What COVID-19 Leaves Behind

Lessons the world has learned as the pandemic subsides.


Fusion Medical Animation / Unsplash

The COVID-19 Pandemic that has turned life upside down is finally subsiding – but what have we learned from it all?

After more than three long years, the COVID-19 pandemic has finally shown signs of abating. Even though life in New York seems to be slowly returning to some semblance of normality, the same cannot be said for China. China’s government has long touted its allegedly lower death rate, but it has come at a high societal cost as unprecedented protests have swept the nation. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is beginning to question the practicality of allowing China to maintain its role as the world’s factory as COVID-19 lockdowns have snarled supply lines and triggered shortages.

Even though American society has widely opened up since the peak of the pandemic, many still feel the after-effects, especially the youth. Educators explain that test scores reveal students have effectively lost one or more years of education due to the impact of the pandemic. Mental health concerns brought by the pandemic remain as a hindrance for members of society. The contrasting approaches to COVID-19 of China and the U.S. have exemplified the age-old dilemma between security and liberty. Now that time has given us some perspective on the pandemic, what measures can we take to better prepare for a possible next one?

China has attempted to demonstrate to the world the superiority of its strict approach to preventing the spread of COVID-19, sometimes known as “zero COVID.”  Lockdowns coupled with extensive monitoring of citizens may offend Western notions of civil liberties, but China has countered this with assertions that its approach has saved lives.  However, there is a growing chorus of questions about China’s forthrightness. 

In the second week of December 2022, the Chinese government abruptly lifted some “zero COVID” restrictions that have been imposed since the beginning of the outbreak in December 2019. For the first time since the initial outbreak, residents of China that were under complete lockdown were able to set foot outside their homes. However, this does not correlate to a complete transition to normal life. Many of the shops and restaurants on the streets in China have not been able to properly function as a result of many staff members testing positive for COVID-19. Not only that, but many of China’s pharmacies and supermarkets have empty shelves that are void of necessities, such as over-the-counter medicines and anti-bacterial wipes.

China has also not avoided bracing for the impact of the flu season this winter, as they have been experiencing a rise in infections and deaths. China has sought to show that its approach is superior to that of Western nations as it supposedly has resulted in far fewer deaths. However, the sheer oppressiveness of the Chinese approach led to a significant pushback among the populace. Employees at a funeral parlor near Beijing stated that the number of calls the funeral home initially dealt with, which started at ten per month, is now exploding at five calls every day – an effect that correlates to the recent COVID-19 outbreaks.

The lower death rate touted by the Chinese government has surely dampened potential for a public panic, but China still falls short in this scenario.  There is a shortage of fever-reducing drugs, such as ibuprofen, at drugstores to counteract the symptoms of those infected with the virus.  There are also fears that a significant COVID-19 outbreak could overwhelm hospital capacity. 

China has tried to maintain its image with opaque statistics, covering up the magnitude of cases and their impact. As a method of describing a less dire situation than at hand, China’s government is only acknowledging seven deaths in Beijing directly connected to the COVID-19 outbreak in its official statistics. To explain the distorted data, health officials from China later stated that COVID-19-related deaths only counted if the virus was the direct cause — a system that surely led to a vast underestimate in the death count. 

Clearly, the Chinese government has an incentive to disclose a lower number of COVID-19 cases to support its own case in the court of world opinion as well as to prevent undermining the legitimacy of the government in the minds of its citizens. Over the duration of the pandemic, and especially in the post-zero COVID-19 policy society, the Chinese government has urged the public to take necessary precautions as a response to the rise in cases. However, the undercount in cases has made COVID-19 warnings less credible and downplayed the severity of the situation, which has resulted in the elderly avoiding vaccination and the youth to take the spread less seriously. 

Due to the influence of the pandemic on China’s economy, coupled with rising military tensions with the U.S., China appears to be approaching the end of its dominant role as the world’s factory. Recently, multinational technology giant Apple announced that they are moving some production out of China due to the major weak spot it poses for production due to the COVID-19 regulations and lockdowns. 

This trend isn’t unique to only Apple. Companies that were initially producing in China are now manufacturing in surrounding countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, and Taiwan. Nearly twice as many U.S. companies, such as Old Navy, Under Armor, and Google, cut their investment in China this year. Nearly twice as many U.S. companies, such as Old Navy, Under Armor, and Google, cut their investment in China this year. 

New York’s contrasting approach to the pandemic in July 2022, was announced by Mayor Adams, as he discussed the idea of living with the virus and making it part of New York’s daily life. Though the stakes were high at the time, it is evident that this risk was worth taking and prevented longer durations of isolation from occurring. 

From peaking at 73,456 daily cases at the height of the pandemic in January 2022, New York has lowered its daily cases to only a few thousand a day, making it clear that this method of “living with the virus” has inured to the benefit of New York life and has allowed the productivity of the city to recover much earlier than other areas. 

The pandemic has nonetheless left imprints on New York City youth. In a survey conducted in 800 public schools, 70% reported that the percentage of students who have sought mental health services increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic and online learning definitely had a fair share of negative impacts on me,” said Vincent Zhang ’25. He continues, “It was always very hard to focus on really anything during that time period and I can see some of these effects influencing me today, a couple years later.” 

Many describe the setback caused by the pandemic to be as if we’ve “lost portions of the school year.” This feeling is present in schools worldwide that have faced shortages in staff, rolling school closures, and high absenteeism during the height of the pandemic.

Now that the pandemic seems to be winding down, what does the future hold? Clearly there are some merits for people on both sides of the issue in regard to the best way to combat the pandemic. Perhaps when the next crisis comes, governments, businesses, and individuals will have learned some lessons from  of the COVID-19 pandemic and find the right balance between safety and social connection to help civilization recover stronger.

The contrasting approaches to COVID-19 of China and the U.S. have exemplified the age-old dilemma between security and liberty. Now that time has given us some perspective on the pandemic, what measures can we take to better prepare for a possible next one?