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May 10, 2021

The slaughter of compassion

The harrowing scenes unfolding on our television screens of hospitals running out of oxygen and overwhelmed crematoriums characterise the heartbreaking dilemma of citizens of a world going through an unprecedented pandemic.

Similarly, the detrimental impacts of Covid-19 have not only magnified structural problems within our social and economic systems but also exposed the fictional narrative of inclusive global leadership and public health policy to fight the pandemic.

The devil is in the details, but the world’s richest nations are stockpiling a big portion of vaccines and I daresay have wiped their hands clean of any responsibility. Indeed, rich nations which comprise 14 per cent of the world’s entire population have secured 53 per cent of the high efficacy vaccines.

On the other hand, orders to stay home, travel bans, restrictions on meeting elderly parents, and the closure of nonessential stores, as well as gyms, cinemas, museums, and even places of worship have exacerbated the anguish brought by the invisible enemy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the Covid-19 outbreak has caused more “mass trauma” than World War II and warns of its lasting consequences.

This ‘forever war’ against Covid-19 has sparked an unprecedented rise in domestic violence, teenage pregnancies, drug addiction and mental health problems which have alarmed public health bodies and law enforcement agencies. In reality, every piece of inequality including economic, gender or ethnic have been exposed in this story of loss and shame.

The ongoing vaccine nationalism has raised many serious questions. Why are almost all of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines going to rich nations? Why is it that nine out of 10 people in poor countries may never be vaccinated at all in their lifetime?

Covid-19 has rewired relationships and borders to transform the world posing an existential threat to vulnerable communities. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the global economy has shrunk by 4.4 per cent in 2020 and this decline is the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Over a million immigrants have left the UK, the largest mass migration recorded since World War II due to pandemic outbreak. Despite the shocking situation in the UK, we are fortunate as a nation to have substantial resources and a world-class healthcare system to tackle the outbreak.

Infection rates are still increasing globally and disrupting every business of life. Even the mask mandate could not provide any help to the millions of international migrants who faced difficulties returning to their home countries due to increasing travel restrictions.

In response to the blindness of the virus to politics, race and geography, many countries are turning to cyber-tech procedures to formulate the movement of their citizens, installing surveillance tools typically reserved for counterterrorism and espionage.

One still hopes that rich countries open their eyes, to end the vaccine ‘apartheid’ in order to help poor nations to run mass inoculation programs. We should not forget this disease is borderless, and even rich countries are not immune to new variants emerging beyond their borders.

Crucially, in this doomsday scenario, we need basic human compassion as well as robust vaccine programs to end the pandemic. The millions upon millions of people who are ultra-vulnerable may die without a piece of bread but many more may die deprived of human compassion.

The writer is a freelance columnist.