09 April 2020

One pandemic, multiple perspectives


While China is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel after the crisis wrought by the coronavirus, its rapid spread across the rest of the planet has led many countries to take restrictive measures. Travel and business have ground to a halt and the world economy is slowing down. Most seriously of all, many people are still falling sick on a daily basis.

The pandemic is global, but experiences can vary greatly depending on where one lives or  or even their job. 

To learn more about these different realities and analyse the overall situation, we contacted four members of the ”la Caixa” Fellows Association based at four separate locations across the globe to discover how these unprecedented circumstances are affecting them from their perspective.

Regina Bou is studying for a PhD at Weill Cornell Medicine and conducting research at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She’s been living in New York, USA, since 2018, which is when she started her PhD in immunology and pathogenesis with the help of a fellowship from the “la Caixa” Foundation. Regina has witnessed the country where she lives become the focal point of the pandemic. “We watched what was happening in Europe and Asia, but we never thought it would reach us here,” she said. Three weeks ago—even before the state of New York went into lockdown—both her university and her research centre cancelled their classes and closed their labs. 

“It’s hard to have to halt your research and think about the money and time being wasted,” Regina told us, but she is still working and continuing her education online, while also reviewing the literature on the SARS-CoV-2 virus so that she can share reliable scientific information with the student community. In the next few days, she hopes to be able to carry out COVID-19 diagnostic testing with her coursemates at Weil Cornell, which is what PhD students at other universities in the country are already doing. This is one way she could play an active role in something that she deems to be crucial: “Increasing the number of tests so that we can identify asymptomatic people or those with mild symptoms meaning we can ensure that they self-isolate. It's frustrating to know that the laboratories that have shut have the equipment that we could be  using for testing.” 

Luis Cornago found it strange to see how “buses and markets were still bustling even in mid-March”, when Spain and Italy had already declared a state of emergency. He has been based in the UK since 2017 with the help of a fellowship to complete his MSc in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the country’s plan to halt the epidemic was, at first, to develop “herd immunity”. After the prestigious Imperial College of London published a rather unfavourable report “there was a U-turn on strategy, even though the measures are still less restrictive than in Spain,” Luis told us. 

As a political risk analyst at the consultancy firm Teneo, his work involves getting a grasp on the political and economic fallout of this situation. “It’s still early days to make any forecasts about the future of our societies,” he said, however, “as we have seen in Asia, we need to be prepared for things not to return to normal for at least a few months.” He also anticipates that perhaps citizens from now on will be more demanding with the standards of some products, which could affect globalization as we’ve understood it until now.

Nerea Amorós founded an architecture and consultancy firm in Uganda last year, called Creative Assemblages. She moved there after completing her PhD in Architectural Design at University College London with the help of a fellowship she received in 2016. “Most people in Uganda are still pretty relaxed and, in some cases, they're still in the phase of playing down the situation. However, the impact that it could have on thousands of people who live hand-to-mouth with scarce economic and material resources will become more intense as lockdowns and border closures continue,” she told us. 
In her opinion, “this situation has uncovered the crisis in values in many societies, where investment in public healthcare has been falling. However, in Africa, there was already a need for infrastructure and healthcare material even before the COVID-19 crisis.” As a professional architect and educator with a special interest in helping refugees, Nerea believes that “this moment should force us to reflect on the architectural mechanisms that we can use to improve people’s lives and environmental sustainability.” She also hopes that this crisis also brings about critical minds, politicians and designers who are willing to improve healthcare networks in their countries and across the world.”

Teresa Barrio Traspaderne specialised in her field by completing her MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. After stepping down from her role as Coordinator at the Europe Regional Office of Amnesty International in London, Teresa moved to Mexico two months ago. Right now, she’s working from home, “so the situation caused by COVID-19 hasn’t affected her daily routine. The main problem lies in the fact that almost 50% of the population in Mexico lives in poverty. Self-isolating isn't even an option for them,” she said. 

Against this backdrop, she finds it paradoxical that “COVID-19 is an illness that was brought into Mexico by the middle and upper classes, while those with the fewest resources are the ones who will suffer most.” However, Teresa remains optimistic and shared a little insight with us: “In Chinese, the word “crisis” is the sum of “danger and opportunity”. In spite of the huge human cost involved, this pandemic is also an opportunity to become more responsible citizens towards society and the planet.”