The post-pandemic lessons

As the world approaches the third anniversary of the WHO declaration it is essential to look back and draw the lessons
The post-pandemic lessons
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It was on March 11, 2020 that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the disease caused by a new coronavirus, which it named covid-19, to be a pandemic. The disease had begun in Wuhan in the Hubei province of China most likely in autumn of the previous year and had begun to catch the organisation’s and the world’s attention by early December. The Chinese authorities were not forthcoming about the new disease and there is clear evidence that they did not contact the WHO with sufficient seriousness to warn the world through it, and, the international community directly, so that timely preventive steps to combat its spread could be taken on a global basis. On its part the WHO cannot escape responsibility of its own tardiness in declaring it as a pandemic only on March 11; it should have done so earlier.

As the world approaches the third anniversary of the WHO declaration it is essential to cast a look at the havoc covid 19 wreaked in human lives both directly through the infection and also in terms of its global economic and financial repercussions. According to the website worldometer which collects statistics given out by governments and international agencies the total number of human beings who are recorded to have contacted the covid-19 infection are 68 crores out of a world population of around 780 to 800 crores. Thus, more than 8 % of the world’s population came into official records as being infected. The actual figure would be higher for many covid 19 infected cases may not have been recorded. All the statistics given in this article are as given on the worldometer website.

The total number of covid 19 deaths are around 68 lakhs. This means that worldwide, again as recorded in statistics, 1% of those who caught the infection died. Again, the actual global figure of the number of deaths may well have been more. Ironically, the most advanced country of the world, the United States, recorded the highest number of cases—around 10.5 crores and 11 lakh deaths. It was followed by India (4.46 crore cases and 5.3 lakh deaths), France (3.9 crore cases and 1.64 lakh deaths), Germany (3.8 crore cases and 1.68 lakh deaths) and Brazil (3.7 crore cases and 6.99 lakh deaths). The reporting mechanisms of the advanced countries are more robust; administrative machineries of many developing countries may not have been up to the task of accurately collecting correct figures. In the case of China many in the global community persist to have the assessment that correct figures were not given because of political reasons. The same reason may be applicable to some other countries as well.

Fresh cases of covid 19 are taking place but the present mutants are not as deadly as the initial virus or the Delta variant which led to such vast number of infections and fatalities in 2021. The Delta wave caused great distress in India as well. The present number of active covid 19 cases worldwide is 2 crores with the maximum number in Japan (1 crore 14 lakhs) of which only 140 are listed as serious or critical cases. In India the number of active cases are only 2335. Clearly, the current covid 19 infections are of variants which do not cause the damage which earlier variants caused. Countries such as India can take pride in developing vaccines against the virus which greatly contributed to the control of the pandemic.

The covid 19 pandemic devastated the international economy. Its impact fell disproportionately on the poorer and the more vulnerable countries. The services sectors especially those relating to travel and hospitality suffered very greatly. At the same time it brought about changes through the use of digital technologies including for meetings. It is still too early to assess the full impact of these digital changes in group activities and also some administrative and processes but certainly there have been so. In the manufacturing sector global supply chains were disrupted and that has led to thinking that action should be taken to ensure that manufacturing should be more widely spread.

The covid 19’s comprehensive and adverse impacts make it necessary for the scientific community to establish its origin. It was first thought that the zoonotic virus had emerged from wet market in Wuhan where it jumped to humans through an intermediate animal host. Hence, there was pressure on the Chinese to control these wet markets selling exotic animals for food. However, there is now a growing assessment, but no consensus, in US intelligence circles that the virus originated in a laboratory incident. Fingers are being pointed to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Recently the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US (FBI) said “The FBI has for quite some time assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident”. The Chinese have expectedly repudiated this claim. However, it is important for the international community to get to the bottom of this pandemic’s origin to ensure that preventive steps can be taken for the future. Constant pressure needs to be applied on the Chinese so that their cooperation is forthcoming in this matter.

Pandemics have occurred throughout history causing great human loss. The great influenza of 1918-1920 led to 5 to 10 crore deaths in a then global population of 180 crores. By that yardstick humanity’s success in controlling this pandemic so far has been remarkable. But in view of the economic and human costs as witnessed in 2020 in India when great displacements of population took place, although temporarily, it is essential to get to the bottom of what led to covid 19. Also, a review of the WHO and Indian responses to absorb lessons learnt for the future is necessary.

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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