Bharat Raj Poudel / Ram Krishna Niraula
Since the dawn of human history there are records of major disasters, be it mass elimination of a human civilisation like Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa or the mass migration of people to famine or wars such as the Great Atlantic Migration. The 19th century and the next 100 years present us a collage of information that brought a significant overhaul to human society on economic and political fronts. There were great tales of wars fought for the expansion of empires in the early past.
The recent ones were fought largely for global digital supremacy driven by economic interest. With a quick recap since World War I followed by the era of industrialisation to the cold war and arms race, the major focus of nations was to accumulate wealth and strengthen their national economy. The loss of lives from diseases such as bubonic plague, malaria, aids, dengue, Ebola were equally painful but did not bring human activity to such a grinding halt like the current COVID-19 global pandemic.
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing in WWII and the 2001-World Trade Centre disaster triggered the turning points for globalisation and accelerated the changing socio-political dynamics of the world.
Leadership Vacuum, Media and Democracy
A recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine titled, 'Dying in Leadership Vacuum' referring to the Johns Hopkins Centre for Systems Science and Engineering discussed the astounding failure of current leadership of the United States in handling COVID-19. But the question is how and why the super powers like the USA could not minimise or control the damage caused by the pandemic?
Indeed, COVID-19 has tested the US leadership. The United States have consistently behaved poorly and demonstrated abject failure in managing the COVID-19 crisis. Terminating the country's relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO), the USA has expressed concerns over conflicting views on the nature and origin of the virus outbreak.
Since the 80s, the United Nations has been tackling global warming and climate change threats and yet again COVID-19 has come to pose a challenge for the entire citizens of the world. The time to remediate the earth has to be spent now on finding a cure for COVID-19. Anticipation has grown about whether the vaccines will clear safety trials or be reliable. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said, “There is no time to waste in the fight against COVID-19. No-one is safe until everyone is safe."
Recently, WHO expressed concerns over dealing with “infodemics” which has been posing challenges since the outbreak of COVID-19 as “misinformation and disinformation” putting lives at risk and undermining trust in science and health systems. Due to amplified restrictions on global media and press freedom worldwide, the public health crisis has been exploited as an opportunity to curb and control media scrutiny.
Not only where there are authoritarian regimes, but majority of the "South Asian countries are reported to be instigating disappearances, unlawful detention and ferocity against critics and opposition activists, media censorship, intimidation, and prompting political inequalities. Even a democratically elected government led by "Communist Party of Nepal was criticised for trying to restrain the press. However, the Supreme Court rescued people’s freedom of expression. From the beginning of the pandemic, Nepali media outlets and journalists have been exposing more than a few ill-intended moves and acts of corruption so far.
Critics have said democracy in South Asia is going backwards, military and security establishments are gaining stronger footholds and powerful political actors have been said to be behind the scenes. Initially, the authorities were taking grip on South Asian societies. Misleading information on the number of casualties, infected people and weaknesses of the governments is followed by heavy criticism.
The current era of the World Wide Web has effectively rendered its digital service to humanity through the wider expansion of the Internet. The schools and universities carrying uncertain lesson plans and offices have now been moved to homes. The height of globalisation was torn apart when news about Arab Springs, Brexit, tension in the South China Sea, Korean peninsula, and the Mediterranean flooded in social media. The world has not been waiting for a newspaper to arrive, as social media has made its penetration everywhere for all sorts of true or fake coverage of events.
Mysteries, Strategic Disturbances and Humanity
In the meantime, the disappearance of MH370 passenger plane in 2014 became a mystery in the midst of superhuman technology. The nuclear war in the Korean peninsula was a few inches away from its trigger in 2017. Humanity has indeed adapted to live symbiotically with reconciling the changing dynamics of economic and political power.
From the prevention of AIDS and the prevailing use of contraceptives, from the use and abuse of electronic gadgets and smart phones to the boasts of artificial intelligence, human civilisation has always adapted to its best for survival. Also, it has been more than 40 years since the moon landing and there is no indication that we are not going to Mars or another planet leaving the earth anytime and migrating elsewhere.
There was a time when diseases like cancer and tuberculosis were considered as deadly and a 'foe numero uno' of humans. The world fought hard to eliminate polio and plague. However, viral influenza has always remained with us. In biological terms, viruses survive all the odds because they can mutate and change their strain to suit the environment they live on. Each year, billions of dollars are spent on vaccines for viral influenza.
According to an article by Ealy et al, published in the children health defence on 28 July 2020, a total of 131, 332 Americans have died from pneumonia and 121,374 from COVID-19 as of July 11th, 2020. Now, only in the USA, more than two hundred thousand people have lost lives to COVID-19.
