The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the origin of which is allegedly linked to a wet market in Wuhan, China, has affected almost all countries in the world. While China has been in a position to contain the spread of the virus to its other provinces, the rest of the world is still trying to find tangible ways to mitigate the imminent threat posed by this novel contagion. Of all the regions in the world, Europe has been hit the hardest. Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom have witnessed the highest number of COVID-related fatalities (more than eighty thousand). On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States has been the worst affected with the total number of fatalities having crossed fifty-two thousand mark as on April 25, 2020.
This new contagion has left all the countries running for cover since the development of an effective vaccine against it, according to leading epidemiologists around the world, may take another year and possibly more. Thus, countries across the world have been wisely advised by health experts and the WHO, in particular, to take concrete steps to reduce public gatherings and minimize the presence of people in public spaces. This has come to be known as the ‘lockdown’ strategy, which almost all affected countries have adopted and enforced in various forms and degrees. This strategy is being treated as the only meaningful alternative available to the governments by way of which the spread of the virus can be contained.
The fatality rate associated with this new virus-induced ailment may not be alarming, but what makes it more lethal is its easily transmissible and mutation character. Its human-to-human transmissibility is what has caused an acute healthcare crisis in countries like Italy, Spain, and the United States. Health experts around the world believe that if the virus is allowed to spread, it may lead to a situation wherein the healthcare system of any country, howsoever developed, will not be in a position to cater effectively to the medical needs of the burgeoning number of COVID-19-affected people. If we look at the situation in Italy and the United States, it shows that even the best of healthcare systems are finding it challenging to provide adequate care to COVID-19 patients (especially when the number of infected and critical patients requiring intensive care treatment is significantly high).
This brings us to the question as to what can the developing countries possibly do to mitigate the threat posed by this novel Coronavirus. The fact remains that most countries in the developing world are ill-equipped to deal with this new virus crisis given the generally abysmal state of healthcare architecture in these countries. Many countries in the developing world still do not have access to enough testing kits in order to ascertain the actual spread of COVID-19 among their masses and accordingly identify and isolate COVID-19 positive cases. That is why the ‘lockdown’ strategy is given more importance in these countries in order to eliminate the possibility of large-scale transmission of the virus, which invariably would put enormous pressure on their already fragile healthcare systems.
If one takes a look at the response that COVID-19 has elicited from the Indian government, all the points mentioned above find a suitable explanation. India’s healthcare system is not counted among the best in the world. Further, there is a vast regional disparity within India in terms of the availability of quality healthcare facilities. Furthermore, India’s population of 1.3 billion is so huge that the government cannot sit idle and allow the spread of the virus, for that would mean an inevitable human catastrophe even if the fatality rate associated with COVID-19 is supposedly low. Thus, what we have seen in India is more reliance on ‘lockdown’ measures to prevent large-scale transmission of the virus. The Indian government has already announced national lockdown twice: the first one spanned twenty-one days while the second one, which lasts till May 3, 2020, spans nineteen days. Given the fact that the number of COVID-19-positive cases is increasing significantly, the government is likely to extend the lockdown even further.
The lockdown strategy may help contain the spread of the virus in the short-run, but it certainly is not a long-term panacea for this menace. It has already begun to show its effects on the economy, and worse still, it has left millions of poor people (mostly daily-wage earners and migrants) without a source of income. Therefore, containing the virus through lockdown measures is a tricky call to take for any government, including India’s. It may help in terms of halting the spreading of the virus and putting it pause mode, but it certainly is going to dent the economy very hard. This is what makes the ‘lockdown’ strategy unfeasible in the long-run. As a means to keep its economy afloat, the Indian government recently lifted some restrictions so that basic essential economic activity is kept apace. What remains to be seen is how long can India, or for that matter other countries, continue to enforce lockdown and bear its devastating economic consequences.
However, what is undeniable is the fact that the threat posed by the Novel Coronavirus is global in character and, as such, should be seen as a reason to promote solidarity among the comity of nations. While some countries have come forward with healthcare aid for the poor ones, others have tried to use this threat to further the rhetoric of isolationism, protectionism, and hyper-nationalism as well as geo-political and geo-economic interests in the multipolar world. In these times of acute anxiety, what one needs is a sense of oneness of purpose and dedication so that this pandemic threat can be dealt collectively and that this moment of crisis becomes an avenue and window of opportunity for the deepening of interdependence among nations in a constructive way.
*** Dr. Mohammed Badrul Alam is Professor (Retd.), Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. Dr. Reyaz Ahmad Ganaie is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Lucknow Campus. ***