ASKING for an end to hostilities between nations, UN Secretary General António Guterres has called on warring countries to jointly fight the battle against Covid-19 instead. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.” From the time the first Covid-19 death was confirmed in January 2020 in Wuhan, there have been nearly 400,000 novel coronavirus cases worldwide, and over 16,000 deaths. From developed states like the US, UK and Italy to developing countries like Pakistan, the disease is crippling healthcare infrastructure and economies across the world. As a result, governments everywhere are forced to make difficult choices to protect citizens. In countries such as Syria and Yemen which are torn by war, the destruction of infrastructure means the chances of fatalities are even higher than average.
If there were ever a point in modern history that called for an immediate stop to conflict, sanctions and political hostilities, it is now. The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity. As Mr Guterres said, this is the fight of our lifetimes. The situation should compel world leaders like US President Donald Trump to demonstrate leadership instead of escalating tensions. Mr Trump has multiple times dubbed Covid-19 the ‘Chinese virus’ and US officials have indulged in a racially tinged blame game over the origins of the virus — words that are only dividing communities at a time when they need to be united. China, too, has hit back with equally myopic actions, with Beijing promoting a conspiracy theory that the US brought the coronavirus to Wuhan. Moreover, as countries suffer the consequences of China’s initial lack of transparency regarding the disease, the latter country is expelling US journalists. Meanwhile, the US sanctions on Iran, where Covid-19 has had a devastating impact, need to be eased immediately; such action would help the world’s (including America’s) fight against the virus. In this regard, Ayatollah Khamenei’s allegation that the virus “is specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians” is counterproductive. Leaders must remember that in a globalised world, the presence of the virus in any country will result in transmission and that if it is not curbed everywhere, it is a risk to all nations.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2020