Can Covid-19 change our behaviour for good?
Immediate and sweeping changes to social, cultural, and economic behaviours in all six inhabited continents around the world have been enacted to combat Covid-19. Will any of the changes survive the pandemic?
Since the start of the pandemic, the Covid-19 virus and protections against its spread have changed the lives of millions, if not billions, of people. This is not the first time cities on a global scale have been impacted by epidemics.
Many people alive today lived through the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2004, the Influenza A subtype H1N1 in 2009, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, and Ebola that ravaged countries in West Africa from 2014 to 2016. As an urban planner and public health professional, I am reminded of the legacy urban density has played in the spread of infectious diseases (the field of public health was born out of the horrible conditions endemic to the urban poor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries).
While trends in urban living have changed over the past 100 years (suburbanisation, urban sprawl, more stringent building codes), today more people around the world live in urban areas than rural, a trend that is only going to increase in the future.
On what would be one of my last subway commutes for the foreseeable future, I was reading the news and a map caught my attention. It was the satellite data from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) tracking air pollution in China in the six-week period from before government-mandated quarantine measures were in place to stymie the spread of Covid-19 to after. The shutting down of travel and the curtailment of industry dramatically cut the amount of nitrogen dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in the air.