The impact of COVID-19 on humanity
At the start of the outbreak of COVID-19 in December 2019, the changes that it has caused to life all around the world were inconceivable for most. The impacts that the virus is having on specific countries are changing all the time because each one is at a different stage of the epidemic.
Most countries who have seen high infection rates have locked down their country, meaning that citizens have only been able to leave their homes for essential supplies, such as food and medicine, to take one form of exercise once a day close to their home and to get medical treatment. It also means that shops, bars, restaurants, gyms, theatres, cinemas, and most other settings have been closed and become completely inaccessible.
The impact of lockdown on global economies has been very damaging. This is due to so many businesses that have been forced to close. Many people have been left unable to work for a temporary period (i.e. they have been furloughed), or they have been made redundant by their employer.
The UK government has taken extraordinary steps to support the economy like most governments around the world. The UK government introduced several packages to support businesses and employees such as paying 80% of salaries for six months whilst people are unable to work and paying 80% of self-employed individuals’ earnings for three months.
Businesses have been able to apply for bounce back loans and grants to keep them afloat whilst the country has been in lockdown. This essential help has been instrumental in some businesses.
However, these and other measures are expensive to countries who are already facing economic crises since their country has all but come to a complete standstill. It is widely accepted that many countries will experience a significant recession due to the impact of COVID-19, which may affect them for many years to come.
The only people who were actively encouraged to go out to work were those who were classed as key workers, including those working in:
In an unprecedented move, countries around the world decided to close all educational settings to most students to try and contain the spread of the virus. Schools did remain open, but only for children of key workers and those who are considered vulnerable and for whom staying at home may have been unsafe for them.
Not just this, exams were cancelled for those students who were due to take them, which was something that would have been considered unthinkable in any other time.
The use of public transport is thought to have decreased by around 90% in some countries, including the UK. As people work from home or do not have work to attend, the need for buses, trains and trams has significantly decreased, which has had both positive and negative effects.
In positive terms, pollution has decreased by unprecedented amounts but, in contrast, many transport systems have found themselves experiencing significant financial difficulties, for example, the transport system in London had to ask to be bailed out, which was the same for the system in Manchester. In London, TfL (Transport for London) was given a support package worth £1.6 billion.
Most countries imposed a travel ban for non-essential travel from other countries very early on at the start of the pandemic. This has meant that airlines have experienced losses in profits that have never previously been seen. As with other methods of transport, air travel has reduced by about 90% worldwide and getting this back to how it was before with individuals being free to travel all over the world, is thought to be one of the most difficult things for countries to manage once they have the virus spread under some level of control.
Most countries (not including the UK) made it mandatory for international travellers to undergo quarantine measures when they arrived in a new country. This meant that for most, they had to spend 14 days at a specific, declared location before they could move around freely in the place where they had arrived. Some countries were checking the temperature of individuals when they landed so that they could see if they were potentially carrying the virus so that these specific individuals could be isolated. Those countries who are currently recovering from the virus are still not allowing non-essential travel to other countries.
As people are scared of catching COVID-19, this has meant that where they would normally attend their GP practise to have something checked or go to A&E for something more serious, people are not doing this. A&E departments are recording their lowest attendance in history and professionals from particular healthcare sectors are concerned that the long-term effect of COVID-19 is that people will become unwell or even die of another illness that they did not get checked at an early stage.
It has also been shown that people are not attending health screenings (many have been cancelled) and that for some ongoing treatments such as those for cancer, heart disease and stroke rehabilitation, appointments have been rescheduled leaving people to live with diseases that are not being treated as they otherwise would be.
Unfortunately, whilst lockdown has been shown to reduce the spread of COVID-19 effectively, there are some effects of it that are impacting some groups of individuals. Being contained in the same place for weeks on end, sometimes with no outside space, has caused an increase in cases of domestic violence.
Calls to helplines have increased by more than 50%, and this trend is something that has been seen worldwide, not just in the UK.
It is thought that the causes of this increase are due to:
Statistics about precisely what impact COVID-19 will have on domestic abuse in the long term are currently unknown, but it is predicted that the number of deaths due to domestic violence may double during the pandemic.
Another indirect impact of COVID-19 on individuals is the effect that it can have on mental health and wellbeing. The increase in anxiety about catching COVID-19 as well as the effect of lockdown and not being able to meet up with other people will likely mean that the mental health of individuals who are already vulnerable (and some of those who are not) will likely decrease, leading to an increase in mental health problems both in the short and long term.
Mental health problems may also come about because of worries about finances, strains of being at home with abusive partners or from a decrease in regular activity, which can cause people to experience low mood.
Furthermore, the constant news feed from news websites and social media can impact how someone feels. This is worsened by sensationalised news or by misinformation that can cause large amounts of distress for people who are left feeling completely out of control over what is going on around them.
However, in a surprising turn, a study in Japan found that the rate of suicide there had decreased by 20% since the imposition of lockdown. It is theorised that as people have not been impacted by the pressures of commuting to work and by work itself or the deadlines of education that they have been able to relax more and feel less stress from usual sources. This indicates that it may well have been what was once considered ‘normal’ that was the problem for mental health in the first place.