Plastic Pollution: Environmental Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic
2020 was supposed to be the “Supper Year” for nature. The world was all set for major opportunities to bring nature back from the verge. And then the catastrophe happened, Coronavirus, setting long-held plans for battling climate change back. And, now the pandemic is adding more complexities to the already dire crisis: Plastic Pollution.
2022: The New Dawn
After falling significantly due to the great lockdowns, Carbon Dioxide emissions are expected to return to the pre-pandemic level in 2022. China has already surpassed its emission due to the extensive use of coal.
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The coronavirus crisis has only given the environment a small intermission. Now an unprecedented consumption boom, encouraged by the leaders to boost the economy, is fueling the demand. Furthermore, as a safety measure, people have started avoiding public transportation and driving more.
But, the most visible legacy of the pandemic, plastic waste, is filling water bodies with toxins.
Masks: Life-Saving Plastic Pollution?
Do you wear masks? How many masks do you own? Are all your masks reusable?
The recent popularity of masks has made them an integral part of our lives. Without a shadow of a doubt, it saves lives and protects us from infections. Yet, the disposal of used masks has been sparking major waste management and plastic pollution discussions worldwide, especially in South Asia.
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A new form of wastes is now turning up into the ocean, masks. Whether higher-grade respiratory masks or basic surgical masks and single-use gloves, these used clinical wastes all belong in incinerators. According to an estimate, over 1.5 million plastic masks ended up in oceans. just in 2021.
Face masks, gloves, and wipes are composed of a variety of plastic fibers, primarily polypropylene, which remains in the environment for decades, possibly centuries, forming smaller and smaller microplastics and nano plastics. According to a study in Environmental Advances, one face mask releases as many as 173,000 microfibers per day into the sea.
Single-Use Plastic Packaging
In spite of the closure of physical shops and financial uncertainty, online sales of goods are on the rise even though consumption (and packaging) may have declined overall. There has been an increase in the use of plastic and another single-use packaging for parcel deliveries from e-commerce.
Also during the lockdown, there has been a decline in the use of single-use plastic containers for food. As many restaurants have shifted to takeout services, packaging has increased and commuting, traveling, and leisure activities decreased. This may have reduced the demand for on-the-go food and drinks.
But the staggering spike in at-home deliveries, drying up recycling market, and economics of plastics have added more to the complexities.
Efforts to curb plastic waste have come at a complicated time with regard to PPE litter. The ocean’s plastic waste is expected to triple, and there is no clear solution in sight. However, the shift would reduce the projected tripling of plastics by just 7 percent if every corporation kept its pledge to use more recycled plastics.
Due to the pandemic, disposable packaging has also increased as people purchase more takeout food. Plastic bag bans have been suspended because of fears that reusable bags will spread the virus. Similarly, a third of recycling companies in the United States have closed due to cash-strapped municipal budget cuts.
Elevated Plastic Pollution
Even before the pandemic, South Asia was the largest source of plastic wastes. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are amongst the top 20 countries notorious for creating the most mismanaged plastic waste.
The Ganges and Indus, flowing through these countries, are listed as some of the most polluted rivers systems, swallowing over 90% of the region’s plastic waste. A report from Washington Post reveals that the world has created about 8 million tons of plastic during the pandemic, most of which are now in the oceans.
Also Read: Global Garbage Crisis: How is the World Drowning in its Own Trash?
Littered masks and gloves are carried like tumbleweeds into rivers and streams, where they reach the sea. As a result, the presence of sea turtles has been documented on beaches in South America, river outlets in Jakarta Bay, in Bangladesh, on the coast of Kenya, and on Hong Kong’s uninhabited Soko Islands. In addition, wasted personal protective equipment has clogged street drains from New York City to Nairobi and is clogging Vancouver, British Columbia’s municipal sewage system.
Plastic Pollution: No Silver Bullet
Now, entering 2022, the super year for nature is still on the waiting list. A single silver bullet can’t solve the plastic pollution problem globally across the rivers and oceans. For sustainable production, management, and disposal, plastics require interventions at all stages of their lifecycle: from production and preventing contamination to solid waste management and transitioning to a circular economy.
Also Read: Microplastics: The Miraculous Solutions to the Toxic Danger
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic pollution has been exacerbated in Asia. The World Bank is working to reduce plastic pollution in South Asian nations for the billions of people whose livelihoods rely on clean rivers and seas. However, to recover from the pandemic in a greener and more resilient manner, countries, especially the most vulnerable ones, will need new policies, investments, and innovations.
