Experts have been issuing dire warnings that we may not be able to overcome the coronavirus pandemic completely and may thus have to live with it forever. An article from the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, titled “Living with coronavirus (COVID-19): A brief report,” begins with the following proclamation: “The world will never be the same after the current COVID-19 pandemic. We may have to live with the coronavirus for a long time.”
Another recent article, published in the “Atlantic Monthly” and titled “The coronavirus is here forever: This is how we live with it,” diagnoses the grim situation: “We can’t avoid the virus for the rest of our lives, but we can minimize its impact.”
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 is an unprecedented catastrophe for humanity. Even the plague in the Middle Ages and the Spanish flu in the early 20th century did not devastate the whole world. As for COVID-19, however, not a single country is immune to it. Both the plague and the Spanish flu finally ended after wiping out families and communities. However, the coronavirus might not disappear completely and so we may have to live with it for the rest of our lives. If so, then those who are living on Earth now are extremely unlucky and unfortunate.
Think about those who had to die or lost their loved ones due to the coronavirus. Think about those who lost their jobs or went bankrupt and felt driven to suicide because of COVID-19. Think about those who had to graduate from a two-year college without knowing what a campus life was like. Also, think about all the innocent children who had to see all the grown-ups wear a face mask and even put one on themselves. What kind of a world will they inherit? Indeed, it is heartbreaking to see the tragic incidents caused by COVID-19. If there are people responsible for the initial spread of the coronavirus, they should suffer the pangs of a guilty conscience
It is frustrating that we have to live with the coronavirus, yet it remains with us. International travel may resume, but not without restrictions. Studying abroad has become more complicated. Face masks and social distancing may still be required, depending on the situation. Schools will open, and yet things will never be the same. Teachers and students will have to remain vigilant to avoid the spread of delta and other variants of the disease.
Of course, we can expect that people will continue to avoid direct contact with others who may be potential carriers of the coronavirus. People also will continue to be reluctant to shake hands or hug. In fact, the coronavirus has changed the world completely by taking away precious human contact and trust. If so, living with the coronavirus does not guarantee going back to “normal.” Rather, it means going back to a “new normal,” as some people say.
The pandemic will end in one way or another, as time goes on. Yet the virus will continue to linger among us indefinitely. As with the flu, we may have to get a coronavirus shot every year. There is good news, though. According to the “Atlantic Monthly” article, even though our immunity after a vaccination wanes, the shot makes later infections mild or even asymptomatic, depending on the person. If so, that is a huge relief.
Living with the coronavirus is not an option, but a must. The problem is that it is likely to be very uncomfortable and inconvenient in many ways. For example, many American fast-food chains and coffee shops are now suffering from staff shortages and insufficient supplies due to the pandemic. People are reluctant to return to work because they have to risk their lives. In addition, the stimulus checks from the government and unemployment benefits are as good as the salaries they would receive. Why bother to work, then?
That is why many American stores are now suffering from short-staffing these days, even though they put up enticing signs like, “We’re Hiring. Apply online. Minimum wage: 15 dollars per hour and a 1,000 dollar complimentary check on hire.” Meanwhile, factories cannot find long-distance truck drivers either, so food supplies are not running smoothly.
As a result, the KFC in my town closed down. Fast food chain stores such as Burger King, McDonalds and Wendy’s open only their drive-thru lanes due to staff shortages. In a Starbucks coffee shop, I saw only two staff members working; one was taking orders from customers standing in a long line and the other was making all the coffees alone. Last month, the Starbucks shop closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and this month on Mondays. The 24/7 store has changed. Of course, this is just an example. However, if this kind of situation is the “new normal,” then living with the coronavirus will never be easy.
Still, we should be prepared to live with the coronavirus. We must cope with the new reality, even though it is harsh.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.