One million mark

April 04, 2020

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MORE than a million cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported across the world, and over 55,000 deaths, a staggering figure that is expected to only rise in the coming days. Even when the immediate crisis is over — sooner rather than later, one can only hope — and some semblance of ‘normalcy’ returns to public life, the questions raised in its wake and the weaknesses exposed with regard to our systems of governance and economy will remain. In any case, history will judge how the world’s leadership responded to the global health emergency when it stared them in the face. Did they face the crisis head on, make difficult decisions in time? Or did they falter, bury their heads in the sand, and grow paralysed with indecision? While China has been able to contain the spread of the virus through strict measures, quickly building quarantine facilities and extending the lockdown for millions of its citizens — and is now generously assisting other countries with its expertise and medical supplies — its initial suppression of a young doctor who raised alarm about a new ‘SARS-like’ illness led to the situation quickly spiralling out of control in the first place. But from being the initial epicentre of Covid-19, China now accounts for a mere 8pc of all global cases, while Italy and Spain have registered 11pc of the total number of all cases each, sharing approximately 30,000 deaths between them. Despite so much death and sickness witnessed by some of the strongest healthcare systems of Europe, the two countries believe the situation may now be stabilising.

In contrast, the US has now surpassed all other countries with the highest number of Covid-19 cases, accounting for a massive 22pc of the global tally and double that of Italy and Spain. President Donald Trump’s response is a textbook example of what not to do in the face of a health emergency, beginning with the dismissal of the government’s pandemic response team in 2018, which was established by his predecessor, Barack Obama, in response to the Ebola outbreak. Besides the immediate threat the virus presents to lives and livelihoods, and its burden on healthcare infrastructures and workers, the extended lockdowns threaten starvation and food riots, already being witnessed in some countries such as Lebanon. Every tragedy presents an opportunity to learn and grow — but only if we care to pay attention to the distress signals inflicting the body politic.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2020