How is the year 2020

Corona pandemic
How will we look back on 2020?

If intergenerational justice means improving the life chances and conditions of future generations as far as possible, then the connection to epidemics is obvious. Because epidemics belonged - and, as we are now also finding out again in the West - to the apocalyptic horsemen who bring death and suffering to people. We should protect future generations from foreseeable damage, if that is in our power.

Ironically, the chance that humanity will finally wipe out some of its worst microbial pests in the 21st century did not fall in the first half of 2020, but increased. The new corona virus has led to a massive increase in epidemiological knowledge among the population. Adolescents learn from newly issued hygiene rules in schools that microbes are a danger from which one has to protect oneself.

"With SARS-CoV-2, the human reaction was more knowledge-based and less indifferent than with previous pandemics."

Stocking up vaccines and drugs always involves the risk of parts being bought unnecessarily - this stockpiling strategy fell into disrepute after the 2009 swine flu. But now this risk is also viewed by the economy as the significantly smaller risk compared to a lockdown. Podcasts by virologists - and the resulting debates in the mass media - mean that the general public and politicians are concerned with infection epidemiology.

Share knowledge globally and fight epidemics

If we look back from the year 2100 to the year 2020, then our present could be seen as the year in which mankind finally pulled itself together, following the successful model of eradicating smallpox, other infectious diseases (e.g. typhus, polio, measles or rubella) to be eliminated worldwide. Even with non-eliminable infectious diseases, more should be done in the future. In order to prevent the seasonal flu from coinciding with a second corona wave, the British Minister of Health announced the “largest flu vaccination program in history” for autumn 2020. This will reduce the number of flu deaths each year for years to come.

With SARS-CoV-2, the response of humankind has been more knowledge-based and less indifferent than with previous pandemics. For a short time mankind listened to its virologists and epidemiologists and subordinated everything else to fighting viruses or containing epidemics. It is shortened when it is said that "the experts" had more influence at the beginning of the corona pandemic. There are also experts in the business and education sectors, and they normally have their say on talk shows far more often than epidemiologists. It was different in spring 2020. As a result, large sections of the population who had never been interested in epidemiology before now know what to do with measures and technical terms such as base reproduction number or contagiousness.

The increase in knowledge of science even in the first quarter of 2020 was enormous. Science temporarily switched to publishing on preprint servers in order to share and increase knowledge globally. It was a fine example of swarm intelligence, with the principle of trial and error, which is science, watched in amazement by the public. Humanity as a whole was able to look at the strategies of different countries based on data, share best practices and use simulations to estimate how strongly certain measures have an effect (and what economic and social side effects they have). Of course, the methods of data collection were still far from ideal in 2020, but if the princes of the world had been told 200 years ago that in their future all smallpox cases would one day be registered and collected centrally by a World Health Organization, they would have it mistaken for a fairy tale.