The current COVID-19 crisis is a concoction of a series of unprecedented acts and uncomfortable facts that are emerging waiting to washed in the chemical bath of reason and scrutiny. Let us take a closer look at the crisis and the facts that surround it and then the jury is yours….
A crisis of such a mammoth proportion touching 200+ countries, 3 million people affected, 2.5billion people in quarantine or isolation, and the entire world living in mortal fear and distrust of fellow human beings. Currently, there is no solution at hand to stop the naked dance of death. There is helplessness and frustration that is engulfing us every day, and only adding to our misery. Press, television, and social media are giving us a minute by minute updates, the increasing mental pressure and our fears are growing like never before.
What is unprecedented is that – it is a humanitarian crisis where the first world countries and superpowers are most impacted, and the lesser developed countries are no as much impacted. 75% of total global reported deaths are just from 6 first-world countries. Ironically all these countries have inflicted wars or have a history of colonization, decimated civilizations and carried out other atrocities for the past 300 years. Unfortunately, they were caught napping in their own backyard this time. Was is complacency?
Looking back at history, we find similar human engineered disasters where millions of lives were lost. For example, the British Commander-in-Chief Jeffery Amherst[i] was believed to have distributed smallpox infected blankets that killed 120,000 Native Americans. The Nazi Holocaust[ii] costed 6 million lives. In 1937 over 20,000 Ethiopians were killed in a span of 3 days by Italian forces what is infamously called Yekatit 12[iii]. The French massacred 1.5 million people in Algeria[iv] during their independence struggle. The US atom bomb killed 200,000 Japanese plus innumerable lives were lost in Vietnam[v] war, Gulf war, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. The Spanish conquest[vi] of Latin America came at the expense of 8 million lives and destroyed some of the oldest civilizations of the world. However, the current crisis where the virus spread from China, initially human-to-human and now news of the virus being air-borne will perhaps put history to shame.
Its unspeakable that the utter casualness, arrogance, and political theatrics by the different heads of states in dealing with the crisis during the first two months. It seemed as if Nero was playing the Cithara as Rome was burning. In the USA, the administration is still in denial, blaming the Republican governors, and trying to open businesses at the earliest opportunity, the approaching Presidential election is a ticking time bomb for Trump. Governments around the world are grappling to come to terms and fast running out of options. The current situation is also a sad reflection on the entire developed world with its market driven democratic polyarchy. The fundamental flaw with a democratic set-up is that it gives power in the hands of non-experts, who are being elected by a majority non-experts themselves. The result is people were unable to fathom the gravity of this pandemic, until stores ran out of toilet paper.
It is absolutely outrageous to find out the complete unpreparedness of these countries to deal with such a pandemic. It was known for the last 10 years that the likelihood of such a pandemic outbreak is extremely high. Public health systems in first world counties are collapsing, not being able to cater to any other illness. There are not enough people to remove dead bodies from home or give a proper funeral. Medical professionals are fighting a lone battle on the front-line. We who pay tax and trust governments with our votes demand the political establishment should own up their failures and not to hide behind words like ‘fight,’ ‘war-time’ and ‘invisible enemy’. Misinformation and propaganda are on the rise like never before.
It is shocking to see how fast our market-driven economy failed in this stress test, and its crumbling under its own weight. It is estimated that a 12 weeks lock-down will result in a loss of $6 trillion in market erosion. Is it primarily because people have stopped buying non-essential things? The pundits are saying that the recovery path will be painful, with over 20% unemployment and major economies may even get into prolonged economic depression. We have been exposed to such a fragile state of affairs and world-wide famine is on the cards where more lives will be lost. Who will own up to these systematic failures?
The current system has made corporate the custodian of our well-being and they are ones who decide what is valuable for the public. For example, the drug that can potentially end the whole corona virus pandemic ‘Remdesivir’[vii] manufactured by Gilead Sciences had lobbied to get the ‘Orphan drug’ status. Unfortunately, these ‘orphan drug’ labels are given to drugs that treat rare medical conditions but investing in research and development are not be profitable without filling corporate pockets with tax-payers’ money. The idea of investing only where there is higher profit has gone unchecked for too long. The sufferings of daily earners and market’s inability to accommodate the unorganized sector is a testimony that the market-economy failed us big time.
