around $880 billion.
However, during this time we have to acknowledge that it’s not all doom and gloom. Firstly, the effects of reduced global air traffic and reduced global road traffic can be seen from space; impressive, I know. The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite shows a significant decline in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide -the harmful gas that is produced from vehicle exhausts – over France and Spain (see figures 1 and 2). London has closed over 40 underground stations and buses across the capital are running on a reduced service as the UK is under lock-down, which again, has produced a positive effect on the pollution levels of the city (see figure 3). Reduced water traffic in Venice has resulted in shocking changes for the city’s famous canals. Without the numerous cruise ships, water-taxis and general tourist pollution, the muddy canal floor has been left to clear up, revealing crystal clear waters with wildlife such as crabs, fish and colourful aquatic plants which haven’t been seen for generations.
Wildlife has also returned to other empty towns and cities across the world, providing us with a little bit of humour: Nara in Japan has had Sika deer wander through the eerily empty streets and subway stations, San Felipe in Panama has had racoons take over their famous touristic beaches and even in the UK, we’ve had around 112 Kashmiri goats invade Llandudno in Wales!.
All of these environmental changes have taught us a lot about the way we treat the world. From a certain perspective, COVID-19 has presented us with an important teaching moment where the entire world has been given a chance to come together as a single race to assess the damage we’ve done. I see this as a pivotal moment in human history; this virus has shown us how fragile all forms of life are. During the aftermath of coronavirus, we can either turn a new page and drastically change our previously destructive and selfish behaviour towards other living organisms, or, we simply learn nothing from this pandemic and continue to regard ourselves as the most important beings on Earth. What will you choose.
I’m a third-year UCL student studying French and Spanish.