How China’s Zero COVID Policy Killed Thousands in Shanghai?
Under China’s unbending virus control policy, the country’s most populous city, Shanghai is under full lockdown. In addition, an atrocious policy in place by the ruling regime is separating young children and babies from their parents when tested positive for COVID-19.
But, what has led one of the most developed cities to the nightmare, it is living in today? How China’s Zero-COVID policy is killing thousands across the nation? And is there a way out?
Shanghai and Zero COVID Policy: The Unfolding Nightmare
On many fronts, Shanghai, one of the biggest city globally, is under a strict lockdown. Amongst the deserted market and streets, over 26 million residents are confined to their homes and breaking through the silence, the drones dictating restrictions and instructions of the locked citizens.
Shortage of food, water, and medicines, over-burdened delivery network, and growing protest to open the lockdown depict the chaotic picture of Shanghai. But, Shanghai is not alone; across China, some 23 cities, homing 200 million people are living under full or partial lockdowns.
The impact closure poses a severe impact on the Chinese economy and global supply chain. The lockdowns in the first wave of COVID led to a historic collapse in economic activities in China, and now with the Omicron lockdown, indicators are plunging again.
But, despite the draconian lockdown and security measures, new COVID cases are shooting off the roof, reflecting the high transmissibility of the mutated virus.
What is China’s Zero COVID Policy
As one of the strictest steps taken toward curbing the spread of the contagious virus, China has once again adopted the Zero COVID policy.
The matric watched the number of cases found among people who aren’t yet in quarantines. Unfortunately, this figure may continue to climb in Shanghai, and the authorities will consider an outbreak contained until the indicator known as Zero infection in society reaches zero.
The current approach tries to reduce transmission and extend the time available.
China believes that removing sick people from society is the most effective way to stop the spread of the disease. Still, quarantine facilities are divisive, producing widespread concern and terror among residents.
The primarily variant resulting in the situation is China’s low vaccination rate for the elderly, especially amongst the most vulnerable category of citizen over 80-years-old( a little over 20%). Furthermore, to add fuel to the fire vaccination campaigns have been slowing down dramatically.
How Bad is the Situation in Shanghai?
Shanghai’s local government has some special autonomy under President Xi Jinping’s China; as a province-level city, it is officially under the supervision of the central government, but it has a unique status as the country’s financial capital and an emblem of China’s accomplishments for the rest of the world.
The local administration had managed the pandemic adequately up until March, with no major breakouts. However, the quick arrival of the Omicron variety and the severe government actions accompanying it are pushing some residents to the edge.
Shanghai reported 27,719 new infections on April 14, a new record high for daily cases. But, astonishingly, 95% of these new infections are now among people in quarantine or living within a closed-loop system. The government has been testing the entire city’s population every day, and anyone who tests positive is removed from their homes and sent to centralized quarantine facilities.
The Chinese political leadership has put itself in a difficult situation by emphasizing the zero-COVID goal. If it persists, it will hamper the country’s economic recovery by exacting expenses that the people no longer consider justifiable.
However, if COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, illnesses and fatalities will skyrocket as the virus spreads across a population lacking the protection observed in most other comparable nations.
When Will the Lockdowns End?
Once the zero COVID is achieved, Shanghai can start reopening the city. There is no timetable on when this can be achieved; however, with the new cases rising every day, it is most likely that the nightmarish lockdowns can continue for several more weeks.
Also Read: End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?
But, people are frustrated, mentally exhausted, and begging to get out. For many, this ordeal will shift how they view China as the future. While different variants of COVID killed millions around the globe, China remained a safe haven.
But, now the tables have turned.
The Urgent Needs for a Dynamic Zero-COVID Policy
Though the Chinese authorities will ultimately get the situation in Shanghai and around the country under control, the collateral damage created by the rigorous lockdown much outweighs the actual deaths inflicted by COVID at the moment.
As more cities in China sweep under lockdown, the country may again be cut off from both the inside and the outside. Moreover, what residents have gone through for the past few weeks can negatively impact their physical and mental health. As a result, the government must likewise place a premium on citizens’ mental and physical well-being.
The most vulnerable individuals should be vaccinated first, and strong safety measures should be put in place to allow regular life to continue in the state. Without these changes, the country’s economy would plummet, local firms would be forced to close, unemployment will soar, and public opinion will shift.
