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Coronavirus: The Worst is Yet to Come

Coronavirus: The Worst is Yet to Come

Monday, 16 March, 2020 - 06:45
Salman Al-Dossary
Salman Al-Dossary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

For the first time in nearly a hundred years, diseases are posing a greater danger to people than wars. The danger that threatened the farthest point in Asia is the same danger confronted by Europe and the United States. The sympathetic eyes of the world were at one point turned towards China as it grappled with the outbreak, but now the situation was changed dramatically, and it is the Chinese who are rushing with their medical teams to Italy’s aid to fight the coronavirus.

Who would believe that 70 percent of the new cases of the disease emerged in Europe, which has become the epicenter of the global outbreak? We can now say that Europe is now the new China.

Despite the panic sweeping the world, the worst is yet to come. This is no exaggeration or terrorization, but the truth. Exaggerating and exercising great caution these days, to later discover that you have gone too far, is a thousand times better than the opposite of allowing people to relax before waking up to an unprecedented catastrophe.

Why is the worst yet to come? Up until this moment, the numbers of the new cases in hardest-hit countries, such as China, Italy, South Korea and Iran, are reasonable relative to the size of the population and daily registered deaths. The death of 5,700 people worldwide since the virus’ discovery in December and the registering of 150,000 patients in 135 countries are not alarming figures for an outbreak.

The worst and the impending unimaginable catastrophe would be when the daily new cases rise to the hundreds of thousands and the daily deaths reach the thousands. The worst is when medical agencies become overwhelmed with new patients and can no longer take them in. The patients would find themselves unable to receive treatment, which is the most dangerous scenario that is not taking place today.

Even as the daily mainly negative and depressing news continues to pour, hope is indeed born from amid the suffering.

In China, where the virus first emerged and which many feared the worst for its 1.5 billion people, the spread of the coronavirus slowed down. Just on Saturday, its national health committee announced 13 news deaths and only eleven new cases. More than 65,000 out of 80,000 people have recovered. Even the local government in Hubei lowered the level of the outbreak threat in all provinces outside of Wuhan, which is still the only city still in the red.

In contrast, the virus has spread like wildfire in one European city after the other after countries were slow in taking preventative measures.

I believe that two models in dealing with the coronavirus have emerged: The Chinese one and the European one. The Chinese model adopted strict measures from the moment the virus emerged. It adopted the worst-case scenario and imposed lockdowns on entire cities and provinces. It used force to prevent people from heading to public places or moving from one city to another.

Europe, meanwhile, relied primarily on the awareness of the people and then waited. Soon, the virus spread and the number of patients rose dramatically. It then started to take treatment measures, not preventative or precautionary ones.

Up until now, the Chinese model succeeded in containing the disease, while western governments, despite their past experiences and advanced medical systems, have failed. This can be blamed on their inability to predict the exact danger of the virus and their reliance on the awareness and unity of their people. Moreover, these countries do not provide health insurance to all their people, which inevitably forces some to hesitate before heading to a hospital to check if they have the disease.

Saudi Arabia is very close to the Chinese model in taking the strongest and strictest of measures even before any cases of the virus were announced. It decided to suspend the Umrah pilgrimage, imposed a lockdown on al-Qatif city, halted all flights and shut all land borders. Had the government hesitated in taking even one of these decisions, it would now be facing a much different reality on the ground, which at the moment, is much better than many parts of the region and world.

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