If this crisis continues for another 6 months, it will not be recession but economic depression that we need to worry about. Higher level of domestic violence, dysfunctional police and stalled judiciary will rock the very idea of our civilized society. the world has almost forgotten the countries that are under sanction. As of today, the office US list of sanctioned countries are – Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. That means a total of 180 million people are left to die without international support. With Iran and North Korea having nuclear capabilities to some degree there is a real chance of a nuclear war if this isolation continues.
Even as the fault lines in our current system stand exposed today, we can come out of this pandemic having learnt valuable lessons. The way I see is this crucible will force us to forge many new relationships like we saw post WWII like the birth of United Nations, World bank etc. The charter and membership of these global bodies needs to be redefined. Also, if China is proven guilty of engineering and spreading this virus it should be stripped-off its permanent member status in Security Council. We believe going forward there will more and true collaboration at a global level. Man will realize the need to be more connected to each other and building a sharing-based economy beyond national borders.
We expect that post-crisis world that awaits us to be hyper-connected and ethical, and one that is built on cooperation and not competitions and trade-wars. Internet and telecommunication have already ushered a new age of hyper-connectivity and digital economy. The big take away is that, national boundaries so long it will exist will work at cross purpose and serve narrow national gain by dividing people. There is a need to design a common system where things that are related to basic human well-being should be universally available – like health care, medical research, education, food security. Those should be handled through centralized global bodies led by experts and not politicians. We need to replace the goods and service exchange mechanism from ‘currency-based’ to a ‘goodwill-based’ that motivate individuals and nations to work for the greater good of humanity. The COVID-19 warriors sacrifice cannot be valued with money, we need a system to do that.
The idea of survival of the fittest was never meant for human beings we have been wrongly made to believe that for way too long. The current crisis gave a big shock to things that we took for granted and had shown the impermanence of life and the fallibility of the basic structure of society. What we need now is a global egalitarian commonwealth type governance where goodwill-based sharing will be the norm and hyper-connected groups creating greater value for the society will be the new normal. Let us act with a mantra ‘share to survive’ and believe in the fact that ‘humanity is one family’.
[i] Mayor, Adrienne. “The Nessus Shirt in the New World: Smallpox Blankets in History and Legend.” The Journal of American Folklore, https://web.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/MayorSmallpox.pdf https://www.jstor.org/journal/jamerfolk?refreqid=excelsior:aadf1b6ba2eaae667650a9827008ac0d.
[ii] Stone, Lewi. “Quantifying the Holocaust: Hyperintense Kill Rates during the Nazi Genocide.” Science Advances, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1 Jan. 2019, advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/1/eaau7292.
[iv] Samuel, Henry. “France May Have Apologised for Atrocities in Algeria, but the War Still Casts a Long Shadow.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 15 Sept. 2018, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/09/15/france-may-have-apologied-atrocities-algeria-war-still-casts/.
[v] Hodierne, Robert. “My Lai: 50 Years after, American Soldiers’ Shocking Crimes Must Be Remembered.” The Conversation, 20 Jan. 2020, theconversation.com/my-lai-50-years-after-american-soldiers-shocking-crimes-must-be-remembered-93516.
[vi] Guns Germs & Steel: Variables. Smallpox.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/variables/smallpox.html.
[vii] Mishra, M. (2020, March 25). Gilead asks FDA to take back lucrative orphan drug status on possible coronavirus treatment. Retrieved from https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-gilead-sciences/gilead-asks-fda-to-take-back-lucrative-orphan-drug-status-on-possible-coronavirus-treatment-idUKKBN21C3MG .
Note: The company has rescinded the Orphan status recently: Company Statements. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gilead.com/news-and-press/company-statements/gilead-sciences-statement-on-request-to-rescind-remdesivir-orphan-drug-designation