By Erdogan Cagatay Zontur
ANKARA (AA) – Pandemics throughout history have led to changes in healthcare systems, the socioeconomic status of communities and even regimes, according to a Turkish historian, who said the novel coronavirus outbreak may bring similar changes to the world.
“The plague epidemic which occurred in Europe in the mid-14th century and caused the deaths of tens of millions was an important influence on the later history of this continent,” said Namiq Musali, a history professor at Kastamonu University in Turkey’s Black Sea province of Kastamonu.
With drops in the working population in line with the death toll, an imbalance occurred in the supply and demand relationship between workers and employers, leading to new conditions regarding their situation, Musali said.
In addition to the fall in population in rural areas, agriculture was abandoned and people started to engage in more livestock activities, he said.
“The abundant wool obtained from animal husbandry has opened the way for the weaving industry to develop rapidly, and worker insufficiency has led to advances in technology.”
Musali noted that these developments weakened feudal systems and led to centralized states.
“The plague epidemic led to a restructuring of the education system under the control or influence of the church, raised interest in earth sciences, and rational thought instead of the scholastic concept. As a result of all these, capitalism started to take its place instead of feudalism in the following centuries. The Renaissance civilization, Reformation movement and the industrial revolution occurred.”
“It would be wrong to mark the plague epidemic as the only reason for these developments. But the epidemic is among the factors that triggered this process, and it accelerated the natural course of history,” Musali added.
– Worldwide psychological impact, restructuring results of COVID-19
Musali added that the novel coronavirus pandemic resembles the plague epidemics in the 6th and mid-14th centuries in Europe, the smallpox epidemic in the 16th century in America, and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
“Considering the current level of healthcare and human development, I estimate that we will overcome the COVID-19 outbreak with fewer losses compared to the others. On the other hand, considering that globalization and news coverage have reached unprecedented levels in history, I believe this pandemic will have a greater worldwide psychological impact and restructuring results,” he said.
– Healthcare services
Stressing that states will be forced to prepare for global disaster or chaos scenarios in similar pandemics that are likely to arise in the future, Musali said this will have impacts on the economy and sociocultural life while also changing the approach to the health sector from medical education to healthcare facilities.
“Health services, seen as part of the social policies of countries until now, will be evaluated within the framework of national security policies,” he added.
Musali underscored that statist policies will gradually replace liberal and capitalist approaches.
“Possible disaster scenarios will force individual countries to produce strategic products in healthcare services they have imported, or at least to create infrastructure so they can switch to production at any time,” he added.
– Rise in oppressive regimes, racism
Musali said disasters in the early 20th century such as the Great Depression in the U.S., World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic led to extremist political currents which promise radical changes in social structure and management approaches in Europe.
“The emergence of the Nazis in Germany, fascists in Italy, Bolsheviks in Russia, and Spain’s Franco regime are examples of this process.
“In the coming period, we have the idea that charismatic leaders who gain the trust of society will be at the forefront of world politics. I believe that this tendency, which has started in recent years due to the global terrorist threats and security weaknesses, will further strengthen,” he added.
Musali stressed that issues such as the virus originating from China and coming to Europe from Asia will trigger certain groups of people “who already have a xenophobic opinion among the European public due to terrorist events, sociocultural differences and economic reasons.”
– Personal changes
Today, due to the effect of intensive business life, technology and need for specialization in certain areas, a certain part of humanity, particularly in developed countries and in some developing countries, has lost some of their positive habits and skills acquired through history, Musali said.
“The COVID-19 virus has reminded humanity of its losses and deficiencies. For example, families in different countries which have always preferred to eat out — for the reasons listed above — now try to cook themselves, considering hygiene or health concerns as they stay at home due to quarantine.
“Even as countries or individuals, we may feel the need to train our children on how to behave and what to do in extraordinary situations to survive or to meet our daily needs in disaster scenarios,” he added.
– Possible effects of COVID-19 pandemic on globalization
Musali said there are two possible scenarios for the future of the world.
According to the first one, states will have closures, the globalization process will recede, and each nation will try to solve their own problems.
“For now, we can say that the only obvious trend is this first scenario,” he said.
“But according to the second scenario, as the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus has shown, in today's conditions, our world is smaller than expected, and has created a need for humanity to stick together globally.
“The developed states of the world, who cannot find a cure beyond closing their borders to each other and dealing with their own problems, may feel obliged to approach the future problems of the world with more sensitivity for their own security when this virus disappears,” he added.
Since appearing in Wuhan, China, last December, the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 has spread to at least 185 countries and regions.
Data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University shows worldwide infections surpassed 1.85 million, with the death toll above 114,300, while more than 435,000 people have recovered so far.