Published:  12:49 AM, 23 April 2021

The world's slow emergence from a global pandemic

The world's slow emergence from a global pandemic
We are going through what by every measure is a great crisis, so it is natural to assume that it will prove to be a turning point in modern history. In the months since the appearance of Covid-19 the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, analysts have differed over the type of world the pandemic will leave in its wake. But most argue that the world we are entering will be fundamentally different from what existed before. Some predict the pandemic will bring about a new world order led by China; others believe it will trigger the demise of China’s leadership. Some say it will end globalization; others hope it will usher in a new age of global cooperation. And still others project that it will supercharge nationalism, undermine free trade, and lead to regime change in various countries or all of the above.Since the emergence of new deadly variants, which are highly contagious and first detected in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, the resurgence of coronavirus cases has been taking its toll on life and livelihood. Countries are trying everything under the sun, including closing borders, suspending flights, and putting towns or cities in lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. Bangladesh, which has been witnessing gradual spikes in new cases and death tolls since the 2nd week of March, is no exception.

It has recently issued 18-point instructions, followed by a countrywide week-long lockdown in response to prevailing as well as impending emergency. Even the Prime Minister in a parliament speech a few days ago sounded a clarion call to the countrymen to cooperate with her government and follow health protocols. Invariably, like every major crisis, many people this time too took to social media in no time to launch broadsides against the government. Many such posts with government-bashing comments are doing the rounds on Facebook or social networking sites, with the sole intention of passing the buck entirely onto the concerned agencies for the turbocharged spread of infections. But are we, the citizens, doing our part? Well, a reality check will say otherwise. These days, no matter wherever you go: be it to a wet market, shopping mall, public places, restaurants, entertainment facilities, or on the roads, footpaths or transports, you will find the majority of the people there carrying out daily activities barefaced like business as usual. Asked anyone of them as to why not put on a mask, you will inevitably be in for a rude awakening by a barrage of inexplicable pretexts for being non-compliance.Many of the countries that have access to vaccines do not have the proper supply and delivery mechanisms in place to meet their requirements.

There are still many vaccine sceptics who are unwilling to become inoculated. Covid-19 vaccines are still not available in a large number of countries (as of April 2, 53 countries did not receive any doses).Although their number is gradually declining, it remains more than 30 percent in many countries.Even in the small number of countries that have been able to obtain access to adequate amounts of the vaccine, a variety of reasons ranging from supply bottlenecks on the side of manufacturers to logistic shortcomings are causing a slower than required speed in the roll-out of vaccines. Countries in the European Union, for example, have ordered more vaccines than are needed for their populations. And yet, up to now, they have been able to give at least one dose to only less than 15 percent of their populations. How helpful are these responses in the fight against the pandemic? Take a look at the countries that have been able to enforce strict controls on the entry of foreigners e.g. Australia and New Zealand. While they have been, by and large, able to contain the virus, it has not completely left those territories, and one hears of domestic cases here and there and of repeated lockdowns. Also, difficulties have been faced by countries in accessing vaccines, irrespective of their level of development.

Even a high rate of vaccination (in Chile and the USA, for example, with 37 percent and 30 percent of the populations respectively having received at least one dose by April 2) has not enabled countries to significantly curb the rising infections. This is because as soon as some regular activities of normal life are allowed, the virus raises its head and starts spreading again. And that cycle is likely to continue until the human race as a whole attains anything close to the kind of herd immunity mentioned earlier. Nobody on this planet can be safe from the virus unless everybody is safe. But with all the constraints, challenges and distrust facing us now, that utopia maybe far away.While we wait for that goal to be attained something that may take many years can't there be some interim solutions?Within individual countries, there is the issue of all sections of people not getting access to vaccines. Gender economic class and regions (poorer people and those living in remote areas having difficulty accessing the vaccine), and race and ethnicity are among factors that play crucial roles in vaccine equity. Against this backdrop, second and third waves of the virus are ravaging many countries. While the frustration, fatigue and dilemmas faced by governments and citizens are understandable.

It is interesting to observe the reactions that include threats of banning export of vaccines, heated exchanges with the manufacturers, and banning of travellers from countries with high infection rates. Again, the war against the pandemic is turning into a pandemic war that humankind is resorting to. China, where the Covid-19 outbreak was first detected, was the first country to move past the initial wave of disease, a milestone of relief that came in the first half of February 2020. But, just weeks after newly reported cases dropped to zero in many places in China, researchers became concerned about re-emergence of the disease particularly in areas where restrictions on social distancing and travel had been eased. These concerns were realized in mid-May, when a cluster of new Covid-19 cases was detected in western Wuhan, after a stretch of just 35 days without new infections.In late September 2020, while countries such as the United States and India were still in their first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, health officials declared the emergence of a second wave of the disease in Europe. In most European countries, daily cases were higher during the second wave, compared with the first.

As things stand, the government is doing what it can by mobilising resources and reinforcing its efforts to enforce shutdown, issuing directives as to do’s and don’ts alongside the vaccination programme. Besides, amid slow pace in immunisation programmes owing to the paucity of supply, the news of the government’s initiative of producing vaccines locally in assistance with pharma-giant AstraZeneca, the project which is still up in the air, is indeed praiseworthy and reassuring. When all’s said and done, it is the citizen who must take it upon themselves to get through the crises. Global and national health experts stressed ad infinitum the need for maintaining social distancing as they find it one of the easiest but important ways to keep pandemic at bay.This paper in a report on April 2 quoted the director of IEDCR as saying that coronavirus cases may drive down in three weeks at the end of April, provided that people unfailingly stuck to health guidelines and the inoculation programme picked up the pace. But, wait! Do not count your chickens before they are hatched. After all, the re-emergence of the crisis requires us to reset our expectations and make behavioural changes, which is indeed a tall order.It would not be exaggerated to say, the current infection rates have thrived on our errors.

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