United by the global COVID-19 pandemic: divided by our values and viral identities
Humanities and Social Sciences Communications
AbstractThe rapidly evolving landscape of the global COVID-19 pandemic necessitates urgent scientific advances and adaptive behavioural and policy responses to contain viral transmission, reduce impacts on public health, and minimise societal disruption. Epidemiological models of SARS-CoV-2 transmission are heavily influencing policy responses, forecasting viral infection, transmission, and death rates under simplified representations of human behaviour. They either assume that all members of a
... at all members of a population or demographic group behave identically or design individual behavioural decision rules based on demographic and mobility data. In pluralistic societies, however, individual behavioural responses vary with personal values, situational contexts, and social group identities, affecting policy compliance and viral transmission. Here, I identify and explore the impacts of salient viral identities or "COVID-19 personality types" that are emerging and fluidly coalescing with each other and existing social and political identities. The resultant heightened inter-group differentiation explains the politicisation of the pandemic and rampant racism, discrimination, and conflict observed now and with epidemics historically. Recognising salient COVID-19 behavioural identities can improve scientific forecasting of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and the likely impact of containment measures, as well as tailor nuanced policies and communications to enhance individual coping and compliance. As governments contemplate easing social-distancing restrictions, the science-society-policy nexus needs fortification through public participation, structured deliberation, and evidence-informed decision-making of policy options to negotiate the complex value trade-offs among public health, the market economy, and civil liberty. By thus valuing human diversity to foster societal resilience, an ethical agenda can be set with a united response to the COVID-19 pandemic and global commons challenges whose impacts are less immediate, but no less dire for humanity.