The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly established itself as the most defining issue of our times, and that is not specific to any one nation or region or government - we are talking at the level of species here, for entire humanity. That implies a role for everyone - from the individual to societies to specialised groups like healthcare professionals, leaders within communities, especially religious leaders, right through to governments.
Now to be sure, this isn't the first pandemic the world has witnessed. During the course of the present one, I'm sure by now we are all well-versed in the ravages of the Black Death, that struck from 1346-53. Or the serial horror caused by the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, said to have been the deadliest of them all. Yet none can hold a light to SARS-COV2, when it comes to how quickly it has spread through the entire human population. As of April 8, the virus is already present in 184 countries, according to the COVID-19 hub at Johns Hopkins University. It is not a particularly deadly strain of virus; more eerily, it would seem to have evolved to take advantage of advances in human society particularly in the last 50 years or so - greater connectivity, the emergence of a 'global community' - by betting on being more contagious, as opposed to lethal, in its quest to overwhelm humanity (of course, as virologists will keep telling you, viruses harbour no such quest, or any other for that matter, except to multiply ad infinitum, which is where we come in).
Till now, it has to be said that our species' response has failed to rise to the challenge. And that is not based on the galloping death count, that by the time you read this will be very nearly 100,000 worldwide. Rather it is the xenophobia, outright racism, bouts of profiteering, shameless politicisation, dereliction of duties, pointless blame-games and failure to form any kind of united front (with the honourable exception of the scientific community) that have exposed the severe malaise in the human condition. Enough lip service is paid to the principle of cooperation of course. Yet the unhealthy competition between states playing out in the market for health supplies and medical equipment will be nothing to write home about. The truth is at the moment, almost every individual state (and each one of the United States) is fighting the virus on its own, with most ports of entry closed to outsiders. The availability of only non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing at our disposal has contributed to the sense of fragmentation.
Yet who can deny that at the time COVID-19 appeared, the international order that emerged post-WWII was visibly already fraying? We knew this from the wave of nativist nationalism sweeping through so many polities since at least 2016. Retreating into their own devices, some of the isolationists became emboldened in their rejections of notions of shared destiny and global citizenship. The work of the UN's constellation of specialised institutes has been relentlessly undermined. Even vilified, if you look at the treatment of the WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom. Our fragilities were myriad. With apologies to the virologists, it may be said that COVID-19 chose the perfect time to strike.
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