Coronavirus continues to be a truly deadly threat. The direct effect of the virus has been catastrophic, with well over 22 million cases and 750,000 direct deaths worldwide. It has only just begun to change the way we live our lives, and we – as both students and part of a larger global community – have had to adapt to this new reality. The coverage on the material changes, social distancing, face coverings, and redundancies have been a central tenant of media outlets over the last few months. However, a change that has received little to no coverage is how the virus has adapted our perspective of this new world.
The daily death toll of the virus, particularly during the lockdown period, became a regular feature of our lives. Every front page, every television conference, every conversation placed death at the centre of this generational narrative. But, as with all narratives, the more often they’re told and the more you hear them, the less impactful they become. As the virus continues to ravage the world, we risk removing these figures from their narrative. We risk normalising the numbers that continue to surround us, yet are not quite tangible enough to truly take account of. What these statistics display is that the human cost of this pandemic will be far greater than even the most harrowing death toll we have seen in our lifetimes.
Death has become a symbol of governmental success, not a real indication of widespread human tragedy
For many people, particularly us students, it has brought the scale of death into far closer proximity than any of us will have experienced before. Yet, time and time again across this pandemic, these horrific numbers are ignored, and even manipulated, warped and discoloured to support a certain agenda. Coronavirus has almost entirely removed the emotional weight of death on a mass scale. Death has become a symbol of governmental success, not a real indication of widespread human tragedy. From accusations that Russia were manipulating their death toll by up to 70%, to similar accusations made in Spain, China and countless others. Brazil even stopped publishing their death rate altogether, choosing to save international face rather than admit their country was truly devastated. These horrifying numbers have become a part of international rhetoric, nothing more than data to be supportive or critical of a country’s strategy.
Our own government is just as responsible for this. In the daily conferences, when the rising death rate was brought up, justifications, graphs, and comparisons were made. Even recently, the government announced a reduction in the death toll by more than 5,000. This was due to ‘a new definition of who has died from COVID-19’ and was met with celebration by ministers. But, what this calculation, as well as the government fails to recognise is the thousands of families who have already lost someone because of this virus. You can remould the definition, but not the palpable experience of each one of those 5,000 people that still passed away indirectly from the toll of the virus.
The deaths of hundreds of individuals were placed into a jovial rhetoric of 2020 being doomed
Callousness toward death is hardly new. Yet, as lockdown has eased and our lives begin to pick back up, what we are heading toward is a real immunity to the continued human cost of this virus. And we too fall victim to this new perspective. The language surrounding the death toll is becoming truly mind-bending. As the daily death rate dropped from 1000 to 200, suddenly people were cheering. In a now viral interview, Donald Trump said the death of one thousand Americans a day ‘is what it is’. They are ‘winning’, and that’s all that matters. Yet, the people rightfully criticising Trump were the same people cheering when only 300 people were dying in the U.K every single day, with 300 families losing someone they care about.
Similar tribalist reactions can be traced to social media. Celebrities and online influencers have embarrassingly turned the virus into a desperate attempt to stay relevant. The recent tragedy in Beirut serves as a harrowing microcosm for a new mindset inexplicably altered by one of the deadliest global pandemics in a colder new world. It was not Beirut that was trending top on Twitter that day, but instead #2020curse. The deaths of hundreds of individuals were placed into a jovial rhetoric of 2020 being in some way doomed. This is against the backdrop of a country devastated by a socio-economic crisis, years of corruption, and overwhelmed by coronavirus. Whilst banality and prayers may provide some warmth to the heart, they do little to tangibly change the reality of the situation. A newfound scepticism and normalisation of death has meant little genuine aid has been provided.
New infections are becoming largely our fault, and we remain ominously disconnected and unaffected by its devastating consequences
There is a growing impression amongst people our age that ‘we aren’t old, so won’t die from it, at least’ – an anecdotal quote I’ve heard far too many times now. Statistics recently revealed that coronavirus is currently spreading far more amongst 18-35 year olds than anyone else. New infections are quickly becoming largely our fault, and we remain ominously disconnected and unaffected by its devastating consequences.
What the tragedy of coronavirus, of Beirut, and perhaps of ourselves has shown, is that our perspective of the world is continuing to change. As the death rate declines, campus re-opens, and the direct threat of the virus diminishes, we should consider the hundreds of thousands of people that weren’t – and aren’t – going to be as lucky as we are. Before the complete neglect of the guidelines inevitably ensues when university social life restarts, it is only right to consider the weight of what people have genuinely lost for us to be in the position we are today. We will one day be immune to this virus, but we should never be immune to the cost of human life.