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The evolutionary outcomes of Covid-19

We've evolved - from monkeys to Chimps to Neanderthals to Homo Sapiens and now to Homo Sapiens wearing masks! 

Jokes apart, I am truly curious about ... 

What would be the long term impact of the pandemic on mankind's evolutionary future? 

To be sure, I am not claiming that two years of Covid-19 impacted lockdowns mean anything in the millennia-old human evolutionary chain. But as many experts are predicting, Covid-19 is one of the impacts of the combination of global warming, climate change, increased globalisation - as glaciers melt, several microbes and other viruses will start getting unlocked from them and increased globalisation would make the proliferation of these viruses ever faster. And hence Covid-19 is not the end, but the beginning of a long chain of pandemics which will continue to pervade mankind's destiny for the foreseeable future.

Assuming the above is true, how would mankind evolve? We're observing different kinds of behavioural patterns among populations across the globe; I will risk categorising them into few cohorts:

  1. The warriors: Frontline workers - doctors, medical staff, sanitation workers - who are braving the pandemic from the front. Most of them are not doing this by choice but due to the demands of their profession rather than 'pure' free will. 
  2. The volunteers: We've seen the emergence of a new class of warriors - the volunteers - who may not have been part of frontline professions, but are coming out and taking the risk simply out of an obligation to serve the society or people.
  3. The callous: The naysayers or no-mask crusaders, those who oppose every public safety measure announced by the authorities, those who insist on not wearing masks or not curtailing their commune or social activities.
  4. The cautious: Those who believe in following the rules, staying indoors, stepping out only for necessary needs, not participating in social gatherings, discouraging all congregations - social, religious, personal, family etc. These are also those who would religiously mask themselves up if and when required to step out of their homes.  
The categories above aren't absolute - there will be combinations. There are some warriors who fall into callous or cautious, there may be volunteers who're of the callous lot and many who may be cautious. There may be those who are cautious while attending to daily needs, but callous when it comes to, say, recreation or so cautious as to not explore leisure but callous in their daily routine.

A doctor or nurse who falls into the cautious category will practice additional safety measures like more frequent hand sanitisation and maintaining mandatory 6 feet distance from infected patients, compared to a callous one. 

Overlapping the above categories, is the health and well being of the individuals - 
  • People with high immunity and those with low or medium immunity
  • People with and without past comorbidities.
It is only fair to assume that the well-being status of individuals will be equally distributed across all 4 categories mentioned above. Your genes may influence your attitude (cautious vs callous) and your wellness status; it will however have little or no influence on whether you're a warrior/volunteer or otherwise. How will natural selection play out given all the above factors?
  • For those who are infected, pandemics will successively lead to those with high immunity, and lesser comorbidities survive, over those who have lower immunity and higher comorbidities. In that sense, the pandemic, in general, will reward "better quality genes" over "faulty" ones, cleansing the gene pool in general - thus making future generations of humans more resistant to any future viruses.
  • Let's come to the infection rate itself - the infection rate among the callous would logically be higher than the cautious ones. It is fair to assume that the death rate among the infected will remain the same irrespective of whether the person was cautious or callous in the first place. But the fact that the callous ones are more likely to be infected than the cautious ones, would mean that the surviving genetic chain for future generations would likely inherit more cautious genes than callous ones.
In fact, mankind has come a long way since we were wanderer gatherers. Looking at the past as well, it is fair to assume that dangers faced by humanity led to a biological evolution where those humans have successively survived took a more cautious approach (calculated risks vs unmitigated daredevil). This is why, today's humans are physically not as strong as their forefathers were, yet are much more likely to live longer and afford much lesser health agonies in their lifetimes.

This leads us to the future - several generations (say 25?) down the line, humans are more likely to take more precautions when faced with a risk, even though they are more likely to have far better immune systems to brave the dangers of infections. 

This is probably right - the future humans may not live on earth - they may be Mars dwellers or may be permanent space voyagers, living entirely on space ships and far away planets. The dangers they will face will be far more severe than what today's humans, cocooned under the comfortable atmosphere of the earth, face. In space, a callous attitude will only lead to higher risks on survival itself than a cautious one. A more cautious mindset combined with better immunity is a genetic template that will help humanity become a successful spacefaring race!


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