Thursday May 23, 2024

Corona’s core casualties: Humans, market, liberty -Comment

By Aamir Ghauri
April 01, 2020

The virus is marching on its deadly trail, country-to-country and continent-to-continent. In fact, it is early days for the infective agent’s ferocity and fatality. Humans can only count the fallen or the unwell. The threat is real and guesses about the final figures are gruesome.

Since many of the leading global political leaders today are narcissistic, myopic, egotistical or downright arrogant, their initial response to COVID-19’s outbreak was either comedic or presumptive denial. Blaming China, where the virus erupted, for lethargy, insularity, ill-preparedness, or incompetence remained the trend in western media for weeks until a Chinese diplomat, Zhao Lijian, hit back through a tweet and directly blamed the US for bringing the calamity to China. “Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” he tweeted.

From POTUS Donald Trump’s snide remarks in White House pressers wherein he insisted on calling COVID-19 the ‘China Virus’ to India’s RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s co-convener Ashwini Mahajan accusing China of spreading the virus through ‘unethical means’, Beijing was portrayed as the big bad boy who failed to block the virus from breaking beyond its borders. Mahajan even asked the World Health Organization to rename COVID-19 as ‘China Virus’. Multilateral accusations have been flying for weeks now with no signs of them abating.

From Wuhan to Washington and from Sydney to Los Angeles humans are bound by one common emotion – fear. As pharmaceutical giants are working overtime to find a vaccine to combat coronavirus, doctors, nurses, paramedics and auxiliary hospital staff like care providers and social workers are already exhausted in treating those found positively affected. With over 850,000 confirmed cases worldwide so far and over 42,000 deaths, officials are saying the worst is still to come.

European countries have so far failed to slow the death rates down with Italy and Spain still leading the daily confirmed-death charts. Other western European countries are also putting up disturbing numbers. Stories from East Asia are not very encouraging either with Japan reportedly reaching a breaking point in its containment policy. Though there are flimsy hopes from the South Korea’s ‘trace, test, treat’ strategy, news from the Philippines and Indonesia are disturbing.

With over 184,000 confirmed cases, the United States is now showing the highest numbers for positively affected patients. Officials predict there may be over 200,000 deaths. Various international estimates put the expected global toll into many millions before the virus is effectively flattened. President Trump’s cocky statement only a few weeks ago when he said “we have very little problem in this country” to his understandably somber declaration of national emergency on March 13 is a lesson for other leaders - watching their governments, institutions and organisations crumble before an invisible enemy.

Death of millions of humans would definitely leave an indelible impact on societies. But equally devastating reality that awaits the world is the grim prospects of seriously crippled economies. China was criticized by the ‘open and free’ West for employing harsh tactics when Beijing invoked lockdowns on Wuhan and Hubei, ground zero for Coronavirus pandemic. Now many countries across the globe are adopting the same tactic to block pressure on their feeble or rotten public health facilities.

While humans are shutting doors, shutting shops, shutting socialization, governments are forcing their citizens into self-incarcerations. Billions have been wiped off global stock markets. BBC reports say two million flights have been cancelled as airlines are hit by plummeting demand and are now asking for financial bailouts. Some of the busiest international airports look like haunted places while most national airports depict a post-apocalyptic scenario. Inter-state, intra-provincial or inter-city train and bus services have been stopped. Shopping malls, high streets parades and business districts are shuttered down or boarded up.

The virus has also consumed or cancelled global sporting events worth billions of dollars. 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, Wimbledon 2020 and Dubai Expo 2020 are only a few examples. The decision by the Fédération Française de Tennis to move dates for the French Open have been severely criticised by sporting officials and the tournament would likely to be boycotted by some of the leading seeded players if not out rightly cancelled. Future of the 2020 FIFA World Cup is also doubtful though the tournament is scheduled for December.

Despite emergency rate cuts and promises of trillion-dollars stimulus packages, international economy seems to be heading for ventilators. International financial institutions are predicting global recession and naïve political leaders lording over weaker economies have nothing but empty promises for their business drivers. It is too early to project how many millions of workers would be out of employment by the yearend. But increased poverty is definitely a future for millions.

The real or phantasmagoric material littered all over social media platforms prove one thing – COVID-19 outbreak was no earthquake that jolted and killed half a million people in a minute. It was more like a deluge that slowly but definitely swamped large swathes of the earth. It was but natural in a globalized world where millions of people are flying from one country or continent to the other on daily basis. But too many questions have arisen due to the way the governments have responded to the viral outbreak.

Third World governments are notorious for mistreating their publics for all sorts of reasons. Rights promised in constitutions are easily abandoned or held in abeyance. But scenes witnessed on the streets of some of the First World countries are eye-openers for rights activists when police and law enforcement agencies openly bundled up people for not removing themselves after been asked to go home and stay in. A British barrister wanted people to make themselves aware about “the crazy bills that are being passed through the Parliament” after the outbreak of virus. His reference was regarding the controversial Coronavirus Act 2020 that carries many questionable provisions regarding basic belief and fundamental rights.

Nature has inbuilt mechanisms to fight off viruses. Human immunity would fight back. Vaccines would be tested and launched. But once the virus tires and starts to die, the real take away would be to see what the states and societies have learnt for the experience. Who knows how the styles of governance and basic freedoms would change in the days to come. One thing is sure though. The world would not be the same again for billions of people.