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COVID-19 emergency: an opportunity

By Mal Fletcher - posted Tuesday, 17 March 2020

"The life unexamined is not worth living," said Socrates.

The effects of COVID-19, or future variants thereof, are not be treated lightly.

The virus is set to impact many lives and must be fought and overcome. However, paralysing panic will not generate the solutions we need.


Sometimes, in the face of great challenges, we lose our individual and collective capacity for perspective. We start to see relatively trivial aspects of the problem as huge and very important things as insignificant.

In the face of this particular virus, rushing to stock up on toilet roll achieves little - apart, perhaps, from making us feel like we're doing something.

A behavioural scientist suggested this week that we buy toilet rolls because they come in large packages, which are prominently displayed in supermarkets. Buying them, he said, makes us feel that we're purchasing something at least mildly important to our family's health.

Before we examine what, if anything, we might take from the current health threat, let's establish some basic facts, as we know them.

COVID-19 is one strain of a family of viruses described as "corona viruses". The common cold is also a corona virus, though nowhere near as potentially dangerous to us.

The virus likely emerged in the animal kingdom. Some have speculated that it might have originated among bats, which have unique immune systems. Whatever the origin, the virus spread from animal to animal before it eventually found its first human host.


Rapid urbanisation - particularly but not exclusively in developing regions such as China - means that human beings increasingly encroach on animal habitats. Animals and humans are forced into closer proximity than they were even a few decades ago.

In some regions, relatively exotic animals are increasingly "mined" for their parts, which are thought to carry special powers to promote well-being but may carry something less helpful.

Meanwhile, globalisation and particularly travel almost guarantee that, once it finds a home among humans, any robust viral strain will find its way beyond local and national lines.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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