Health Challenges And Race For Vaccines
It is unclear yet if upcoming vaccines are easily accessible and affordable for the general public or not. People fear that the COVID-19 vaccine once ready would be traded like bullets during the post-cold war. As mentioned earlier, humans are highly agile and flexible creatures to adapt and survive all sorts of odds. These days people in many countries are introduced to alcohol sanitizer culture, face mask culture, social distancing culture and a culture of digital dependence for virtual meetings and schooling. The race for armamentation’ 50 years ago has become akin to the present race for finding a COVID-19 vaccine.
The outbreak of novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China came with symptoms that are exacerbated by comorbidities. There are reports of SARS-like symptoms, organ failure, and long-term side effects on cured patients. At the moment, countries such as Australia and New Zealand are in the process of controlling and containing COVID-19 to bring active cases and deaths to a zero level.
It is uncertain whether the control and elimination of COVID-19 can be achieved by countries like India, Brazil and the USA given how it is increasing. Some countries such as Sweden had relaxed the coronavirus strategy in favour of herd immunity, but the result was not very convincing.
Not all sorts of doubts cast by the public on conspiracy theories may be answered in future, but COVID-19 pandemic has provided the world leaders with a greater responsibility to come out with a common solution. At the moment, more than 700 laboratories are in the pursuit to find the vaccine for COVID-19 but the commercial rollout is unlikely until the end of 2020.
If no antibody is present in a human body fails to lock viral antigen (spikes/crowns), it means the fresh infection is a new strain of virus due to mutation. The vaccine is made up of a real virus with an intact outer coat called antigen or spike/crown but without its nucleic acid RNA. At the moment, COVID-19 is still a mystery from a layman’s knowledge. The global population looks unanimous and optimistic on a united fight against this pandemic. Global citizens desperately need an ice-break against COVID-19. In fact, COVID-19 causes severe acute respiratory disease (SARS-CoV-2) which scientists named as COVID-19.
Global Strategies to Minimise the Impact
Countries are working hard to minimise the impact of COVID-19. However, China emphasized on boosting output through government investment and more lending to businesses. The US and UK are slower in terms of the economic front but remain a relative bright spot in contrast to China. While some strategic aspects are likely to pose a challenging environment to China in 2021. With fears of growing new depression in the world economy, trade and financial collapse, it's time to extend resilient and strong leadership in the world.
According to World Trade Organization-WTO, the impact on the global economy brought by COVID-19 even if controlled in the next six to twelve months is still going to be momentous. It will take another two to three years for the world economy to come back in the pre-COVID state if we were to start the COVID flu shot from today.
Irrespective of any power or position, the entire human race has been socially, economically and mentally impacted. There have been theories and histories of a celestial body hitting the earth hard to cause a thick blanket of dust to engulf the earth and stop sunlight giving way to an ice-age and wiping out living things. The other presumed doomsday was by air pollution leading to global warming to finally choke living beings into extinction.
At this juncture, globalisation looks to have failed due to COVID-19 crisis and has brought regionalisation and creation of safe zones and bubble areas. The global trade of sanitization gear has been a lucrative one. COVID-19 has deepened misunderstandings among the major global political players like the USA and China. The latest example of deteriorating relations is Australia-China tussle in multilateral issues prompting complications in resolving trade and tariffs provisions. The global political dynamic shift is going to cause strain and stress in the diplomatic relationships of major medium and small world economies.
For instance, the border disputes in the Himalayan region between Nepal, India and China, a military build-up in the disputed South China sea would have come up differently or at a different time rather than at a lock-up stage. So, the role of the alliance to jointly fight the pandemic is now crucial.
This invisible enemy is a challenge to the entirety of humanity irrespective of caste, creed, race and nationalism. The real opportunity to be a global citizen has come to prove for all and sundry to fight unitedly. However, to vie for the in-toto global unity is not achievable in practice and is a tricky affair to attempt for the so-called “powerful nations”.
To avoid another economic disaster, the vaccine war must end, and the world body should be united to regulate this. The COVID-19 pandemic is at the verge of shaking global political power balance, and the world is already heading towards another great depression.
Discourses on the ailing global human civilisation bring key players to take responsibility for imagining and pursuing alternative futures. Some social scientists are rejecting the ideological platform of the so-called ‘new normal’ that establishes contexts in terms of continued exertion of control and induced epidemiological traditions. In its place, human society, governments, media and experts should inform and design transformative reforms for equitable and sustainable development to tackle the inequities caused by the pandemic, and restructure our relations in society and with the environment. Nonetheless, we must accept the fact that COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world forever.
Poudel is associated with Queensland University of Technology (QUT)and Niraula with University of South Australia (UniSA)
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