The devastating and wide-ranging effects of Covid-19 have caused the disruption of human society on a global scale. The disease does not discriminate against its victims on the basis of nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, culture, religion or affluence and it has fuelled global pandemonium.

As an initial reaction, governments called on their citizens to retreat within national borders, closed off international travel and instituted militarised physical distancing lockdowns in order to “combat” the disease.

Paradoxically, the only way to combat Covid-19 is not from behind the artificial borders that we as humans have placed on Earth, rather it will require the collective ingenuity, will and determination of the whole of humanity working as one unit to find both a vaccine and cure. Consequently, Covid-19 is above all else a call to global society to work in tandem to decipher its nature, and to find the means to mitigate against its effects on society, government and industry.

It was the interconnectedness of the world that enabled Covid-19 to spread like wildfire across the planet, as planes and ships traversed the skies and oceans. A state-centric response to contain its spread and confine its ability to spread was a necessary course of action, according to all the medical and research experts who were involved in diagnosing the epidemiology of the disease.

The state-wide lockdowns, however, are but only a short-term palliative towards the goal of disrupting the spread of Covid-19. The more urgent task of deciphering the disease’s genetic structure and identifying the means to disrupt and neutralise its insidious effects on human beings, is an undertaking that requires the whole of global society to work collectively.

The practice among some members of the scientific community, has been to treat the pursuit of cures for various diseases as a national campaign, and by some pharmaceutical companies  as a race against time in order to discover the drug which can be leveraged into a major “pay-day”. Covid-19, however, should awaken us to the reality that developing a vaccine and cure is not a “national” project or a part of the standard “big-pharma” dash to some illusionary finish line. Initiatives that seek to decipher Covid-19’s genome, or genetic material, and determine how to prevent it from making copies of itself — which enables it to spread — cannot be reduced to a juvenile competition. In fact, such competitive behaviour will only undermine the human race and let unavoidable deaths persist.

There is already evidence that more scientists are working across borders to advance our understanding of the disease.

Since the beginning of February 2020, more than 300 medical research papers on the virus have been deposited on MedR-xiv, which is a repository for pre-reviewed findings, and hundreds of genome sequences have been uploaded to public databases.

The initial alarm about the emergence of Covid-19, emanating from the authorities in Wuhan, China, enabled the World Health Organisation (WHO) to convene a study tour — with scientists from around the globe — of the region. This confirms the importance of supporting and enabling global institutions to undertake their core functions for the benefit of the whole of humanity.

Prior to the emergence of Covid-19 on the global stage, there was a resurgence of ethnic nationalism and racial chauvinism in a number of countries around the world. The disease has, however, now brought into stark reality the fact that there is much more that unites us as human beings, than that which divides us through artificial borders and false narratives about the “other”. The post-Covid-19 world will be a terrain in which it will be difficult to put this genie, of-our-common-humanity, back into the state-centric bottle.

No country on its own was able to prevent the disease from penetrating the false borders constructed by human beings.

This does not mean that our artificial national borders will miraculously disappear; in fact they will demonstrate a persistent resilience in the minds of many human beings. The difference will be the fact that Covid-19 will have already demonstrated that we are globally interconnected through worldwide networks of communication and transportation.

Covid-19 is also having an effect on global culture, specifically in the way human beings now have to relate to each other through physical distancing. People have made use of the global infrastructure for social media, that was already presciently available to be used, to remain consciously connected.

For example, individuals living by themselves in Cape Town are now having social media-based “e-parties” with friends in Nairobi, Lagos, Calcutta, Geneva, Melbourne and New York, fostering global social connections that were previously only theorised, and which are now being confirmed by anecdotal and empirical data. In the post-Covid-19 world, it will be interesting to follow the cultural trajectory of this evolving global society, driven by an increase in transnational social connections and relations.

There is nothing that can demonstrate the prevalence of a global society more than a pandemic which does not discriminate in its targeting of all human beings. Global consciousness, however, will not emerge through wishful thinking, and it will still need to be proactively fostered through introspective work and through processes which support people to unlearn their propensity towards designating fellow human beings as the “other”. Concretely, the work of building a global society begins now through the discussions in family settings, in schools, at places of work, worship and trade. Specifically, a degree of persistence will be required to continue to make the case for our global connectedness, because over four centuries of confining ourselves within Westphalian nation-states has rendered them real in our minds.

The fact that Covid-19 does not select its victims, suggests that from a purely scientific perspective, that we are all the same. It would appear that the more insidious and insipid virus in our human society, is the propensity to view “others” as different or less-than ourselves. There is a message and a call that is inherent in Covid-19’s assault on the human body, and it is that we are a global society.

Tim Murithi

Article first published on Mail & Guardian