A technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York's Long Island. Image Credit: AP

Analysts, commentators and experts have migrated from issues like terrorism, global trade wars and economic recession, and Brexit to COVID-19.

Not only media pundits but PR companies and consultancy firms are making huge strides, meeting a rising demand from governments, companies and other bodies seeking image uplifts in the face of a global pandemic.

The consultancy business is not much different from other businesses in relying on market factors: demand and supply. So, it’s normal to shift the direction as demand changes.

As I studied virology and microbiology at university decades ago, and had a personal experience with other viruses than COVID-19 two decades ago, I think I’m entitled to delve into that current wave.

‘Scientific populism’

But I’m not going to share scientific information or use medical jargon, leaving that to real and proper science which is still at an early stage of dealing with the new virus.

The world has had enough of ‘scientific populism’, unfortunately adopted by prominent politicians as well as so-called social media influencers and demagogues.

Political or commercial profiteering can never justify misleading people on something that concerns their health and well-being. Life or death dangers can’t be the subject of seeking celebrity status or advancing self-interest in any way.

The world after corona is not going to be the world before corona — coronavirus is changing the world … etc is the new mantra.

We heard that before, after the fall of Berlin Wall four decades ago and after 9/11 two decades ago. Yes, the world is in constant change, that’s the nature of human activity on earth, but a paradigm shift is taking place.

There is no reason to think that ‘Corona Change’ is going to be different.

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One of the pretexts for the argument of after-corona paradigm shift is the illusive notion that ‘humanity is united in fighting a pandemic’.

Look at the deep wounds Italians feel now toward the European Union they helped establish decades ago. Abandoned by their EU ‘brothers’ — even blamed and taunted — Italians are raising the Chinese flag instead of the EU one after China helped them with desperately needed medical equipment.

In the Middle East, the UAE is among the few nations that has lived up to its principles.

On the contrary, individuality is dominating and populist nationalism is the norm elsewhere.

Is globalisation dented by the pandemic? Probably yes, but not to the extent that it’s the ‘end of globalisation’ as some wish. The global nature of the pandemic might even be ‘renewing’ globalisation.

Most likely the ‘world economic order’ is not going to change much after coronavirus pandemic. The main central banks in the world and governments are following the same manual used to face global financial crisis of 2008 when their intervention didn’t lead to good recovery or a bad recession — but just kept things going.

Climate change activists think that coronavirus pandemic is a wake-up call to humanity about the dangers its activities pose to nature and ecological balance on planet earth. That might be a very optimistic hope, as you still have some world leaders playing down the risk of the pandemic and other influential mavericks spreading scientific populist views — ranging from conspiracy theories to ‘feel good’ remedies that can even kill people.

No big change is expected to happen for those climate change deniers. There might be a surge now in human feeling that despite all technological advances, a microscopic thing can cause global havoc. Most likely, this is a temporary feeling that will dissipate gradually once the virus outbreak panic is over — either contained or humanity adapts to live with it through vaccination and treatment.

Medical research is paramount

The world will realise that science and medical research in particular is of paramount importance. Simply put, health comes first and any other loss can be compensated for. Will countries increase allocations for health in their budgets? Will governments provide more funds for public research centres in public universities and institutes? Or make sure that private businesses’ financing of medical research is overseen by public trusts and not linked to their commercial goals? We hope so.

Though one is afraid that once the crisis is over we’ll go back to focus on developing software programs for video games and other virtual activities to meet global demand (or create a new type of demand) and maximise profits.

I’m generally optimistic about humanity’s victory over COVID-19, and strongly believe that we have scientists and researchers who can develop vaccines and anti-viral drugs to render that dangerous virus easily treatable like HIV, Hepatitis C and other potentially fatal viruses. Those scientists and researchers who believe in the holiness of their mission and seek no benefits other than fulfilling their basic human duty are more worth of the world’s gratitude than celebrities.

— Dr Ahmed Mustafa is a UAE-based journalist