Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has become a long term battle with no short term fix. What emerged as an epidemic in China’s Wuhan and rapidly spreading over 202 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic on 11 March. The total infections outside of China have accelerated, accounting for global infection at 754, 948 and death toll at 36, 571 as of March 31. With epicentres continuously evolving from that of China to Italy and now the United States (US). The US now has the highest number of infections and Italy has the highest number of fatalities- both more than any country, including China.
Given its rapid progression, the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the virtual G20 Meeting called it “[t]he fury of the virus [that] illustrates the folly of war”. Here, the war is to fight the virus. But the truth lies in the fact that no one country can champion the win, for this war demands a collective response as the virus disregards all borders.
The increasing uncertainty of the scope of the virus growth equated with no clarity over controlling it have forced governments to adopt draconian measures to slow viral transmission. National lockdowns have become a primary control measure as implemented in Italy, India, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the US. The correct handling of the pandemic calls for a ‘united front strategy’ amongst the nation-states. What links the world together is the fact of the interconnectedness of vulnerabilities as proven by the COVID-19 debacle. The only way out demands for “global action, solidarity and international cooperation”, as vowed by the G20 nations. COVID-19 is arguably the ‘new’ tragedy of the commons, which affects all and leaves none.
The pressing global concern is: Can COVID-19 be tamed? This very concern has sparked a worldwide race for treatments and vaccines against it.
As noted, even countries with the most advanced medical facilities have met with the highest rate of infection and fatalities, such as the US and Italy. The fallout effects of this health emergency are the increasing overwhelming of health care systems across the globe. What calls for this unwarranted contingency? Primarily, response time acts as a vital indicator. For a lack of timely preparedness has been followed by a sudden spike in infections. The accelerating numbers of COVID-19 cases are met with a lack of medical resources-thus, creating a downturn. It is the global health that is at risk for the demography matrix. This also calls for a reality check of ‘how much is enough’ to sustain the phase when the virus hits the peak.
No country can fight it standalone, thus, there is a need for interdependence to meet each other’s medical requirements through the sharing of resources.
COVID-19 is not just a health debacle, it has greatly impacted the global economy by bringing lives to a halt. The annual global GDP, according to OECD is projected to witness a drop to 2.4 percent in 2020 as a whole, from that of 2.9 percent in 2019, added with negative growth in the first quarter of 2020. Furthermore, global growth is expected to drop to 11⁄2 per cent in 2020. With such a severe hit to the global value chain, the demand-supply curve. This has raised concerns of a financial crisis in the making. With countries adopting lockdown as the primary way to control the virus transmission, this very preventive measure has inflicted unsurmountable pressure on the sustenance of the global economy- calling for a serious recession. As the immediate hits to the business and markets hold long-term implications- mainly the risks of debt vulnerabilities in the low-income countries and the surging global unemployment rate. The globalised economy is showing the risk of collapse-if not today but tomorrow.
Taming the virus is the need of the hour. And the only way out to it, as the UN declared is that of “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put the armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives”. But with no significant way forward made so far, COVID-19 has posed the biggest challenge to the world’s scientific community-mainly the public health, research and medical communities to find the antidote. While the other domain of expertise hat is facing the test of time is that of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The rigour lies in finding a vaccine through AI. As already noted, new-age technologies such as robotics, 5G, drones, health codes and others are already put to practice in China as a ‘no-contact’ measure to reduce the risk of transmission. Hence, an AI way to fight COVID-19 is high on medical cards. However, in this process of finding a solution, countries need to be vigilant that the search for the vaccine should not become a competitive race amongst the big powers – resulting in a new power politics.
Taking stock of time, pragmatism lies in making a joint effort to quell the risks. This will not only help fasten the process but surely will lead to a solution. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General has rightly stated- “We are at a critical point in the global response to COVID-19 – we need everyone to get involved in this massive effort to keep the world safe”. To which, a first step has already been taken by the G20 nations with their agreement to prepare a joint action plan to fight COVID-19 and its impact. In doing so, the group has already injected over $5 trillion into the global economy to combat economic disruptions. In addition, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have also jointly called for the suspension of debt payments from developing countries. Most significant, WHO, UN Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation have jointly launched the first-of-its-kind “COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund”. Hence, the failure to curb the virus is constantly ringing alarms that the only way to fight it, is to get united. Time for the nations to come together and act on it.