In the year 2024, we could enter a post-pandemic period, says Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist, physician, and professor of Social and Natural Sciences at Yale University.
In his new book, “Apollo’s arrow: the profound and enduring impact of coronavirus on the way we live,” he discusses the effects of the pandemic on society from a historical perspective and anticipates what may happen in the coming years.
Regarded by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the 100 best global thinkers, Christakis is a respected voice in the academic environment. That is why his projections on social changes and the future of humanity have had resonance.
Annoyed with the White House for the way it has dealt with the pandemic, the researcher is hopeful that vaccines will help us out of this crisis, although he warns that group immunity will not be achieved quickly.
His research has led him to argue that after facing the biological impact of the pandemic during 2021, we will have to deal with the social, psychological and economic consequences of the virus for quite a while longer, before entering the post-pandemic era.
“If you look at what has happened in the last 2,000 years, when pandemics end there is a party. We are likely to see something similar in the 21st century. “
The interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
With the development of different vaccines to stop the spread of the covid-19 pandemic, Are we facing the beginning of the end of the pandemic?
Things are going to be bad for a while. We invented a vaccine, which is something miraculous, because we are the first generation of humans that has been able to invent, in real time, an answer.
That had never happened in history. In just 10 months we managed to have a vaccine. However, hundreds of millions of doses have yet to be produced, distributed and, most importantly, persuaded to get vaccinated.
At least half the population must be vaccinated and that will take at least a year, it will not happen any faster. Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread.
So we’re going to live this weird way we’ve lived, with masks and zippers, at least all of 2021.
Then we will achieve group immunity, either naturally, because the virus has infected enough people – at great human cost – or because many people have been vaccinated.
Eso it is only the first part of a long processor what comes next?
Then we will have to recover from the social, psychological and economic effects. Millions of people are unemployed or have closed their businesses. Many children have interrupted their learning in schools. And many people will be in mourning. Overcoming all these problems will not be quick.
Has the same happened in other pandemics throughout history?
If you look at the history of pandemics, going back thousands of years, this will take time. I think that the current stage of the pandemic will last at least until the end of 2021, then an intermediate period will come and around 2024 we will enter the post-pandemic.
I don’t think we are at the beginning of the end of this pandemic. I think we are at the end of the beginning.
¿And whatWhat lessons can we learn from the other pandemics we have experienced in human history?
There’s a lot. The first is to recognize that the way we live now seems unnatural, as if we are living in a strange, unknown time.
But pandemics are not new to our species, they are only new to us. We think that it is crazy, that it is crazy to live in these times. But is not.
What happens is that we are alive at a time when there is an event that occurs once every hundred years. It is important not to lose perspective.
Another thing is that although the virus is really bad, since it kills about 1% of the infected population, it is no worse than others. It could be killing 10%, 30% of those infected.
We could be facing a bubonic plague globally, because there is no reason for a virus to only kill 1%. For example, in the movie Contagion, the virus kills one in three people. We could be on that stage, but we are not.
However, I am upset with the White House, because I and the other experts working on these issues knew that the virus would be a serious problem towards the end of January.
And we know that President Trump was briefed on this more than a year ago and took no action. The country should have been prepared to make a shared sacrifice for the health of all.
They should have told us that something strange was happening, that our world has changed, that there is a deadly new pathogen. This is something that happens every few centuries and we have to be mature to deal with it.
We are not children to pretend that this is not happening. We should not have chosen denial, as the president did. We cannot lie about the virus, we cannot blame others.
In fact, blaming others is typical of pandemics. For example, in the plagues of medieval times they blamed the Jews; when HIV appeared, homosexuals were blamed.
There has always been the temptation to blame someone. It’s stupid, it’s just a virus that affects us.
One of the fundamental lessons of pandemics in history is that it is an essential human experience, which happens rarely, but requires maturity to face it. We cannot fantasize that it is not happening.
What are the most repeated patterns during pandemics according to their research?
Viruses are not just a biological phenomenon, they are a social phenomenon.
Everything we’ve seen in this pandemic, like the death of healthcare workers, has happened before. For example, in the plague of Athens in 430 BC, doctors died. During the bubonic plague in 1347 the nurses, the Catholic nuns who cared for the sick died, as is happening now.
Another repeating pattern that I have mentioned before is blaming others for the pandemic. The Greeks, for example, thought it was the fault of the Spartans.
Denial, lies, superstitions, they have always been present. The same as misinformation. For example, all those stupid ideas that have circulated like injecting disinfectant, or that the virus is part of a conspiracy.
Another characteristic of pandemics is pain. People lose family members, lose their livelihood, lose their lifestyle. These are times of pain.
There is also an existential dimension. When there is a pandemic, people look for the meaning of their lives, they think more about the moral meaning of their lives.
When George Floyd was assassinated, the people went into a reflective mood. Their lives were somehow suspended by the virus. It’s like going to church, it puts you in a more contemplative frame of mind.
I think we saw a bit of that during the protests because there was a deeper connection to our own existence.
I want to take it to the future, What will that post-pandemic period be like?
When we achieve group immunity, although the virus will still be with us, its power will be less. Then will come the period in between, where the biological impact of the pandemic will be left behind, but we will still have to deal with the economic and social impact. And around 2024 we will enter the post-pandemic period.
Typically in times of pandemic people become more religious, save money, are risk averse, have fewer social interactions and stay at home more. You stop seeing your friends.
But in the post-pandemic, all that will reverse, as it did in the crazy 20s of the last century. People will inexorably seek more social interaction. People will go to nightclubs, restaurants, political demonstrations, sporting events, recitals.
Religiosity will decrease, there will be a greater tolerance for risk, and people will spend money that they could not spend. After the pandemic, a time of sexual debauchery and economic waste can come.
If you look at what has happened in the last 2,000 years, when pandemics end, there is a party. We are likely to see something similar in the 21st century.
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