By Nalin Fernando –
Sometimes it is common sense and not rocket science that is needed.
COVID-19 emanated from China and was made known to the World on 31 December 2019. In 120 days, it has ratcheted past 3 Million case numbers and 210,000 reported deaths globally. An additional < 56,000 are reported as serious. Over 92% of the 210,000 deaths are along the 30°N – 60°N latitudes/parallel belt of nations – China, Iran, Turkey, Russia, E.U., U.K., U.S.A., etc.. Therefore, they must enlist/ensure robust action, with the uncertainty of the added strain of COVID-19.
When a tsunami, forest fire, storm/cyclone, flood or other major calamity/disaster threatens the World and its people, one of the first things done, is to contain the situation if possible and to ascertain the most probable direction and speed of such. To identify and forewarn/alert the countries in its path of greatest damage/loss of life.
Thus far, a population growth of over 26 Million. A net gain of over 210,000 on average per day. On target to grow by 78 Million in 2020. An addition of over 1% to the global population of 7.6+ Billion. A net gain in population to that of Sri Lanka, Australia and Malaysia combined. Alternately, it will exceed the population of the least populous 60 countries of the 196 countries in the World.
Originating in the cold clime of Wuhan, it is increasingly clear that the direction of COVID-19’s hardest impact/loss of life and accruing destruction spans the 30°N to 60°N latitudes/ East-West parallel belt of nations. These nations are largely susceptible/prone to the seasonal flu/pneumonia and are subject to a loss of about 500,000 lives. The U.S.A. alone loses over 50,000 lives annually.
The first case of COVID-19, outside of China, was reported in Thailand on 13 January (a tourist). The first COVID-19 related death other than in China was reported in the Philippines on 2 February (a tourist). The WHO after a full 10 weeks had lapsed, declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11 March 2020. After initially stating there is no human to human spread, with growing fear the alarm bells were rung aloud/ Worldwide. The whole World was driven to a frenzy. The stable door was closed, after the horse had bolted.
The WHO failed to step-up and inform the World of the path of highest and or least destruction. Is not the WHO responsible for public health/charged with protecting the people of the World from disease/death? Does it not state, “WHO works worldwide to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.”? The WHO is generously funded by a majority of the nations in the World.
Making blanket statements/projections on a situation that has raged on for not 30, 60, 90 but 100+ days sans giving it proper direction, is not good. It does not help or do any favour, in fact it metes out injustice to the least prone/affected nations. Does not WHO maintain over 150 country offices with country heads across 6 regions of the World costing US $100’s of Millions? Blanket statements cautioning the World, bordering on fear mongering, is of no relief.
Alarm bells and hypothetical/alleged death projections are randomly/arbitrarily spewed, even for those countries least prone/affected. Countries who had cautiously/watchfully braved and even fronted the challenge with remarkable resilience/good fortitude capitulated. Even nations least prone/affected decided to go on their knees and buckled under pressure/fear.
Hang the economy. Arresting the virus spread became the new mantra/urgency. Even countries who earlier remained open to tourists (even from the nation considered the epicentre, bearing the brunt of COVID-19), then after 10 weeks put up shutters and went on to take extreme measures.
Given the proximity from China, ASEAN to a great extent and even some SAARC countries were attractive destinations for Chinese tourists.
These South & South East Asian countries, with 2.5+ Billion people, or 33% of the global population, had an influx of Chinese tourists/ visitors (some also have large immigrant/ migrant populations). Fortunately/Sparingly, a majority reported zero to single digit deaths and others a few 100’s. Even after 120 days, a low % of deaths from COVID-19, not 1%, not 0.1%, not 0.001% but 0.000_% of deaths, as a % of the population. A collective total of less than 3,300 deaths. Almost all of these countries had attracted over 10,000 / 100,000 or nearly 1 Million Chinese tourists/ visitors each, in the first 60 days.
Many of the least prone/affected countries, possibly guided by the WHO declaration/ warning of a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, combined with a heightened fear/concern to protect its people or for reasons best known to their leaders, belatedly took on and even ramped-up extreme measures, imposing lockdown/curfew. Timely suspension of passenger flights from the worst affected countries, pushed back against earlier by the WHO/if recommended early, would have sufficed.
