Muslim Views


The ‘unintended’ consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic

The ‘unintended’ consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic
August 31, 2020
August 31, 2020 August 31, 2020

DR ESHAAM PALMER points to the ‘unintended’ consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

THE current COVID-19 pandemic has taken many people by surprise and has generally had negative consequences, with millions of people being infected and hundreds of thousands dying.

Occurring simultaneously with the phenomenon of climate change, it has led many to think of the onset of Armageddon, with the lockdowns, social distancing and the concomitant economic decline.

However, Allah does not place a burden on people heavier than that which they can bear, and every burden has an element of blessing in it. Allah alone knows why He does what He does and when He does it. Many occurrences, seemingly bad or arbitrary, are in reality works of wisdom by the All-Knowing.

I circumspectly refer to ‘unintended’ consequences, as it could be exactly what Allah has intended. Hereunder are some events that appear to be positive ‘unintended’ consequences, which promote environmental conservation. It is almost as if Allah was granting Earth an opportunity to re-generate and heal itself.

Sea Turtles

Conservationists have reported that over 20 million sea turtles have hatched and many of them may manage to waddle to the ocean around Thailand. This is an unprecedented event in an era when sea turtles are an endangered species. It is estimated that sea turtles will become extinct within the next 20 years.


There are numerous reports about dramatic drops in the number of poaching incidents relating to elephants, bears, rhinos and other endangered small, medium and large species, primarily due to the lockdown, curfews and the increase in the presence of law enforcement officers.

Rivers and seas

Many rivers and seas, including oceans, are showing clear signs of reduced pollution, and many fish species are making a comeback while others are flourishing. This has affected not only fish but all other living organisms that are part of the river/ sea ecosystem as well. The water even looks more vibrant and alive.

Visibility of mountain ranges

The sharp decrease of vehicles on roads in India and China has led to a decrease in air pollution. The clearer air has allowed the viewing of the Himalayas from satellites, which has not been possible under conditions of severe air pollution.

Pangolin ban in China

The Chinese government has removed the pangolin from the ‘medicine list’. Scientists are of the view that the COVID-19 virus either originated from a bat or pangolin before transmission to humans. There are many food markets in China that sell rare species as food products. Most species of pangolins are threatened with extinction.

Improved air quality worldwide

There has been an improvement in air quality worldwide due to less operational time for factories and fewer vehicles on the road. This phenomenon is evident in countries like China, India, United States and across Europe.

In China alone, the carbon monoxide level has reduced by 40 per cent. According to the World Health Organisation, over three million people die annually due to respiratory ailments from air pollution. Fewer animals killed on roads: in the UK alone, annually, vehicles kill about 100 000 hedgehogs, 30 000 deer, 50 000 badgers and 100 000 foxes, as well as barn owls and many other species of birds and insects. In the US, hundreds of thousands of animals, ranging from peacocks, deer and coyote have survived being killed on roads.

Accommodation for homeless and refugees

In order to protect the multitude of citizens from COVID-19, governments have provided temporary accommodation and meals for refugees and homeless people. From a political and economic perspective, this is clearly not sustainable.

According to scientists at Harvard University, if anything, the pandemic has revealed that pollution lowers our resistance to disease. Greater exposure to traffic fumes means weaker lungs and greater risk of dying from COVID-19.

The UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen, aptly says that nature is sending us a message that if we neglect the planet, we put our own wellbeing at risk.

Ultimately, whether the outcome of this pandemic is good or bad for the environment depends not on the virus but on humanity’s attitude towards the environment.

The pandemic has ushered in unexpected environmental benefits: cleaner air, lower carbon emissions and a respite for wildlife. The big question is whether humanity can capitalise on this moment.

Of course, not all the consequences on the environment are positive and the respite may be of a temporary nature: vermin is increasing disproportionally, like in New Zealand where rats are increasing at an alarming rate.

It will be a long while before renewable energy has replaced fossil fuels; and the consequential economic recession could last for many years and produce its own challenges.

Ultimately, the future is in the hands of Allah and in Him we must place our complete trust.

Dr Palmer works as an ­environmental and constitutional law consultant.

Featured image: Over 20 million sea turtles have hatched around the shores of Thailand during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. This endangered species has been one of the beneficiaries of the ‘unintended’ consequences of the pandemic. (Photo PUNTASIT CHOKSAWATDIKORN/ 123RF.COM)

This article was first published in the August 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.

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