Vials of AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD india vaccine
Vials of AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, are seen before they are packaged inside a lab at Serum Institute of India, Pune, India Image Credit: Reuters

If 2020 will be remembered as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 should rightfully be regarded the year of the vaccine. After multiple human trials in various parts of the world, we are already in the process of witnessing a roll-out of the anti-Covid19 vaccine in different parts of the world.

In India, two vaccines have been approved already, the Oxford Institute’s Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and the indigenously developed Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. More are in the pipeline.

Does this mean that we have conquered the pandemic? The human species with its great survival instinct, persistence against odds, and scientific ingenuity has once again demonstrably triumphed over a serious global medical and health emergency.

More by Makarand R. Paranjape

Incredible examples of heroism, dedication, research and scientific cooperation have combined with collective political will to overcome the great dangers posed by the pandemic. But the real question is what have we learnt? Will the new normal be more or less same as the old normal? What of the warning signs on the horizon as we try to limp back to some semblance of life as we know it in the new year?

One unforeseen and not too desirable outcome of the pandemic is the issue of disenchantment with democracy. Large and unruly democracies with diverse populations, such as United States and India certainly have the highest caseloads. Even smaller states such as UK, France, Germany and Spain, with their elected governments, have also had huge waves of infection sweeping through their populations.

China on the other hand, where the virus originated in the first place, has reported very few infections and deaths.

Politically and culturally attractive

Despite their apparent chaos and internal conflicts, democracies remain attractive both politically and culturally. The pandemic has shown that people would rather be free, even if that poses a greater risk than dying by disease.

Going by the Morning Consult approval ratings of world leaders, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with 53% tops the chart of 13 leaders of the free world. Even with French President Emmanuel Macron coming last at number 13, with a negative rating of -25%, it is not likely that the French would prefer to be governed by a single party.

What is clear, in other words, is that free and disciplined societies such as Sweden, Norway, and Demark in Europe; Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in Asia; Australia and New Zealand in the antipodes “down under”; and smaller well-managed states such as the UAE or Singapore have fared the best.

A self-disciplined an orderly populace does not require heavy-handed governmentality to keep its citizenry in check. The lesson of the pandemic is that a combination of freedom and orderliness is our best bet against a crisis of such magnitude.

However, one of the post-pandemic red flags that humanity faces is growing inequality. This is not just between the rich and poor but also between technological haves and have-nots. The digital divide is going to be much more important in the months ahead perhaps than even the economic divide.

New class of emergent poor

This applies both within countries and cultures as well as across the globe. There is, it would seem, a new class of emergent poor. Badly hit by Covid19 with wage losses, shrinking incomes, and less access to life saving health care, it is on the brink of a catastrophic reduction in the quality of life.

Among the affluent, too, the divide is between the naturally healthy, with better genes and lifestyles, and those highly stressed and suffering from several comorbities. Money, and even the best medical facilities, have not been able to save them.

A better life, it seems, is one where stress and consumption are well-regulated and balanced. Moderation, not excess or deprivation, is the key to the good life, as it is also to longevity.

Our ability to fight off infections, it is increasingly obvious, is based on our own immunity, which is directly related to our mental state and not just the physical well being. In the year head we may therefore expect greater attention and investment in holistic well-being, authentic and high-quality experiences, rather than fragmentary and piecemeal luxury goods or indulgences.

Finally, the global economy will shift even more from resource and commodities-based wealth to digital innovation and value addition. This poses a challenge not just to governments but to experts and professionals. Only those who can reinvent themselves to learn and grow will survive in the future.

Indeed, of all commodities and resources, knowledge, information, and research will be the most precious. Therefore, in addition to alleviating poverty and inequality, nations who invest in human excellence and capacity building will do well. More and more, it will be clear that the collective good cannot be enhanced or promoted without stimulating and incentivising individual talent and creativity.

Makarand R Paranjape
Image Credit: Gulf News