A reality check, keeping things in perspective, is needed. Gain heart/strength and recalibrate an exit strategy. Safeguard/protect and alleviate the suffering of the masses/most vulnerable, placed in such wilfully or by default. Commanding – fear, ignorance and all those who are fooling/playing games to stop/step aside. It is fool-hardy for 140+ nations with 1 or < 1 death per day on average thus far (1 to 120 deaths in 120 days), to continue by offering their economies on the altar of COVID-19 by the weeks/months, in an alleged expectation to save a few lives, if at all. Doesn’t the virus/SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19, spread relatively fast, within 2 to 4 weeks? What is the cost of economic clampdown per day? When economic lockdown/curfew for days, weeks and months, how many deaths does it ensure?
Is it not better to take a sharp look with regard to each nation/region? Consider not only the health care system capacity in relation to the population but take a more holistic approach, with the benefit of experience as to what exactly transpired when countries were open for business during the most critical early phase of 2 to 10 weeks. The temperature/climatic condition, geographical location, economic situation, etc., too must be factored. If done, many will deem it possible/necessary to open up forthwith/ within a week. Yes, certain controls – wash hands, wear a face mask and social distance. Test those with symptoms, contact trace, quarantine and provide medical support as best possible, if and when needed. Each day delayed is tightening the noose for those low income nations, least prone/affected.
In the island of Sri Lanka the CSE has suspended trading for well over a month. Not the best strategy/signal if to take the country forward, particularly seeking FDIs.
120 days of COVID-19 and 102 countries reported a total of 17 or less deaths (1 or < 1 death per week on average for the first 17 weeks), including over 25 countries with zero (0) deaths – Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, Mozambique, Madagascar etc.. Another 45 countries reported 1 death or less on average per day. Altogether, 147 countries with 1 or < 1 death per day on average for the first 120 days.
In comparison, taking road accident deaths (> 60% are 10 to 50 years) vs. COVID-19 deaths (> 50% are said to be > 65 years); Diabetes deaths vs. COVID-19 deaths. Diabetes is said to have over 350 Million cases per year. The over 3 Million cases for COVID-19 are for 120 days.
Since its eruption in December 2019, China on 19 March 2020 is said to have had only imported cases (returnees), no new locally spread/domestic cases. Belatedly/Leisurely, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines, India, etc. suspended flights and went into lockdown/curfew mode. Increased ratcheting of COVID-19 case numbers/deaths primarily among a dozen or two nations, predominantly spanning the 30°N to 60°N parallel belt of nations, was hitting fever pitch.
Combined with the alarmist WHO warning, even the 140+ nations least prone/affected rushed to sacrifice/offer their economies on the altar of COVID-19 in exchange for a supposed/alleged sparing of lives. Many leaders seemed to willfully ground their economies to a near halt after week 10 since the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Many had up until then withstood the most critical/crucial first 2 to 10 weeks, as they welcomed to a large extent the Chinese and other tourists.
During the first 10 weeks of COVID-19, over 7.5 Million tourists/visitors from China made their way to these 10 countries alone – Thailand, Korea, Singapore, Japan, Italy, Spain, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Australia. Valuable tourist dollars and also the educational fees are hard to resist. With China’s increasing global power/might, can nations be blamed for wanting to keep China happy/in good favour?
It is important to maintain a sense of proportion to the COVID-19 reported deaths. Over 15 Million preventable deaths occur annually. It has been so for years/decades. Annual births, far outweigh deaths.
Life has gone on with little or no fuss. Now with 25% of the countries in the world reporting over One (1) death per day on average from COVID-19, the World has been ground to a near halt.
The least prone/affected 140+ countries too are bearing the brunt of pain and economic devastation/loss, which many could ill afford. Even after 14 weeks of COVID-19, the WHO warning/ringing alarm bells with blanket statements – the “Worst” is yet to come, possible “second wave”, without isolating the situation at least by the worst/least affected nations, does not help. It looks like all nations are being called to collectively shoulder the burden with catastrophic economic consequences. No apportionment, even the weakest has to shoulder as much as the strongest. Guess, who will be the first to perish/ be vanquished? Is this how one protects the “vulnerable”.
Many nations least affected by COVID-19 deaths, were already grappling with their own challenging financial/economic situations (as many low income countries) and working hard to keep the country afloat. Hope they will not be bruised and battered beyond redemption by the end of this saga.
It seems the nations most prone/affected are eager to get their respective country/economy up and running, whilst the nations least prone/ affected, do not seem as eager or are they being dissuaded? Instead continuing with sacrificial offerings of its rapidly declining economy. This may translate to sacrificing the bulk of the poor breadwinners, daily wage earners and even SMEs, in many of the low income countries. Especially those who were having a hard time/struggling even prior to COVID-19.
