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Awareness and Responsibility in the Face of Covid-19

Awareness and Responsibility in the Face of Covid-19

Thursday, 5 March, 2020 - 09:30

It is interesting that the World Health Organization (WHO) is still hesitant about labeling Covid-19 as a ‘pandemic’.

The reasons make sense, and for many, they are more than justifiable; given the state of global panic reverberating against a background of questions far exceeding answers from medical and public health authorities.

So, between reports and press conferences here, and hastily decisions taken by governments there, share prices tumble, markets fall, scheduled conferences and events get disrupted or canceled, air travel is suspended, and cities and neighborhoods are isolated all over the world.

‘Man is the enemy of what he knows not’, as we often say; and scientific research capabilities – which we hail almost every day – are in a continuous race with new developments and challenges some of which are expected, while others are not.

Indeed, we have to admit that in many cases we have become victims of our own achievements; a very simple example being that with any medicine we take there is a health warning from the manufacturer of possible side effects.

Furthermore, in advanced countries, every medicine or treatment developed has to undergo long trials before being certified and made available to patients. Every scientific innovation in responsible countries that boast independent, sophisticated, and respectable judicial systems, has to wait a long process of scientific, ethical, and legal review, before being approved, developed, and marketed.

This is the case in the west, namely, North America and Western Europe, despite the issues of competition and market penetration. Suing physicians, surgeons, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies is a common practice; which is why insurance against malpractice and other related issues is a fact of life.

This background must be kept in mind when looking at the spread of the Covid-19 virus; as safety and wellness are the main obsessions of people. Moreover, despite what is being published that the mortality rate of Covid-19 is between %1 and %5 – meaning it is lower than the rates of SARS and Ebola – Covid-19 is worrying because of its rapid spread, unknown incubation period, and ways of infections.

Add to the above, we are told that certain groups, such as older people and those who suffer ill health are the most vulnerable. Even medically advanced countries, like the UK, there is a clear concern; as some estimates expect that one out of 10 individuals would require hospital treatment in spite of all precautionary measures.

Infection figures are being updated regularly all over the world, especially by the WHO, which is engaged in a very unenviable balancing act between its duty of educating, warning, and monitoring on one side, and avoiding a damaging worldwide panic on the other.

Here, besides prevention and treatment, political and economic aspects come into the picture.

In late January, before the virus spread out of China and took its current dimensions, the US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, made some hardly tactful comments, which many felt that they reflected certain attitudes espoused by certain world leaderships. Replying to a question on Fox Business News about whether the outbreak is a risk to the US economy, Mr. Ross said: "I don't want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease … the fact is, it does give business yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain... So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America."

Sure enough, these comments were criticized not only by Democratic opponents of President Donald Trump, but also treated with reservations and surprise by people not connected to US politics and its spiteful arguments. A Singapore-based economist told the BBC that the comments struck him as "weird", and went on to say that "companies are not going to make serious and long-term investment decisions on the basis of an outbreak of a disease that might last three to six months.” He then argued that the virus is more likely to have a negative impact on America rather than a positive one: "In fact, the US is going to be a net loser because despite everything, China is still a big market for the US, so if the Chinese economy slows significantly that's going to have a blowback effect on the US as well."

Regarding the very rapid spread, the virus has now truly gone far beyond its original hotspot in central China. China has also ‘absorbed’ its initial ‘shock’ and is now effectively containing the virus as well as developing treatments. On the other hand, many countries are starting their fight against it from scratch; and more importantly, many new cases seem to be totally unrelated to the Chinese source.

In the Arab world, Iran seems to be playing a central role in the viral spread in the eastern Arab countries; while Italy, and to a lesser extent, other west European countries – home to sizeable North African expatriates - has been the main source for the spread in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.

So far, the response in most Arab countries has been fairly responsible. They have dealt wisely with religious, social, and economic considerations, putting the safety of people on top of their priorities, which is vital.

No doubt there will be losses. Many events are going to be canceled, schools shut, transport and exchange limited; all of which is going to be costly.

Still, public safety and welfare require awareness as to what is happening and what may happen until the dark cloud passes.

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