July 4, 2020
COVID-19 updates: the Corona Times

From the website: "Corona Times is a blog written and curated by engaged scholars from across the world, coming together across multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, with a strong grounding in humanities and social sciences, and in dialogue with public health knowledge. The blog is a public engagement project of HUMA, the Institute for Humanities in Africa at the University of Cape Town.

In this moment of global crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we need sober, grounded, empathetic, politically minded scholarly voices that can help people and governments to understand what we are going through, why we are where we are today, and where we might be going.

At this time, we do not know enough about the virus and its epidemiological but also social, political and economic dimensions. We know it kills. People’s lives are at stake, all around the world. The unknowns are of such magnitude that the risk of adopting laissez faire public health and economic responses is just too high. The virus leaves nobody and nothing untouched, and it is brutally equalizing in its infliction of suffering and death, affecting all countries, classes, ethnicities and genders. Yet the elderly, those with more vulnerable health and people struggling with poverty will be much more affected than others. The pandemic affects everybody, but with highly unequal outcomes both within and across countries.

As the death toll increases and the negative economic effects deepen, there is no certain timeline about when a vaccine might be ready. We don't know when we will be able to do away with current measures of containment. The social sciences and the humanities are badly needed, but the concept of scientific authority itself needs to be moulded and adapted to the current times. We have a responsibility to be authoritative and use our authority responsibly, but are not in a position to make final statements with the arrogance of those who know with certainty what needs to be done.

We offer detailed, rigorously researched, ethical expert commentary that humbly explores ways to grasp the various facets of the current moment, and proposes ways forward and evaluates social, economic and public health interventions on multiple temporal scales, from the short-term to the long view.

In this time of social distancing and necessary physical withdrawal from "business as usual", we also hope to go “out there” with our minds and spirits, to nurture the intellectual conviviality and human companionship that we need to fight the pandemic and get through the other side stronger and more resilient.

The current crisis is showing the enormous limitations of an exploitative neoliberal order that favours the abstract workings of markets over people’s lives, but also the short-sightedness of narrow nationalist responses that ignore and dismiss data and experiences from other countries, periods and ideologies because “it is not us”. The physical enclosures that the fight against the pandemic is producing will only work if they are inspired by open minds that travel across all kinds of separations, borders and walls. Ideas and practices of unchecked individualist freedoms to consume and freedom to infect in the name of freedom, are also proving to be destructive and anti-humanist.

To rediscover our interconnectedness and conviviality in these times of existential crisis and biological precarity, we need to rethink and remould ideas of freedom, responsibility and interdependence, by appreciating that being with and for others, and knowing how and when to restrain ourselves are also fundamental freedoms that nurture individuals and societies."