- The pandemic is changing the world
Humanity is caught in the middle of this global scare, as if in the throes of a world war. It is like living in a dystopian film. The cause is not a conflict but a novel virus. The beastly enemy is silent and invisible. The entire world is the battlefield and doctors, nurses and health workers the frontline warriors.
Microsoft magnate Bill Gates stands vindicated. He had forewarned the world about this in his prophetic Ted Talk published in April 2015, saying in so many words that the risk of next global catastrophe was from “a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles but microbes.”
While nations across the globe were busy investing in stockpiles of nuclear warheads and missiles for self-defense, they underestimated the vulnerability of mankind to other unseen threats. Consequently, humanity has been caught on the wrong foot. Bill Gates could see it coming as he had his eyes on where the world was headed. His talk was based on research and his prediction on circumstantial evidence but it was unheeded.
As this war against Covid-19 rages on there are explosions and bombardments from dawn to dusk, not of bombs and explosives but of information. In this digital age the social media sites are inundated with information (and disinformation) on Covid-19– from its genesis to its spread to its containment efforts. Precaution and prevention, clarity as well as confusion! Amid all this, conspiracy mongers have their own theories to float and the blame game continues. The USA blaming China for the origin of this war, and China pointing an accusing finger at the USA. Many are convinced this is the start of biological warfare! So it is a free-for-all in the battleground of our global village that stands fragmented into islands of isolated households.
The ammunition to fight this unprecedented war comprises not guns, tanks, precision bombs, missiles and fighter jets but ventilators, hospital beds, face masks, protective gear, gloves, respirators and diagnostic kits among other medical equipment. Millions of these are needed. In this war the best weapons for self-defense are social distancing, self-isolation and hand hygiene.
Will there be a paradigm shift of regional and global power centres? Will it lead to more fragmentation in times to come or bridging political differences and divergences? Will there be a greater sense of community and spirit of accommodation as a consequence of this colossal humanitarian crisis? Finally, will the ultimate triumph be of human goodness and resilience? Signs are that it will be
It is a war of different nature and with far more serious ramifications than a conventional confrontation of hostile powers. The epicentre of this bizarre war keeps shifting. From China it moved to Europe and now the USA has been predicted as becoming the next epicentre of the contagion. The worst-hit countries since the outbreak of Covid-19, dubbed as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, are Italy, China, Spain, Iran and France in terms of deaths and confirmed cases reported. World leaders have been regularly addressing their respective nations to pacify them in these testing times and to inform them of the measures taken on war-footing to fight this novel ‘enemy’. Some doing better than others. Some remain shortsighted, like US President Donald Trump with both eyes on the economy. No one knows how long this war will last. However, one thing obvious: it is going to be a game-changer that will redefine conventional wisdom and force a review of national and international laws and priorities across the globe.
The international community has been urged by Pakistan and China to lift sanctions imposed by the USA on Iran to help it fight effectively the growing threat of Covid-19. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also reached out to world leaders including the UN secretary General to advocate Tehran’s legitimate case against these sanctions that hamper its efforts to save precious human lives. According to statistics issued by Tehran, one person dies in Iran from Covid-19 every 10 minutes and 50 others get infected every hour. It is shocking that the USA, also battling with this health crisis, has flatly refused to ease sanctions, declaring: “Our policy of maximum pressure on the regime continues.” If the USA can make peace with the Taliban, its once sworn enemy, why should easing curbs on Iran, which is in such a dire situation, be so hard?
In such global crises, countries and nations band together as one humanity, and reach out to ease things for those in greater need. Challenging as they may be, such times provide a tremendous opportunity to exhibit magnanimity, consideration, kindness and compassion.
Wounds in this war are more internal– emotional and psychological– for millions who have been forced into a no-exit situation and feel trapped, socially isolated and alone. The outcome: depression, anxiety, bankruptcy, economic recession and above all human lives lost.
It is a war in which prisoners are being released, not taken into captivity. Courts and authorities in several countries have ordered that under-trial prisoners involved in petty crimes be freed. The Islamabad High Court in a welcome move last week ordered release of 1,362 such prisoners from Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, as the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic continues. Additionally, it directed the Islamabad police not to make, for foreseeable future, any more arrests of those involved in minor offences. Reportedly this is in line with the government’s national action plan under the WHO’s declaration of ‘public emergency of international concern’.
No winners yet as Covid-19 covertly spreads far and wide, pushing back a third of humanity into lockdowns, shutdowns, slowdowns and curfew-like situations. China, where it started in December, seems to have some respite now, as does South Korea.
It is to be seen whether this once- in-a-century type of pandemic will lead to yet a newer world order. Will there be a paradigm shift of regional and global power centres? Will it lead to more fragmentation in times to come or bridging political differences and divergences? Will there be a greater sense of community and spirit of accommodation as a consequence of this colossal humanitarian crisis? Finally, will the ultimate triumph be of human goodness and resilience? Signs are that it will be.