“Never allow a crisis to go to waste.”
– Rahm Emanuel, chief-of-staff to US president Barack Obama
Much will be written about the devastating affects of coronavirus on the world: the deaths, the unprecedented unemployment, the poverty, the increase in depression and domestic violence rates, and how it has crippled modern health systems. But that all can wait until the disaster passes.
For now, politicians around the world are taking the advice of Rahm Emanuel, the former Mayor of Chicago and chief-of-staff to former US president Barack Obama who is credited with the infamous quote about the 2008 financial collapse and the opportunities presented at the time. Modern-day politicians are applying it to their own administrations.
Here is a short list of what the coronavirus has managed to achieve in a few weeks in the Western world, that governments could not achieve in years, decades and sometimes never.
More than a quarter of a century of charities and Opposition MPs, lobbying and begging for successive governments to increase the Newstart allowance couldn’t achieve it. But, an invisible threat comes along and a Liberal Government doubles dole benefits to $550 a week, overnight.
Despite herculean efforts and even stronger arguments in favour of it, it took a virus to secure fee-free childcare for Australian families.
For 10 years the Save Albert Park (SAP) group held a vigil at the site of the Melbourne Grand Prix and opponents tied yellow ribbons around trees. Residents have been complaining for years about the disruption to their suburb and relentless noise and vibrating from the cars during the staging of Melbourne’s Formula One Grand Prix. There have been leaks upon leaks that it has been running at a loss for years. But since it started in 1996, nothing has been able to stop our public park being used by a private business to run a car race. Then the coronavirus came along a few weeks ago and cancelled it.
The advent of the 21st century and a parade of governments couldn’t do it, but an illness, within weeks, did. COVID- 19 has forced the Greek government, business and consumers to rapidly embrace online platforms.
On the front foot, Greece introduced lockdowns earlier and harder than other Western countries. Greeks were directed to work from home and to stay at home long before us.
New Democracy Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, recently launched gov.gr and dubbed it “the portal of the new digital state”.
He has placed scores of online and mobile state services on the single platform.
Usage has soared, with online services like e-prescriptions being popular.
To help with the rapid transition, the government also launched digitalsolidarity.gov.gr. It offers free or low-cost digital services. Among others, large corporations provide free digital training to small and medium- sized enterprise (SME).
Weapons, tear gas and Molotov cocktails couldn’t stop them. But, clashes between anarchist and Athens riot police, known by the Greek acronym, MAT, have reportedly stopped since the virus scourge engulfed Europe.
It featured in the 2012 London Olympics’s opening ceremony, but Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has been sick for years. After years of austerity measures, including privatisation, implemented by conservative British governments, the cornavirus has given it its best funding boost in years.
It has been reported that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who controls the budget, has said the NHS will get whatever funding it needs. Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, whose government introduced the system in 1948, would be applauding from above.
Now, Brits clap and bang pots at designated times in support of healthcare workers and the NHS. Plastered on the lecturn where from British officials and MPs tell their messages to Brits and the world are the words: “Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save lives”.
But the NHS’s best advertisement has been treating British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the disease. “I owe them my life”, he said on the weekend when praising hospital staff.
BREXIT and MEGXIT
At the beginning of 2020, it looked like another year filled with an avalanche of stories about Britain’s attempt to leave the European Union and tales of Prince Harry and Megan Markle, exiting the UK for an independent life.
The coronavirus pandemic has given us a reprieve from these sagas. Last I read, Boris Johnston, signed an exit contract from the EU, in January, without negotiating the exit terms. The global lockdown has meant the Sussexes’s money-spinning businesses have hit the proverbial wall and Prince Harry has asked the Queen for money.
Years of diplomacy couldn’t broker it, but a few weeks of the coronavirus could. A two-week ceasefire in Yemen was announced to combat the virus on Western Christian churches Good Friday, 10 April. But good government leads to good citizenry. Both of these have in turn lead to some extraordinarily positive outcomes for goodwill and peace in the world.
COVID-19 has meant Americans have put away their AR-15 assault rifles and there hasn’t been a mass shooting in weeks.
Below is a short list of some good deeds and outcomes brought about by the coronavirus.
Familiarity may breed contempt, and some couples, families and house mates may have become overly acquainted since the onset of stage 3 social distancing restrictions. But coronavirus has offered us an opportunity to do what we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do ourselves. That is, spend more time in person or on the phone and social media talking to immediate family and those dear to us.
Kindness of strangers
Australia’s unemployed are usually vilified for not working. It took a Greek-Australian lawyer and businessman Peter Darmos, handing out $10,000 worth of $100 bills to people in dole queues at Box Hil lCentrelink to change that.
Kindness of banks
Whatever we thought of them during the Banking Royal Commission, or however they are going to treat struggling home borrowers who can’t pay the mortgage, I want to record a kind act by the National Australia Bank, in Oakleigh. A Greek-speaking employee called my 87-year-old father, a passbook holder, to see if he had an ATM card to withdraw money with if the bank reduced trading hours or closed branches. The bank could issue an ATM card if he needed it, the employee said.
With most of the world’s people locked down in their homes, transport industries like airplanes grounded and cruising businesses shipwrecked, monitoring organisations have recorded a decrease in world pollution.
NSA satellite photos and Google map pictures show huge decreases in air pollution in Beijing, China and New York City. The Venice canals are reportedly clear, too.
In Greece, social media is full of videos and pictures of wildlife roaming deserted towns. Like a picture of a herd of deer photographed roaming the deserted streets of the village of Parapotamo, in Serres, in Northern Greece.
In Australia, talk back radio and the people we talk to swear that the night sky is brighter and they can hear the birds singing more during the day. I’m sure I heard a kookabura in the front yard of my parents’s Oakleigh house, last Friday.