As a result, it’s critical to implement a dynamic zero-COVID policy that allows residents to normally go about their daily lives.
End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?
Sajid Javid, UK’s health care secretary, warns COVID could be here forever. Many European countries are calling for a new approach, claiming the infections must not be dealt with as a health emergency but an illness. So, is the pandemic approaching its end? Is it time we learn to live with COVID?
Pandemic to Endemic
After two years of multiple crippling waves, strict lockdowns, and millions dead, several countries are ready to leave the pandemic in the past. The new Omicron wave is breaking infection records across the world, but the hospitalization need and deaths are way down compared to previous waves, especially for vaccinated individuals.
The low mortality is sparking hope in many health care experts that COVID infections can now be treated as an endemic. We have learned to live with many illnesses in the past, and officials are proposing to add COVID to the list.
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Despite the skyrocketing infections, many countries are easing the curbs, while countries like Ireland and the U.K. are dropping most of the restrictions.
Contrary to the European countries, the World Health Organization is declaring the pandemic far from over. According to the officials, the death rate of the current variant is still too high to go easy on the infections.
“Now is not the time to give up on the strategy. The virus (omicron) is circulating at a very intense level around the world.”Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, American epidemiologist
The Forever Pandemic
Omicron complicates the question of when this pandemic will end, but pandemics do eventually end. Yet coexisting with a virus as contagious as the Coronavirus would not be as easy as flipping a switch.
Also Read: COVID19: 90% Countries Still Facing Disruption In Providing Essential Health Care Services
As an exhausted world tries to stem the spread of the ultra-contagious omicron mutant, cases are at an all-time high and causing chaos. However, this time we won’t have to start from scratch.
Although vaccines do not always prevent mild infections, they offer strong protection against serious illness. Omicron does not seem to be as dangerous as some earlier variants. Those who survive it will have a chance to bolster their defense against other variations of the virus that are still circulating. And perhaps the next mutant will emerge, too.
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It won’t be long before the World Health Organization determines when enough countries have curb COVID-19 cases sufficiently – or at least, deaths and hospitalization have fallen – to officially deem the pandemic over. However, the exact threshold is unclear.
In that case, some parts of the world will still struggle – particularly those without enough vaccines or treatments – while other parts will be able to transition more easily to what researchers call an “endemic” state.
Could More Deadly Variants Emerge?
The coronavirus is not certain of remaining less deadly: It might evolve again and become more dangerous. Scientists in Sweden share that concern, writing in an opinion piece for POLITICO: “Allowing large amounts of contamination to circulate is like opening Pandora’s box of unpleasant surprises. The last variant we have seen is hardly the last.”
Also Read: New coronavirus variant emerging from the UK: how dangerous is it?
According to Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, there is always the risk of a dangerous mutation. However, he noted that the high level of immunity in the U.K. should guide a different approach. We should perform our own risk assessments instead of relying on top-down decision-making methods like lockdowns. You could, for instance, test yourself before leaving the house for dinner, or avoid potentially infected people if there is a risk, says David.
“The pandemic is no where near over. With the incredible growth of Omicron globaly, new variants are likely to emerge.”Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General WHO
Fighting & Living with the COVID
Despite the fact that industrialized nations actively aim to protect their populations by boosting their vaccinations for adults and extending vaccinations to children, we can no longer expect to inject people every four to six months in the face of new variants. To counter this threat, vaccinations will have to be provided annually – preferably with products that are effective against all types of Coronaviruses – and repeated exposure to an infection that is certain to become endemic sooner or later.
In the world “living with COVID,” governments and regulators should encourage the innovation of new vaccine technologies that will complement Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer’s mRNA products duopoly. Furthermore, more investment should be made in antiviral drugs that might play a greater role in suppressing symptoms among infected people.
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At the beginning of 2020, we might have had a slim chance of eliminating Covid-19, but they are long gone. Controlling the pandemic has been justified so far as a global health emergency; however, they cannot continue forever.
Too many collateral damages would result, including harm to social cohesion, mental health and wellbeing, and the global economy. Sars-Cov-2 and its descendants will require more resilience in the coming year so that the most vulnerable can be protected while causing less disruption.
Uncertain Future: What Would the Pandemic Look Like in 2022?
Ever since the first case of COVID-19 in November of 2020, the definition of normal has changed worldwide. Coronavirus has caused havoc on the global health system. Now heading into the new year, what does the future looks like in the light of the new, 500% more contagious omicron variant, titled by WHO as the variant of concern?
