It was just after the New Year holidays of the last year that the world first came to know about COVID-19 through disease outbreak news reporting “pneumonia of unknown cause in mainland China.” Then, 2020 became an unforgettable year of drastic change for people all over the world. The number of deaths exceeded two million as of January 15th, 2021 (UTC), according to the estimate by Johns Hopkins University. The recorded largest pandemic of viral infections is the Spanish flu, which broke out about one hundred years ago. A recent research paper reports that the flu caused 17,400,000 deaths, while some had estimated 50 to 100 million.
The fight against the coronavirus has continued. New vaccines have been developed, and the shots have begun. Various treatments with medicines have also been applied. However, the reality is that we have not been able to establish a solid method for prevention and treatment even against many already discovered viruses, not to mention against unknown ones. Then, what we should do is to double-check our basic actions one by one on the personal level by reminding ourselves about "the last-mile challenge," a common target addressed for the prevention of all disasters, in addition to developing appropriate governance policies based on deep deliberations between scientists and decision-makers.
According to YouGov, a global trucker surveying personal behavior changes due to COVID-19, the percentage of people who say that they are avoiding crowded public places keeps high globally. On the other hand, there are large regional discrepancies in wearing a face mask in public places, improving personal hygiene, such as washing hands frequently, and avoiding going to work. Although these gaps seem to be closely related to governance policies of each country, they also seem to be strongly influenced by the difference in construals of the self, which have been fostered historically in different culture areas, as cultural psychology points out.
As A. Toynbee writes, the growth and decline of civilizations is a spiritual process. A new civilization is achieved as a creative “response” to a “challenge” in a national crisis with a hitherto unprecedented effort. Clarifying scientific understanding and uncertainties and considering each other’s cultural and historical backgrounds, people and governments should “co-respond” to this disaster and take a first step toward a new civilization.
January 29, 2021
Executive Director of ICHARM