Friday, 22 January, 2021

COVID-19 Pandemic Is Not Only Biological

Hira Bahadur Thapa


It has been now crystal clear that pandemic is more than biological judged from its impact on various sectors of the society. It is geopolitical as we have seen powerful countries locked in contest due to this disease that has more to do with geopolitics.
Being the biggest global health crisis of the twenty first century COVID-19 is also atmospherics, the repercussions of which are felt in our fight against climate change. Needless to mention that COVID-19 is no less economic, whose effects in countries’ economies are undisputedly exhibited.
Novel coronavirus, the present global health crisis, is very much the subject of study and research. No drugs and vaccines seem to be in the offing despite hundreds of scientists and researchers are working very hard to find out the remedy ever since the pandemic surfaced in December last in Wuhan, China.
Some experts have argued that the crisis is the consequence of erosion of balance between man and the nature. There are some who are keen to blame the human passion for making globalisation faster, deeper, cheaper and tighter than ever before.
It is a fact that we have made tremendous progress in technology. By dint of this achievement, we have shrunk the world into a small village. Today’s man is much more connected to each other irrespective of the geographical distance. This connection further leads to interdependence, which is prompted by rapid progress in telecommunication systems.
Hyper connection due to expansion of internet facilities and means of transportation including air, land and sea has facilitated movements as a result of which people cover thousands of miles in a short period of time. Without this webbed connectivity, novel coronavirus would not have reached almost all corners of the world within a few months of its breakout.
Globalisation has made our lives more comfortable as it facilitates the path to interdependence by removing barriers to the movement of goods, services and capital. It generates efficiency by emphasising the optimal use of resources encouraging nations to focus on those products where they have comparative advantage. Efficiency leads to increased productivity which adds to convenience of the people.
Due to over relying on interconnectedness and interdependence we seemingly have overlooked the fact that there is a risk factor which needs to be managed by building the buffers. The glaring example of this tendency has been made demonstrable in the current crisis of medical supplies during our fight against the pandemic. During a global crisis like this one no nation is willing to compromise the safety of its own citizens over commercial benefits.
That is why Nepal has been struggling to arrange medical supplies compelled as she is to import them from abroad and our reliance on others in this age of globalisation constrains our abilities to cope with the COVID-19 challenge. The disrupted global supply chains attributable to the pandemic is a testimony to prove how the health crisis has become a global economic disaster, battering the world economy significantly.
It will take a few more months to accurately gauge the economic losses due to the virus but the World Bank has predicted that in 2020 the global economic growth would shrink by 5 per cent. The bank contends that the level of remittances of low and middle income countries would be lowered as the labour destination countries’ economies suffer.
Economic contraction and job losses in major economies such as the US, Russia and the Gulf countries deliver a serious financial blow to numerous countries that rely heavily on remittances, including Nepal. Statistically speaking remittances form 27 per cent of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product and 67 per cent of which comes from the migrant workers in the Gulf countries. Worryingly, these host countries are already feeling economic pain owing to sharply falling oil prices. The World Food Programme has expressed anxieties for food security in such remittance-driven economies.
Health experts have recalled the history of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, which is also a strain of coronavirus. It was less lethal in terms of causing deaths. Being a coronavirus, SARS was basically a respiratory illness. But viewed from the perspectives of tolls and infection rates SARS was milder. Then 8,000 people were sickened with 800 tolls worldwide compared to millions infected and hundreds of thousands of deaths due to COVID-19.
The past outbreak of SARS should have been a clear warning to humankind that the threat of microbes existed. We have erred in ignoring a cue from that. Our wasteful use of natural resources disregarding a proper balance with environment is exacting a heavy price from mankind manifested in COVID-19 pandemic.
This pandemic has positive atmospheric results. It can be a blessing in disguise with the signs of drop in global carbon emissions because of contracted economic activities. This can be stated as a silver lining of the pandemic. By learning lessons, if this change is utilised prudently by enhancing investment in green technology, it can be a boon for environmental protection.
Therefore, the Economist magazine has argued that COVID-19 may prompt a global tipping point against oil, as that industry teeters, and could be a moment to seize for climate activists and anyone looking to finance green infrastructure with low interest rates.
Considering its comprehensive impact COVID-19 has biological, financial, environmental and geopolitical dimensions. Hence, we need to be careful in handling this new challenge. At a time when Nepal has started three-phase reopening of businesses except for a few hotspots, we should balance our safety with people’s needs for livelihoods.

(Thapa was Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009.

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