The pandemic, and the war

Despite Ukraine war occupying the centre stage the importance of addressing the COVID 19 on a priority basis will not go down in the near future
The pandemic, and the war
Representational Pic

Putin’s Ukraine war continues to grip global attention. It is generating saturated media coverage especially in the western world; cable television channels are hardly reporting anything else. This is largely obscuring other crucial and urgent international issues, including news relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The human toll of the invasion, especially for the Ukrainian people is great; so are its potential implications for global order. The tragedy of the Ukrainians cannot and should never be downplayed. But the fact is that the worldwide devastation caused by COVID 19 both in the number of lives lost and its impact on numerous aspects of human welfare is so wide and deep that neither global leaders nor the media should take their eyes away from it despite the Ukraine war. It should remain front page news for the pandemic is far from over even if its severity has substantially decreased in the fully vaccinated.

There is another aspect relating to the war and the pandemic. Negotiations are going on between Ukrainian and Russian representatives. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks over the past few days indicate that some progress has been made in these talks. Clearly the Ukrainian’s are now inclined to give up their ambition to be NATO members. Zelensky said on March 15 “…For years we heard about the apparently open door, but have already also heard that we will not enter there, and these are truths and must be acknowledged”. From the Russian side there has been what appears to be a softening of its indirect insistence that the Zelensky government must go. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has also indicated that a neutral status for Ukraine was also being seriously discussed.

As both countries have moved from their maximum positions it is possible that a cessation of violence may happen in the near future. The obvious caveat is that the process of diplomatic negotiations regarding the future of nations is always uncertain and what seem possibilities may disappear at any time. If, however, current negotiations result in a cessation of violence the priority of this crisis will wane. However, the importance of addressing the COVID 19 on a priority basis will not go down in the near future. Why?

In a media briefing on March 9, Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), reminded the international community that in the two years since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, 6 million people had lost their lives to the virus. He also cautioned that the pandemic was far from over. He went on to assert that it will not end anywhere unless it does so everywhere. He drew attention to the continuing evolution and spread of the virus. Indeed, the experience of the past two years has abundantly demonstrated that this is so.

As COVID-19’s intensity declines in one part of the world it is seen to surge in others and as one variant has passed another has emerged; at least that has been the experience so far and it can only be wished that it will not be so in the future. The latest indication of increasing numbers is coming from China. The US and Europe are also experiencing high caseloads. Fortunately, in India the grip of the pandemic is currently loose. This has permitted the resumption of normal life to a substantial degree. New cases are averaging a little over 2500 daily. The daily positivity rate has declined to 0.35% and the number of active current cases is around 33000. Significantly, the total number of vaccinations administered in India has risen to 180 crores. That is an achievement but there is some way to go for 55% of the people have been fully vaccinated by now though over 70% have received at least one dose.

China had imposed a lockdown in 2020 and if its official figures are to be believed it was successful in ensuring that the virus’s spread was effectively controlled. According to the website worldometer, which provides statistics of the total number of cases worldwide, the number of infected people in China has been 122456 only till now. However, some reports now indicate that cases are rising and averaging 700 per day. This is still a minuscule number in a country of 1.4 billion people but it has led to lockdowns again to control the virus’s spread. It also indicates that a country which was able to hold the number of cases below a hundred a day for around two years is not immune from a sudden rise in infections. This validates the appeals being made by the WHO for vaccinating people the world over.

Vaccinations are the main shield that the world has deployed against COVID 19. WHO states that around 2.5 billion people in the world have still to receive their first vaccine dose. This underlines the efforts that have to be made by the affluent states especially those in the west to actively pursue the vaccinations of these 2.5 billion. They have to undertake this even while their attention is consumed by the Ukraine war. That is in theirs and in global interest. It has to be emphasised that as these countries have vaccinated their populations, they can utilise their material and human resources to achieve the objective of vaccinating all people.

It is heartening to note that the Union Health Minister is monitoring India’s ability to handle a rise in cases in the event India gets impacted from the surge in China and elsewhere. The country should not go through another experience like what it endured during the Delta variant surge.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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