COVID-19 and the Economic Meltdown: Was Global Tourism the Only Thing Keeping Us Afloat?

Grounded planes in Alabama, March 25, 2020 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters).

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Three months since the arrival of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 prompted an unprecedented lockdown on human interaction and on huge swathes of our economy, the primary objective — preventing our hospitals and morgues from being overwhelmed — has been achieved. The cost — economically, and, in some cases, psychologically — has been enormous, but the road ahead, as those in charge attempt to revive a functioning economy, looks like it will be even more arduous.

No congratulations should be extended to Boris Johnson and his government for the achievements of the lockdown. Johnson dithered for far too long at the beginning of the crisis, and the deaths of tens of thousands of people are, as a result, his responsibility, although not his responsibility alone, as the last few months have also shown us that, sadly, this empty windbag of a Prime Minister is largely manipulated by his senior adviser, the sneering eugenicist Dominic Cummings.

Both men were initially prepared to allow the virus to spread unchecked throughout the entire population, with people required to “take it on the chin”, as they let it “move through the population”, as Johnson explained in a now notorious TV appearance. It was only when medical experts pointed out the potential death toll of the “herd immunity” scenario that the lockdown began, following similar conclusions that were, in most other countries, reached rather earlier in the virus’s spread.

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Coronavirus and the Meltdown of the Construction Industry: Bloated, Socially Oppressive and Environmentally Ruinous

Part of the massive development site at Nine Elms in Vauxhall, photographed on April 16, 2020 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Just for a while there, it was bliss. The roads were almost entirely empty, the air was clean, birds could be heard singing in central London, and, most crucially, the din of huge construction sites was almost entirely silenced. Construction sites not only generate vast amounts of noise and pollution; they also choke the roads with hundreds of lorries carrying material to them, or carrying away the rubble from buildings that, in general, should have been retrofitted rather than destroyed.

This is because the environmental cost of destroying buildings is immense, and we are supposed to have woken up to the environmental implications of our activities over the last few years, because, in 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned us that we only had 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change unless we started arranging to cut our carbon emissions to zero, and, in response, the activism of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion helped to persuade central governments and local governments to piously declare “climate emergencies”, and to promise to change their behaviour.

Little has been seen in terms of major changes since these “climate emergencies” were declared last year — until, that is, the coronavirus hit. Since then, global pollution levels have dropped significantly — 17% on average worldwide, by early April, compared with 2019 levels, with a 31% decline recorded in the UK.

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Health Not Wealth: The World-Changing Lessons of the Coronavirus

A composite image of a doctor and the City of London, photographed by Andy Worthington during the coronavirus lockdown, on April 2, 2020.

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Yesterday marked 100 days since the coronavirus (COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2) was first reported by the Chinese authorities, and, as now seems to be becoming clear, this highly infectious disease, which, in just three months, has reached almost every country on earth, and has so far killed nearly 100,000 people, is changing our lives — and our world — forever.

To put it simply, we have discovered that health is more important than wealth, and in a world dominated by the profit motive of capitalism, this is a profound lesson to learn, and one with consequences that will affect every aspect of our lives from now on.

Just a few weeks ago, we still raised up, and were obsessed by, the pin-ups of the celebrity world, one of capitalism’s many fronts for its almost complete domination of our lives, with its vacuous models, pop stars, footballers and film stars — all obscenely overpaid, and all dutifully obeying the requirement that, for fame and money, they had to allow themselves to be put on pedestals, to dazzle us into subservience.

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Imagining a Post-Coronavirus World: Ending Ravenous Capitalism and Our Consumer-Driven Promiscuity

A tug leading Royal Caribbean’s insanely-misnamed ‘Harmony of the Seas’ into Southampton Harbour. Cruise ships are environmentally ruinous, helped spread the coronavirus, and needs to be high on the list of enterprises that mustn’t be bailed out after the coronavirus crisis ends, if we are to secure a better world (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA/AP).

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It’s too early to begin creating a post-coronavirus world when we’re still in the throes of the crisis, but we can beginning thinking about it, and planning for it; otherwise, the dark forces that led us to this point — helped by many of our least helpful habits — will only return with a vengeance once the worst of the crisis is over.

When we think about the post-coronavirus world, there are, I presume, two camps: those who want everything to go back to how it was before, and those who don’t. The latter camp, for now, contains many more people than it has within living memory — those who recognize that running the world solely for the unfettered profits of the few has been a disaster.

This group includes many environmentalists — those who, in the last year and a half, helped to amplify the messages of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion to try to alert everyone else to an uncomfortable but vitally necessary truth: that we are facing an unprecedented man-made environmental crisis, which threatens humanity’s very existence.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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