Almost all large and small companies managed to pay their employees salaries in full for March. Most somehow managed to pay their employees at least 50% of the salaries for April. Many will struggle to pay salaries and may be forced to consider terminations/lay-offs in May. In June, possibly/increasingly more employees will receive letters of termination and not pay cheques. End June, not the employees but many companies themselves could be up against the wall/face bankruptcy. The WHO and its employees will be spared. Online contributions/ donations are open/welcome.
Amongst the less than 50 nations most prone (having a high death count), a majority are considered developed nations. It is overwhelmingly not the case when one considers the rest/ 140+ of the least prone/affected nations. Many can ill afford extended weeks/months of lockdown. Ironically, the least prone are made to suffer as much, if not more. The plight of low income nations!
Some seem not to care or are being misguided, thinking that US $30 a month or US $1 per day (below the poverty threshold) is sufficient to sustain the vulnerable/poor families. This will hardly tide over their food needs for 15 days, let alone a month. Leave alone meeting other basic human needs of shelter and clothing. Mere survival is the order of the day.
The actions of some leaders/decision makers, who have been in office for years, are even more pronounced/exposed. There are markedly a higher number of fatalities from other more manageable/preventable causes, but little has been done. Unabated, these deaths go on, with little or no fuss/scant attention. Scores of lives are snatched. Death, taken for granted or dispensed with.
Whilst the COVID-19 case numbers have run over 3 Million in 120 days, it could run over not 5 Million, but 12 Million in the next 60 days. As testing continues to be ramped up globally, numbers could be ratcheted beyond 150 Million this year but it is the death count that truly matters. It will be hard pressed for COVID-19 deaths to reach 1% of the case numbers at year end, which may translate to 0.02% of the global population.
Few nations deem large scale testing as necessary/possible. Others may do so in a more measured manner and some may even deem it futile/squandering of financial and manpower resources, especially by those least prone/affected nations. Particularly, as countries with means who diligently attempted to do so, such as Singapore, with a small land area and population of 5+Mil are challenged with limited success. To be worthy if at all, testing and equipment must be 100% reliable/not faulty.
It is claimed that the new strain of coronavirus could last beyond 6, 12, 18 months or is here to stay in its evolving manifestations. A vaccination once found, sensibly must be applied to those prone and not foisted universally at huge cost.
COVID-19 in reality may not discriminate, but does seem to thrive or have a greater affinity to those that are most susceptible/vulnerable to the flu/pneumonia, particularly spanning the 30°N to 60°N latitudes/parallel belt of nations.
All this is leaving aside the violations done to the individual and collective society in some of the nations, be it with the imposition of curfew, possible invasion of one’s privacy, harassment, arrests, beatings, denial of a basic income/food etc..
Are the economies of the low income countries sacrificed to ensure that they are the fodder?
Time to critically see how best to get the 140+ nations to work without continued delay/ vacillation. The other 25% will assuredly follow. Unless and until a vaccination is found, a greater number of elderly that are susceptible to all types of flu/pneumonia/coronavirus may increasingly move to select/designated locations around the World that are conducive – bright, healthy, safe, sunny and economical.
The 140+ nations spared, should count their blessings and move forward, building positivity in a World that is desperately seeking out for such. Not despair but hope is what makes life worth living.
It is said, over 50 years ago, when the Red Double Decker buses were imported and plying the roads of then Ceylon, one of the buses rammed and got stuck under a bridge with the driver unable to drive/maneuver without causing it much greater damage. The best Engineers, Mechanics, Technical experts were called in and the complexity of the task at hand was analysed with the limited resources/equipment available. All this while hours passed on, with vehicles piling up and blocking each other. Frustration, honking and horning, chaos short of fisticuffs. A villager was walking by and on inquiry was informed of the problem, the expertise and equipment that it required to extricate the bus/situation. All this within cost constraints. Hope the cost will not be too prohibitive. The villager stepped back, quietly assessed the situation, then simply walked round the bus deflating the tyres by half/a few inches each and then requested the driver to drive the bus on.
Hope the leaders/decision makers of nations that are not as hard knocked, least prone/affected from COVID-19 will take a leaf from the story, deflate the COVID-19 fear psychosis and drive the economy on, in the right direction.
Hopefully this experience will humble us and also strengthen us in our resolve to overcome challenges that sometimes may superficially look complex/daunting but looked at from the proper angle/perspective may not be as arduous.
Note: This is an alternate perspective that could help quell the fear regarding COVID-19 and hopefully get many countries working again.
Graphics Assistance: Ashad Wahab