In Depth

The unexpected consequences of the coronavirus crisis

From environmental recovery to gangland truces

Coronavirus has already changed the day-to-day lives of millions, with many countries now implementing lockdowns of varying severity. But the virus has also had consequences that nobody could have expected.

Boosted communities

With everyone stuck in the same boat of quarantine and self-isolation, it has been heartening to see communities pull together – but still a safe distance apart. 

The internet is awash with stories of neighbours helping each other and whole streets looking out for elderly residents. 

Writing about his own street in London, Britain correspondent at The Economist, Tom Rowley, says: “Many say the situation is strengthening their friendships, as people check up on each other.

“A resident of 44 years’ standing, who has only ever been ‘on nodding acquaintance’ with neighbours, is now on a WhatsApp group, organising support for the elderly. One member of the group has volunteered to lead online workouts.”

The community spirit cultivated by the crisis has been most on show in the now-weekly “clap for our carers” moment, in which people up and down the country applaud NHS staff at 8pm each Thursday.

China’s air clean-up

The impact of the coronavirus epidemic in China, the origin of the outbreak, is so stark that it can be seen from space.

The resulting drop in productivity across the nation resulted in a dramatic drop in air pollution, according to data pulled from Nasa and European Space Agency satellites.

Monitoring sensors recorded a substantial drop in concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution since January - a fall believed to be “at least partly related to the economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus”, says Nasa.

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at the US space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Maryland.

She added: “I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimise [the] spread of the virus.”

Gangland truces

In some countries, gangs have stepped in to fill the void left by governments, enforcing social distancing and even providing home delivery services.

In South Africa, the BBC reports an “unprecedented truce” has broken out in the “notorious, gang-infested townships around Cape Town, as rival gang leaders stop their endless turf wars and instead bring food to struggling households”.

El Salvador, which has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, has seen a dramatic decline in the number of murders as “street gangs that have long terrorised the country have now turned their attention from extortion and killing to a more pressing matter: enforcing social distancing restrictions, often with threats and baseball bats”, reports the Los Angeles Times.

It follows reports last month that drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro's “City of God” favela were urging residents to stay at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, “amid growing fears over the impact the virus could have on some of Brazil’s poorest citizens” says The Guardian.

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Good news for wildlife

China’s ruling National People’s Congress in February announced a permanent ban on the trade of wild animals for food, a move triggered by the epidemic.

The resolution on “comprehensively prohibiting the illegal trade of wild animals, eliminating the bad habits of wild animal consumption, and protecting the health and safety of the people,” outlaws all trade and eating of non-aquatic wild animals.

The outbreak has been traced back to a wild animal food market in Wuhan, in the central province of Hubei, “and pangolins, in particular, have been suggested as a possible host of the virus before it was transmitted to humans”, according to The New York Times.

The lockdown in China has also offered hope for one of the world’s most endangered species, after two middle-aged giant pandas in a Hong Kong theme park mated for the first time in more than ten years, “after finally enjoying a period of privacy thanks to the coronavirus lockdown”, says The Guardian.

Ying Ying and Le Le, both 14, have been at Ocean Park since 2007 but “had shown little inclination to have sex while daily hordes of visitors were watching their every move”, says the paper.

But with the park closed to visitors for the past two months, the pair have finally mated, with zookeepers hopeful the female panda will soon be pregnant.

Fewer flu cases

In better news, increased awareness of hygiene practices is thought to be behind a significant drop in the number of influenza cases in Japan, with a year-on-year decline of more than 60%, reports The Japan Times.

The sudden drop in reported flu cases began when news of the coronavirus outbreak began to spread in mid-January.

“I believe the coronavirus affected it in a good way, because people have become more careful about washing hands and wearing masks,” said Dr Minako Ohashi, a family doctor at a Tokyo clinic.

Former World Health Organization official Dr Shigeru Omi, who is advising the Japanese government on its coronavirus response, said the connection between the public’s heightened hygiene awareness and the drop in flu cases was not proven but was plausible.

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