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COVID-19: 100 Days that Changed the World

COVID-19: 100 Days that Changed the World

Thursday, 9 April, 2020 - 05:00
Faisal J. Abbas
Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News

On Tuesday it was 100 days since the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia, of unknown cause, in Wuhan city, China. As we celebrated Christmas and New Year, no one could have imagined that a tiny thing, invisible to the naked eye, would bring the world to a halt and turn our lives upside down.

This “thing” did not even have a name until Feb. 12, when the WHO defined it as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or SARS-CoV-2.

These first 100 days have felt like 100 months, but in fact we are still in the first five minutes of the first half of an uneven battle against COVID-19, the disease the virus causes; and the longer this game of elimination lasts, the more injuries our team will suffer and the harder it becomes to cut our losses.

Officially the virus has infected nearly 1.5 million people worldwide and killed around 90,000. Too many countries are testing too few people, so the true figures will be higher.

The International Labor Organization believes the virus could wipe out 195 million jobs in the next three months; added to collapses in stock markets and the price of oil, the global economy will take years to recover.

The social side effects of our new reality will last for a long time, if not forever. As each day passes without a cure or vaccine, the negative effects will be exacerbated in ways that we will find difficult to comprehend, thus prolonging the period needed for life to return to normal.

100 days ago ... we refused to shake hands with those we disliked and embraced those we loved. In the new reality, the opposite may be true.

100 days ago ... you could be out of an airport in under 15 minutes if you had no baggage. Today you will be in quarantine for 14 days before you reach your final destination, if you are allowed to travel at all.

100 days ago ... masked men attracted the attention of the police and security services. Now it is the unmasked who do so. Medical masks are bulletproof vests, every person who sneezes a potential terrorist, shooting indiscriminately.

100 days ago ... preventing people from entering places of worship would have been a flagrant violation of human rights. Now clergy of all faiths urge worshippers to pray in their own homes.

100 days ago ... we were suspicious of digital tracking by “Big Brother,” and staying at home was a punishment. Now we voluntarily supply all our geophysical data so that health authorities can predict the next virus hotspot, and establish whether we have come in contact with an infected person.

Is there a solution to all this? Surely. However, the question is not whether there is a solution, but when — and how much it will cost in lives, money and freedoms before the world emerges from this dark tunnel.

The veteran US diplomat Henry Kissinger tackled these issues in an article for the Wall Street Journal. He called on his country’s leadership to lead the world in this battle against coronavirus in three domains: First, shore up scientific efforts and competencies to find a medical solution; second, strive to heal the wounds to the world economy; third, safeguard the principles of the liberal world order.

Of course, that is all easier said than done, especially when politics interfere, and states succumb to the temptation to put themselves first and the world second. The spat between the US and China over the WHO’s supposed pro-Beijing bias, and allegations of a virus cover-up by China, are evidence of this. The seizure by some countries of shipments of medical equipment on the way to other countries is more.

Meanwhile more than half the world is under lockdown. When will it end? When can we go back to seeing our friends and family? Some studies suggest the end of summer in countries the pandemic reached in mid-March, but the truth is they are guesswork.

In the absence of “science fact,” there is always science fiction. The events we are enduring bear an uncanny similarity to those in the 2011 Steven Soderbergh movie “Contagion” — which means it will take at least a year for the world to find a vaccine and for life to get back to normal!

Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News

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