By Andrés Muñoz

It’s been a little over a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the SARS-CoV-2 virus as a pandemic. From that moment onwards, our way of life has been severely affected in more ways than one. The pandemic unearthed realities and issues that needed to be addressed by the worldwide population. The disease’s origin seemingly began in a market where live animals are bought and sold, many of which are kept in dreadful conditions. 

Once the virus started to spread, politicians constantly downplayed it, causing significant outbreaks that could have been prevented. Since China was where the virus began, there has been a rise in racist attitudes towards individuals of Chinese and people of Asian descent. The virus took a significant toll on our mental wellbeing as its consequences rippled across the globe.

While all this might make us lose our faith in humanity, I believe that difficult times also bring the best out of people. As we battle with the virus, many individuals and organisations have shown us that kindness and generosity can also be found in the darkest of places.

COVID And Our Treatment Of Animals

One of the first theories of the virus’s transmission takes us to wet markets—marketplaces that sell fresh produce. While some say it might not be a virological ground zero, the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, has been identified as a possible amplification point for the virus, according to WHO investigators

Outbreaks like SARS and other acute respiratory diseases have been traced to similar places where viral pathogens can find an easier transmission from animals to humans. Furthermore, the industrial scale of animal abuse perpetrated by meat and poultry suppliers shows us that the conditions creating these viruses are the same that cause terrible harm to animals.

An Outbreak Of Backfiring Politics

As the virus spread globally, politicians either downplayed it or used it to push a specific political agenda. Some of the clearest examples are Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump. 

As governments shut down borders and ICUs overflowed, Bolsonaro saw the virus as nothing more than a common cold and refused to steer the country in a safer direction when dealing with the pandemic. Brazil is now second in the world in case numbers, having reached 100,000 new cases per day as of March 25, 2021. 

Trump was well-known for his position against foreigners, from building a wall to banning entry to citizens of predominantly Muslim countries. From the start of the outbreak, he called SARS-CoV-2 “the Chinese Virus” and mocked it consistently, resulting in distrust of scientists and experts and the belief that wearing a mask was an attack on individual liberties. The US now tops the rankings with over 30 million reported cases (over 20% of the world’s total) and over half a million deaths as of March 2021. 

Covid Has No Ethnicity

Due to the virus’s origins, racism towards people of Chinese and Asian descent has risen worldwide. Hate crimes towards Asian individuals in New York City have increased nine times compared to 2019. 

A United Nations report mentions that over 1,800 acts of racism were reported towards Asian-Americans between March and May of 2020. Attacks included “physical assaults, vandalism, verbal harassment, and denial of access to services and public spaces.” The recent attack in Atlanta left 6 Asian women dead in what was seen as a targeted attack. 

A Mind In Quarantine

On a personal note, I have also suffered from the psychological effects of the pandemic. A social and outgoing individual, I was caught by surprise by quarantines and social distancing. Like everyone, I kissed (or more adeptly waved) goodbye to hugs, meetings, and live events. 

After several months of staying indoors, I slowly began to go out, but the extrovert had disappeared, being replaced by an increasingly anxious individual, eyeing everyone with paranoid suspicion. It wasn’t from the worry of catching the virus, but due to not being inside the 4 walls of my room. I had trapped my mind in a hazmat suit of fear.

Finding The Light

When facing all these terrible events, many don’t know where to look for hope. How can we lift our spirits? 

News flash: it is not a politician who will recover our faith in humanity. It is the actions of fellow humans and organisations that will do it, little by little. 

Friends using their 3D printing lab to create and donate face shields, people from around the world uniting against racism, bigotry, and injustice, and my therapist and support network successfully helping me unearth that outgoing and quick-to-laughter person that had been dulled by all those dreadful months inside…

Do you see it now? You are not alone in the darkness. The world is there with you.

We need to help ourselves light our way out.