Decay and renewal in the time of Coronavirus

May 13, 2020
Editor(s): Nigel Pereira
Writer(s): Ashlee Stojanovski, Thomas Sinclair, Nic Morris, Charlie Francis

The current pandemic has cataclysmically affected the lives of many. Beyond economic repercussions, COVID-19 has drastically changed human behaviour as we navigate an environment of uncertainty. Prospective parents have been left to question whether now is the best time to try, and by extension, what life will be like for their child, if they decide to have one.

The Spanish flu, a century ago, was an astronomical test for the health capacity of the past world. Now, certainly much has changed, and we are together better equipped to fight this virus. But human behaviour has remained constant. The uncertainties and anxieties we face have been felt before. An event so universally influential, it is difficult to know where to direct our anger and our sadness.

If human nature is anything to go by, we will survive – after the virus has dissipated, either through vaccine efforts or through immense changes to social behaviour, we will grow and prosper. Our insecurities and deepest fears are not unique to our living generation – throughout history the indomitable human spirit has helped and nurtured many. But it ebbs and flows, yearning for better days when times are tough and reminiscing that things were not so bad in times of relative ease.

Australians have had a rough ride with this coronavirus. Most of us have been in lockdown for almost 2 months now, and no one is certain about when we will have true normalcy again.

While Australia is one of the few countries to have fought well against the virus, it has not emerged scot-free by any means. Recessions, accompanied by the policies to counter the virus, will cause extraordinary hardship. Behind the daily case numbers and the rise and fall of the ASX are hidden costs:

Unemployment and even homelessness are looming crises for many. Though evictions caused by hardship from the virus are banned, a rise in the current 116,000 figures of rough-sleepers is set to increase[ii]. Not only are homeless people more likely to catch the kind of infection that coronavirus presents[iii], but the feeling of despair and shame due to their situation is still as painful as ever. Especially as we see winter come early in Victoria, the safety and comfort of a home has never been at a greater need.

Poor mental health is on the rise. Beyond Blue has received 40% more call volumes[iv] for its services in the last month around issues from the pandemic; unsurprisingly, social and financial stress are the two main categories of concern. As Professor Tony Walter writes in The Conversation, “for the first time in many people’s lives they are having to face their own mortality and that of their loved ones” [v]. COVID-19 rages on globally, and the media is still relentlessly updating us on how many have passed away.

Our economy is bleeding $4 billion each week[vi]. With economic activity slowing, there are flow-on effects to employment and incomes. Ultimately, the government is the one propping the economy up by spending more and more taxpayer dollars. We had only just reached a balanced budget at the start of this year from spending over the GFC, and yet now we are heading into a much deeper debt and deficit hole. Now the burden will be held by the young people today to relieve – the same generation who are looking down the barrel of high unemployment[vii].

Australia is undeniably feeling the stresses of the coronavirus – even while we are not feeling the worst of its physical symptoms.

What does Australia have to look forward to after this virus? They say that there are three certainties in life: death, taxes and people already recognising this all too common cliché before it can even be finished.

But the sentiment of this age-old trope holds true. There truly are constants in our life that we hold self-evident. At the forefront of this is the benign and reassuring progression of life, from conception to death – with a few memorable and defining moments along the way. However, in the age of COIVD-19 it seems that we have taken our perpetuity of continuity for granted. 

Preliminary research from the Australian National University (ANU)[viii] claims that there is likely to be a material decline in Australia’s, and more broadly the Western world’s, birth rate. This comes from the “lack of social mixing” that has traditionally come from normal, day to day serendipitous interactions. So, in spite of dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, the precautions that Australia have been forced to follow precipitates a more cautious and insular Australia.

The flow-on effects of such a disturbance to socio-behavioural mores has been, and most likely will continue to be, profound. From weddings to funerals, the generalised life cycle has been disrupted. However, this should not necessarily be met with pessimism or a sense of futility.

With experts estimating that social distancing measures will last for the foreseeable future (or at least until a vaccine becomes commercially viable), for better or for worse this is our reality. Therefore, we have an opportunity to meet these difficulties head on and on our own terms. 

It is fair to say that we can no longer say that there are certainties to life right now. However, we can attempt to embrace the change by putting our best foot forward.

Through the COVID-19 Pandemic, Australia discovered that we were vulnerable to calamities that we thought could only happen in distant lands. We learnt that we can suffer from tragedies, of past eras like the economic meltdown of the Great Depression and the 1918 flu pandemic, and that nothing escapes an affronting spectre in our daily livelihoods. 

With each extraordinary shock within human history there is a loss of innocence, or complacency, and a new order of being-in-the-world that we can expect to change our doing-in-the-world. Today, COVID-19 has provoked a radical shift in policy that was thought impossible only a few months prior. Such drastic measures have changed the very fabric of Australian life.  

 “Political shock wave” theory describes a phenomenon that we observe before our eyes. This theory suggests that strong, enduring relational patterns often become more susceptible to change after some type of major shock destabilizes them. A study conducted found that 850 enduring inter-state conflicts that occurred between 1816 to 1992 found that more than 75 percent of them ended within 10 years of a major destabilizing shock. (Peter Colomon, 2020) 

Societal shocks can break different foundations, making things better or worse. However given the heightened stress across the global order, this scenario suggests that now is the time to begin to promote more constructive patterns that will transform our cultural and socio-political discourse. 

As with each calamity that marks itself within history, the time is ripening for tremendous change.  

[i] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-25/homeless-put-up-in-four-star-hotel-during-coronavirus/12176942

[ii] https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/homelessness-in-the-time-of-coronavirus

[iii] https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/we-must-use-this-opportunity-to-reform-mental-health-support-20200507-p54qsy.html

[iv] https://theconversation.com/five-things-coronavirus-can-teach-us-about-life-and-death-135157

[v] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-04/coronavirus-shutdown-costing-economy-$4-billion-a-week/12213612

[vi] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-16/history-suggests-youth-unemployment-will-surge-coronavirus/12151668

[vii] Corona virus ‘likely to reduce birth rate’. (March 2020.) Retrieved from https://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/coronavirus-crisis-%E2%80%98likely-to-reduce-birth-rate%E2%80%99


The CAINZ Digest is published by CAINZ, a student society affiliated with the Faculty of Business at the University of Melbourne. Opinions published are not necessarily those of the publishers, printers or editors. CAINZ and the University of Melbourne do not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in the publication.

Meet our authors:

Nigel Pereira
Ashlee Stojanovski
Thomas Sinclair
Nic Morris

I'm a third-year Commerce student studying Economics and Finance. I am interested in the intersection between international politics and macroeconomic policy, and societal ramifications of such intersections. I plan to study a Masters of Engineering next year.

Charlie Francis

Charlie is a Bachelor of Commerce student majoring in Economics and Finance. He is interested in macroeconomics, politics and current affairs.