How India and the world must respond to Covid-19 | Opinion – analysis
The WhatsApp universe would lead us to believe that Nostradamus predicted the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) and that authors Sylvia Browne and Lindsay Harrison also foresaw this in their book. End of days: predictions and prophecies about the end of the world.
In a moment of life-like fiction, people are amazed at how prescient Steven Soderberg’s 2011 science fiction masterpiece was, Contagion, it foreshadowed such a pandemic with far-reaching effects. That Dr. Lipkins, the virologist consultant for the film that tested positive for Covid-19, adds to a disturbing feeling about the scope and surreal power of the virus across time and space.
Predicted or not, the scale, scope, and rapid spread of Covid-19 have taken the world by storm and caused a tectonic shock to global public health, the economy, and society. The United Nations called it the most challenging crisis since World War II.
Our deepest fears about the individual and collective vulnerability and mortality of the human race itself in the face of this highly contagious pandemic have been fueled. This is especially because there is still no immediate vaccine or proven cure.
Theories abound as to whether it was a spontaneous, accidental or deliberate outbreak, and about the origin of the virus from one animal to another, a blow from nature. We may never find out, but we must learn lessons. The need for a truly global, empowered and effective surveillance and early warning mechanism to prevent, detect and track viruses initially within countries for the global public good has been underlined.
The biggest dilemma in shaping and executing public policy to contain the pandemic is banishing an apocalyptic sense of pessimism. At the same time, a morale-raising message about the severity of the pandemic and the socioeconomic do-or-die options that people must take to win the war against Covid-19 must be delivered. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has managed to do just that with the media playing a very positive role.
The coronavirus outbreak started in China and seized 60 million people from its Hubei province and its brilliant capital Wuhan in December 2019. It then spread like a global pandemic to 163 countries on all continents with nearly 858,000 infected and more than 40,000 dead, and counting.
It affected the rest of Asia and particularly affected Europe and the United States. The latter is now the country with the highest number of cases and deaths, surpassing China.
After being secretive and in an initial state of denial about the severity of the outbreak, China reportedly moved to curb its spread within China with iron curtain efficiency, military cruelty and logistical prowess. Now he has stated that he has paved the curve with only a few new cases and deaths. A video from the Governor of Wuhan affirms it as a victory for the Chinese system of discipline and control over people’s behavior.
While it’s comforting that China, the virus’ original epicenter, has been able to flatten the curve, it owes the world some answers. How did China get to the current stage? What lessons were learned? How did the Chinese authorities manage to block large parts of the country affecting 800 million people? And now, how are they opening Wuhan once again nationally and internationally? Equally important: how do they use knowledge and pharmaceutical and virological capital to find and share data, a possible cure and vaccine with the rest of the world?
Can democracies, developed countries like Europe and North America, and a large, developing and densely populated country of 1.3 billion like India with federal policy, socio-economic and cultural complexity and plurality, discipline their populations to comply with the norms of social distancing to crush and bend the curve? As the Nizamuddin case shows, a dropout can trigger a cluster contagion and be too much.
Countries like India have mounted unprecedented and comprehensive prevention, transmission control, mitigation and response efforts. It has forced the government to impose a total blockade that affects 1.3 billion people. This is a truly amazing but necessary response. Transformational behavior change is the key to success.
The impact of Covid-19 is being experienced acutely at the community, provincial and national levels. Governments have primary responsibility. It is a time when we build walls, fences and secure border controls, but it is also a truly global existential crisis that requires a concerted global response, action and solidarity. The World Health Organization and the United Nations, together with all countries, must work to ensure that the end of the world prophecies about the pandemic are not fulfilled.
Lakshmi Puri is a former deputy executive director of UN Women and a former acting under-secretary-general of UNCTAD. This is the first in a series of three articles by the writer.
The opinions expressed are personal.