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Coronavirus: Strict Rules and Order Save Lives

Coronavirus: Strict Rules and Order Save Lives

Tuesday, 31 March, 2020 - 08:30
Salman Al-Dossary
Salman Al-Dossary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

From now, people will know that nothing is unimaginable and that they need to rethink everything that they have read about in books and seen in fantasy movies. Not since the Second World War have societies seen such a dramatic change as they are now seeing during the coronavirus outbreak. Airports and trains have practically come to a halt, highways are deserted, borders are closes, health systems have collapsed… even taking a walk in the park is deemed a luxury. Walking on the streets tomorrow? A dream.

Isolation has become the rule and carrying on with life as it was has become the exception.

According to figures published by the Frances’ Les Echos on Saturday, the rate of isolation tripled in the past ten days. Sixty countries, or 3.26 billion people, meaning 43 percent of mankind, are under curfew or strictly advised to stay at home and to venture out for essential goods, medical treatment or work.

As we continue to live in this unprecedented horror movie, the number of infections around the world continues to rise dramatically. For example, Italy, whose population makes up 4 percent of China, has registered more infections than China itself.

There is however, some hope to take from the Asian experience, especially in China, Japan and South Korea. China has gradually eased restrictions and some restaurants have reopened. Japan and South Korea have also eased restrictions, while the United States and Europe have turned into epicenters of the virus.

I won’t be exaggerating in saying that the second shock, after the first shock of the virus itself, is just how fast the pandemic is spreading and how dangerous it is, in Europe specifically. It was believed that Europe boasted the world’s best health systems. Now, it appears that Italy and Spain are “competing” with Iran, with all of its backward systems, in registering the greatest number of cases and deaths.

To get a better picture, let us assume that a war were to break out between Britain or France with Hong Kong, for example. We would be shocked if the war machine of the two European countries would be defeated so easily by such a small state. But this is what’s happening now. The greatest government systems in the world are helpless in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

I believe that the majority of countries adopted one of two strategies: The first relied on strict preventive measures before the outbreak spread across their territories. The second relied on the awareness of people to confront the virus. In this second strategy, governments, specifically western ones, did not adopt preventive measures or strict rules, given the nature of their political systems, which did not allow for such measures to begin with because they were viewed as restrictions on personal freedoms, in the western definition of the term, of course.

The coronavirus crisis was soon upon them and they failed in preempting it and carrying out what was necessary to save the lives of hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of its people in the coming weeks. In contrast, countries that took preemptive preventive measures, succeeded in predicting the impending danger before it was too late.

It is odd that the two strategies have the same goal, which is saving people from a human disaster. However, one succeeded, for now at least, and the other, failed, for now at least, as well. It has been proven on the ground, especially at times of catastrophes, that strict rules and order save lives, says Michelle Gelfand, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland.

During the coronavirus crisis, the hardest question confronting scientists, politicians and doctors is: When will this disaster end?

The truth is, no one knows. The difference is that there are some political systems that have realized the danger early on and have limited the possibility of the spread of the virus and protected themselves from imminent catastrophe. They have not left room for criticism against them from their people. Other political systems, however, waited for catastrophe to strike and acted late, incurring the wrath of the people.

The irony here is that the systems that realized the danger ahead of time are accused of violating human rights, while the others pride themselves in defending them, for the world to discover that the principles that protect public liberties are the ones that are failing in saving lives.

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