From here forth, Covid-19 or the Corona Virus, may well be known as the Bug the Made the Earth Stand Still. This innocuous microscopic organism quietly found its way, possibly from some testing lab, into the global population perhaps via a non-human host, and invaded our biology and psychology in a way that defies logic or explanation.
While the actual health impacts have been fairly negligible in scope, the fear that it has invoked has rippled through nations at a pace that would have made Hitler’s Wehrmacht proud. It is, as we speak, overwhelming border controls and impacting health systems, government parliaments, supply chains, transportation, hospitality, entertainment, sports, and just about every facet of human life, and may very well lead to one of the greatest economic downturns of modern times.
As of the time of this writing, the actual population of those that have contracted the virus globally has been less than the total attendance at 3 World Cup matches, with less than 4% resulting in fatalities; the majority of which being the elderly or those with low immunity systems.
The rate of spread of the virus, however, has raised justifiable concern for global leaders, policymakers, scientists, and health managers. New cases of infections and death are growing globally by 8%, with almost 70% of all nations already reporting active cases of the virus, now venturing into the African subcontinent. The cause for alarm is not so much in the current volume, but the speed of its expansion, which has necessitated some drastic and immediate measures. This has led to, in some cases, complete shutdown of entire nations and the implementation of extreme measures to encourage improved hygiene and social distancing while reducing mobility, in an aim to slow the spread of the virus.
Understandably, the pandemic and its related impact has led to a global alarm, bordering on panic. Disrupted manufacturing and supply chains are radically draining store inventories globally, while travel disruptions and restricted social interactions are depleting badly-needed jobs, services and market values for marginal and wealthy populations alike. Unlike any previous more locally centered global disruptions, like armed conflicts or induced economic downturns, the end is not yet in sight. This weekend, for example, marks just the beginning of the implementation of travel restrictions across the major transatlantic routes, which connect the world’s largest economic blocs; while North-South traffic has started to slow, as Latin America begins to wake up to the reality of its integral economic and social connections to the North.
The extent of modern globalization and the complex intertwining and interdependence of people, goods, services and culture across nations has become itself the vehicle in which the virus has hitched a ride on its whirlwind world tour.
I have always been a fan of apocalyptic fiction, not so because of the gore and horror that they portray, but because of the patterns of human reactions and interactions in extreme scenarios. As we watch events unfold daily in this global drama, we have to pause and reflect on the decisions being made by leaders today as they react to the changing realities of this global crisis. Few can argue the wisdom of social distancing by restriction of mass gatherings or travel to deflect the spread of the virus, or of the enforcement of strict guidelines for hygiene. The concern as nations and individuals move to a more isolationist stance, however, is that the humanity that we all hold dear should never be compromised in favor of national or personal survival. In a time as challenging as this, the best medicine is compassion and we ought never forget that our responsibility is to our global society, and that we can never hope to survive in isolation, neither as persons, nor as nations.
When I read accounts of people hoarding hygiene supplies to profit from price hikes, it makes me sick to my stomach. Likewise, as we observe the multi-billion-dollar responses by developed nations and reflect on the constraints of poor nations, we see the stark inequality of this world in which we live.
We must now be cognizant that the impact of social distancing and tightening economic conditions will no doubt lead to additional pressures on supply chains. This means that the supply of many basic products and services may become more challenging the world over. As a people, locally and globally, we must become aware and remember our humanity and the need for us to ensure that all nations and everyone has enough, and that too much will do us no good if nobody else has any. Individually and nationally, we must treat visitors with respect, and not with scorn, despite their country of origin, and we must never forget that at the tail end of this, the relationships we leave behind will be what will determine the speed of our recovery.
The relatively low mortality rate of Covid-19 is a blessing, and over 70% of those infected have recovered with little ill-effects. The response of nations and governments the world over to the Covid-19 crisis is necessary in order to keep this scourge against humanity at bay and it needs to be taken seriously as we do a fire-drill for what can be a more serious global crisis. We must accept that the drastic policies being put in place to disrupt the spread of the virus will also disrupt our lives, but it is temporary, and will remain temporary as long as everyone does their part to slow the pace of spreading.
The greatest part of our personal and national responsibility, however, beyond the obvious hygiene practices, is to ensure that we do not lose our humanity and that we remember that we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.
No amount of hoarded toilet paper will clean up the mess of inequality and ethnocentricity that can come out of this.