An Expert View On The Pandemic’s Impact

“We won’t be out of the woods for at least a year” – and we all have a part to play in protecting each other from COVID-19.

That stark reminder was shared by Professor Gabriel Leung at Crescent’s Alumni Speaker Series event on October 7, 2020. Leung, a Class of 1990 alumnus, is the Dean of Medicine at The University of Hong Kong and one of the world’s leading epidemiologists. He was interviewed via Zoom by Class of 2001 alumnus Dr. Kieran Quinn, General Internist and Palliative Care physician at Sinai Health System in Toronto.

Asked what our “new normal” might look like, Leung described “a perennial tug of war” between health protection, economic preservation and public acceptance of lockdowns. “This three-way tug of war isn’t going to stop until we’ve got the majority of the population being immune,” he said.

“It’s not a rosy picture…but we need to be honest, open and transparent about it,” said Leung.

Noting that the pandemic has exposed uncomfortable truths in our health-care system, Quinn asked Leung to comment on this challenge.

“COVID-19 is definitely already the gravest threat to health equity that we’ve seen in the past century,” said Leung. It’s happening at the global level, between rich and poor countries, he said, and within countries, between disadvantaged groups and those who are better off.

“Unless the whole world, at every single level, proactively comes together and does something about it, we are going to be on course to really witness the very largest and gravest health inequity in the last century – not only by commission but by omission. And that is really something that we need to do much better,” said Leung.

There is plenty that individuals can do to help, Leung said, noting that outreach efforts at the neighbourhood level are often the most effective. “The civic spirit of communities coming together to make sure we do proper outreach…should be redoubled,” he said, to protect vulnerable and isolated community members.

For young people today, Leung said that COVID-19 will leave an indelible mark. “This is their reality”, he said. Having this a part of their life experience “will make them more resilient in the future.”

Leung advised parents to “seize the opportunity of family time” created by pandemic restrictions, saying that this is a time to bond and build bridges with each other. He said the “rose-coloured lenses in the retroscope” will help people remember the good times of being with their families, long after the misery caused by the pandemic has faded.

Leung does see signs of hope. One is the COVAX Facility, where more than 170 economies are working together to find a vaccine for COVID-19. Leung says, “that sense of global solidarity…is really inspirational.”

He also finds inspiration in the “real heroes – those who work day in, day out on the wards, in the clinics and in the public health authorities.”

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