Brave New World
May 14, 2020
I woke this morning to the somewhat depressing news that the WHO believe it possible that “Coronavirus may never go away”. This was a bit stark for me: up until now, I have held a somewhat utopian future view that “all will be well and all manner of things will be well”. But of course, it’s possible: HIV, Ebola, SARS – none have “gone away”. We have learned to accept that these endemic viruses exist and that we should expect both the occasional flare-up as well as the (hopefully more frequent) medical advance.
It is possible to eradicate a virus. Possible, but not easy and not guaranteed. Globally (for that is how far eradication must reach) we have managed to eradicate two viruses: smallpox and rinderpest (“Cattle Plague”). Poliomyelitis and malaria represent two of the four current global campaigns; recently (2009) measles, mumps and rubella joined the list of potentially eradicable viral diseases.
A vaccine might be found within 12-18 months of the pandemic and would precede a global eradication programme – if the necessary criteria to justify the decades of time and millions of hours of work required to do so are fulfilled. So my “reasonable best-case scenario” – in the UK, as a relatively prosperous first world country, a global base for many pharmaceutical companies and with leading-edge research facilities – we might manage to find a vaccine and deploy it across the population in 18m-24m. Early reports suggest that the virus is not morphing or adjusting its biology to different hosts – a positive. Similarly, progress this week suggests we may not be far from finding a reliable antigen test to identify those who have had the virus but remain asymptomatic. We can probably all imagine our “reasonable worst-case scenario”…
So: what’s all this got to do with the voluntary sector? Well, here’s where my reasonable optimism starts to creep in… As many of us start to take a step back from the first “reflex response” phase of the crisis – and review our progress and our future – what do we see? The first thing I have seen is a caring and humane population: keen to support each other and the most vulnerable in society. I have seen medical and care workers risk their lives to treat – and just to “be with” – those unfortunate enough to have contracted the virus: many separating themselves from family and loved ones to increase the chances and numbers of those emerging from the initial infection. And of course, this is true across the voluntary sector: people who have never volunteered before are helping neighbours, looking out for each other, organising themselves into effective groups and providing a level of support that government and public sector bodies are simply unable to. Many charities and social enterprises have responded by shifting tack to meet new needs – and often, new beneficiaries.
The key as we move forward will be to maintain this commitment to each other and to our own ideas of what constitutes a humane, fair and reasonable society. The “usual” outcome of such societal challenges is that poorest communities are hit hardest. Those with least resource (financially, materially and in a myriad of other ways) will be most affected, physically and mentally. If you can only afford to live in crowded social conditions, your “lock-down” options are limited. It is easy to envisage the tensions and resulting damage that could be done in such situations. If we truly are to move into our own “Brave New World” – our own “reasonable best-case scenario” – let us ensure that nobody gets left behind: in the next 18 months and far, far beyond.
Chief Executive Officer