QUEEN Elizabeth II, her son and the heir to the throne Prince Charles and the prime minister Boris Johnson hit the headlines by contracting novel coronavirus. A few days ago, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s wife Sophie Gregoire also tested positive for the virus infection. The sudden outbreak of the new coronavirus infection has become the only matter of concern to people. It has appeared as the biggest killer for now. We are, in fact, living in the mortal dread of the microscopic creature called COVID-19. Breaking out in Hubei, China, the virus has travelled around the world taking a heavy toll of human lives in China, Italy, Spain and many other countries. A deathly hush has descended on this planet. Alarm bells are ringing. A chill of fear is haunting the whole humankind.
The World Health Organisation has declared a state of global public health emergency and urged caution. People are worrying about their existence and governments are fighting to stop the outbreak. Even the world powers, calling a halt to the display of military strength, are hanging on the survival kit. And it will wreak havoc on the whole humankind if it cannot be checked.
This is, however, not a new thing in human history. The ‘black death’ caused by the bubonic plague ravaged Europe, Africa, and Asia for long seven years, beginning in 1346 with a heavy death toll of 75–200 million people. The ‘Spanish flu’ that broke out after World War I spread across the world, infecting more than a third of its population and claiming lives of about 50 million people. The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome caused by human immunodeficiency virus has proved itself a global pandemic, killing 36 million people since 1981. The flu-centric pandemics such as the ‘Russian flu’ of 1889, the ‘Asian flu’ of 1956, and the ‘Hong Kong flu’ of 1968 were no less dangerous. Besides, the Nipah virus infection, the Swine influenza virus, dengue haemorrhagic fever and chikungunya virus also reached epidemic proportions. But people managed to survive them and were able to make good the damage caused by them.
Much of what we know about COVID-19 is shrouded in mystery. Since the first cases were reported in Wuhan of Hubei, people applying ‘post-hoc logic’ tended to jump to conclusions that the virus was originated in China. Many even let their imagination run wild and accused the country of trying to make biological weapons in a biosafety laboratory. Biological weapons is composed of microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other biological agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin and plague which are produced in the laboratory and released deliberately to cause a large number of death of humans, animals or plants in a short time. However, whether COVID-19 was manufactured by the Chinese bio-warfare agents in laboratories to pose threats to public health remains an open question. It could be a matter of global investigation as to whether China is responsible for this pandemic or made a scapegoat for somebody else’s biowarfare strategy should be a subject of UN inquiry. If it really is part of a secret military power enhancement project by way of annihilating the rivals through biological weapons, it has to be thoroughly investigated by the UN administrative fact-finding authorities for the sake of revealing the truth, unmasking the perpetrators and taking punitive measures against them. But without dealing with the crisis in right earnest, mere buck-passing and mudslinging will worsen the global health crisis in many ways.
Scientists across the world are strongly condemning rumours and conspiracy theories about the origin of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Instead, they are trying to work out solutions to the problem.
The spread of the new coronavirus will also play havoc with the global economy. This global public health crisis resulting in lockdown measures as prevention could pose a serious threat to macro-economy through the halt in production activities and disruption in supply chains. It will also put the world trade system in a dire jeopardy. The United Nations’ trade and development agency cautioned that the COVID-19 outbreak could cost the global economy up to $2 trillion this year and the shock from the pandemic will plunge some countries deeper into recession and depress global annual growth to below 2.5 per cent. The global financial crisis of 2007–2008 which is considered to be the most serious financial crisis after the Great Depression of the 1930s resulted from a collapse in demand while the ensuing coronavirus-induced depression may cause a collapse in both supply and demand. Besides, millions of people may be rendered jobless. If wage earners, especially in countries such as Bangladesh where millions of people live from hand to mouth, are kept in home quarantine or in isolation for a long period to abate infection, they will face starvation. This must have an adverse effect on the global economy directly or indirectly. So, the longer the coronavirus outbreak continues, the worse the global economy gets. Nevertheless, however worse the economic condition may be, there must be room for recovery. But the lives lost in the COVID-19 outbreak are an irreparable loss.
Despite such apprehensions, people must not indulge in helpless panic. When a pandemic like COVID-19 has reached crisis proportions across the world, it is not worth asking people to take everything lightly. The spread of the coronavirus infection to every country is picking up pace fairly exponentially. What is, therefore, most important now is to take curative measures for those who have already contracted the disease and preventive measures for those who have not. However worse the situation may be, we can still manage to overcome the colossal public health crisis.
We have to adopt the ‘an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure’ policy for Bangladesh because the curative measures available in Bangladesh are not adequate for the needs. Maintaining social distancing, staying at home and personal cleanliness, practising respiratory hygiene and seeking early medical care for fever, cough and breathing difficulty are the must-do things for the prevention of coronavirus infection. Panic about the virus may lead to the messing up of everything done to prevent it.
Dr Rashid Askari is a writer, columnist and vice-chancellor, Islamic University, Bangladesh.
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