Let’s look at 2022, painted by scientists under the light of the COVID pandemic.
The Pandemic: Light at the End of the Tunnel
Coronavirus has already cost the world over 5.2 million lives and left 2.57 million others infected. The horrific, nightmarish damage the pandemic has done will leave a deep dent for decades to come. But, with a new year and mutant ahead, many questions are surfacing. Will the coronavirus become less dangerous? Will the mortality rate of the virus fall?
Experts worldwide believe that though coronavirus, by its very nature, will continue mutating until it finds a healthy balance. Still, the chances are that the pandemic might not be as deadly. Backed by three pillars:
- Acquired Immunity
- Progress in the Medicine
Medical experts are finally expecting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Approximately 9 million are shielded against the virus with miraculous jabs. 3.33 Million of which are fully vaccinated. More than 36 countries have rolled out booster shots. Labs and pharmacies around the world are producing 1.5 billion doses every month.
Seven vaccines, till now, are approved by the WHO, while five stand in the queue. However, thanks to technological progress, vaccines will become more accessible in the coming year. According to an estimation, there will be about 25 billion shots of the COVID jabs available in the market by 2022.
Also Read: The Newly authorized Moderna COVID-19 vaccine VS The Pfizer
Though these vaccines can’t eradicate infections, they will provide a defense web. Breaking the link between infection and death, the vaccines, coupled with bodily immunity, can provide us a solid shield to our body against future mutations. They might not be as effective to the mutations but would, surely, not be ineffective.
The Variant of Concern
Furthermore, the vaccine developers are already racing to adjust their vaccine to defeat the mutated version of COVID. Omicron, or the Virus of Concern, is the biggest consideration today. Fortunately, scientists claim the omicron vaccine to be ready by early 2022.
With the unprecedented accelerated development of vaccines, two years into the pandemic, a substantial population has already been vaccinated. So, in the near future, vaccination may become an annual necessity.
Adar Poonawala, CEO, Serum Institute Indian, says, “we would need one to two booster shots every year to the next ten years.” Only after a decade of vaccination is likely to make us resilient enough to the COVID, as were are to the common cold today.
Also Read: Have India rushed in approving it’s indigenous COVID vaccine?
Moving forward, many countries are likely to make vaccines compulsory. For example, the government in Indonesia, Micronesia, and Turkmenistan have already mandated COVID vaccines for all adults. While in dozens of countries, including Australia, the USA, and Canada, vaccines are compulsory for health officials.
Also Read: The Dilemma of Implementing Vaccine Passports
In 2022, vaccination certificates are likely to become an ID. Austria, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria have already bane unvaccinated people from public places. The motive behind all these restrictions is to encourage vaccination and develop immunity against the virus.
The Pandemic: Acquired Immunity
Over 2.65 million people globally have already been infected by the coronavirus. The combination of infection and vaccination will immune our body to repel serious infection. Whereas the infected will have enough medicine to backbone them to recover.
Both the United States and the United Kingdom have already approved the COVID pill by Merck. By the end of 2021, there will be at least 10 million doses of these pills on the market. Without a shadow of a doubt, the virus from China is not going away. For the entire modern medical history, we have been able to eradicate only one disease, Smallpox.
Also Read: Widening Inequalities & Suffering Vulnerable: The Urgent Need of Vaccine Equity
Coronavirus is unlikely to be an expectation. In the coming years, more people will build immunity to the virus. As a result, the spikes in infection might mellow down. Death by COVID could still be seen, but only in people with already underlying health issues. The world is likely to learn to live with the virus by the year 2022.
2022: Not so Uncertain Future
As we step into 2022, the need to address vaccine inequity will become more crucial. Vaccine-rich countries will have to distribute and donate enough vaccines for the vaccine-poor nations. Vaccine patents will have to be waved. The need to develop a COVID vaccine safe for children will become important.
Also Read: Africa: The Long Wait For COVID Vaccine Far From Over
Stepping into 2022, mask and social distancing, coupled with occasional lockdown for curbing the spread, might still exist. But, flexible working will become the new normal. Bussines and traveling will bounce back, but not without vaccine certificates.
Hopefully, in 2022, the COVID-19 may be reduced from a pandemic to an endemic. A sessional flare-up can still be seen, but our lives can get back on the track of post-covid normalcy.
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