Covid-19: Draw lessons for the future, writes M Venkaiah Naidu – analysis
An invisible threat has exposed the fragility of human beings as they cross borders and claim lives in the past four months. Since a 55-year-old man in China’s Hubei province first contracted coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on November 17, 2019, as reported by the South Morning China Post, the world has been struggling to accept it. It is still uncertain when the virus can be beaten. Are we drawing the correct lessons from the ongoing battle?
Such invisible threats are not new. About 5,000 years ago, an epidemic wiped out a prehistoric village in China, leaving no room even for burials. This archaeological site, Hamin Mangha, is among the best-preserved prehistorics in Northeast China, and serves as a monument to such recurring threats to humanity. The plague of Athens in 430 a. C., the plague of Justinian during 541-542 d. C. that marked the decline of the Byzantine Empire, the Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague of 1346-53, the Cocoliztli epidemic of 1545-1548 that claimed more than 15 million lives in Mexico and Central America, the American plague of the sixteenth century that killed 90% of indigenous peoples in the western hemisphere, the Spanish flu during 1918-1920 that took more than 10 million lives, the Asian flu of 1957-58, resulting in one million deaths and The most recent epidemics of AIDS, H1N1, swine flu, Ebola, SARS, Zika, among others, are examples of the regularity of these threats. Each of those threats has been overcome; This time it will be no different. But the debatable question is: Are we better prepared to deal with it next time?
Urbanization and the increasing interconnectedness of the global order, through trade, human migration, and increasing population density, are facilitating the rapid spread of invisible deadly organisms, leading to pandemics like Covid-19. This requires the formulation of standard global protocols to be quickly administered by all nations. It requires an honest and effective exchange of information between nations so that time is not wasted in implementing countermeasures. This is particularly significant in the context of the problems that arise regarding the delay of some nations in restricting the movement of their peoples.
Restrictions on the movement of people and economic activities, without a doubt, have implications for those who live on the margins. But it is the poor who will be most affected if such restrictions are not strictly observed. The remedies vary from context to context, depending on the severity of the situation. Issues like GDP can be addressed once we overcome the challenge to people’s health.
As we complete two weeks of the national blockade in place since March 25, let’s look at our efforts to combat the virus. The blockade has been an unprecedented decision in view of the scale and magnitude of its implications on the ground. The leadership lived up to the circumstances, given the gravity of the situation and the limited options. Our federal spirit has seen Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all the top ministers on the same page in this hour of crisis. Political unanimity is encouraging. This is a positive conclusion to the crisis.
With 1.3 billion people, India’s success in fighting the virus is critical to the success of the global fight. We have credibly absolved ourselves so far. The scale of virus spread and mortality rate have been kept low so far, preventing community spread of the virus. But the Tablighi Jamaat episode shows that there is no room for complacency. This episode should only be seen as a revelation to others and not beyond.
With social safety nets in place, the rapid response of the central and state governments, along with other initiatives, has reduced the suffering of those living on the margins. People have understood the gravity of the situation and have cooperated with the government, thanks to successful communication efforts. This unity of purpose and action must be maintained until the battle is won.
The pandemic has tested the capabilities of the world’s powerful nations, which are still struggling to accept the challenge. This raises problems of deficiencies in institutions, infrastructure, people and international cooperation. These must be rectified before the next challenge. The future emergence and behavior of such invisible organisms cannot always be anticipated, but we can establish systems to minimize damage. This means that the right lessons must be drawn from the current challenge for effective local and global action.
Doctors, paramedics, sanitation workers, the police, the media and governments are doing their best in this hour of crisis. Most importantly, people are cooperating in this collective effort. Let’s stay focused. I am sure that Covid-19 will be outperformed. But we need to be better prepared for the next challenge by drawing the right lessons from the current one.
M Venkaiah Naidu is the Vice President of India
The opinions expressed are personal.