A silent killer in our midst

Amid this deepening darkness of all-round doom and gloom, there is a ray of hope at last. The raging global pandemic of Coronavirus has killed all chances of US President Donald Trump being re-elected, exults Swaminathan A Aiyer. No matter how well he handles the virus, no matter how brilliantly doctors and civil society respond to the challenge, millions are still going to get infected and thousands are going to die. But even in this best-case scenario, the President will not be able to escape blame, argues the veteran analyst. Well, that is one less thing to worry about in this hour of truly unprecedented crisis!

On a serious note though, it is not just the ‘leader of the free world’ who has to worry about his future. This tiny and invisible “Chinese” virus, as Trump insists on calling it, is set to demand an unimaginably heavy toll from the whole of humanity and change us in ways we never thought possible.  It already has, in extraordinary, unfathomable ways.

We have learnt to dread the presence and intimacy of our loved ones. We now fear our own shadow. The much-valued human touch itself is cursed and invokes crippling fear and terror.

It’s incredible how a little, obscure organism has humbled humankind itself, bringing it to its knees and mocking all the technological and scientific advancements it has accumulated over the past many centuries.

Nature or the one who created it, whatever you may choose to call Him, has once again demonstrated how utterly insignificant and powerless we are in the face of a challenge like this and in the whole divine scheme of things.

In a way, Nature is fighting back and returning all the toxic abuse and corruption that we have inflicted on it all these years.  The human race is reaping what it has sown over the past many centuries, especially during the past 100 years and more.

We have ravaged the earth, polluted its environment, oceans and rivers, and depleted it of its forests and all its riches. We have not just made our world inhospitable for ourselves but unliveable for all of God’s creation.

We who loved strutting around the world, flying from one corner of the world to the other in no time have been brought to the ground. We have been grounded.  Literally! Our cities and towns are devastated and deserted. Invincible borders and walls have come up overnight, not just between countries but between cities and towns.

Hospitals are bursting at their seams.  More than 20,000 lives have already been lost to the invisible killer. Tens of thousands have been hospitalised or quarantined — another fancy, fearsome word that has become familiar to even our children.

For the first time in history more than 3 billion people have been forced indoors, into a lockdown, living like prisoners in their own homes. Life is more terrifying than those dystopian Hollywood films based on science fiction.

Who would have thought we would see those end-of-the-world, apocalyptic scenarios become a reality in our own lifetime!

A growing concern for the powerless multitudes around the world, indeed more than their health and physical wellbeing — is their economic future and survival. Millions and millions are bound to be laid off in almost every country affected by this crisis, which is just about every nation of the world.  Hundreds of millions have already been in one fell swoop divested of their cushy jobs and livelihoods.

National economies have been in free fall, mirroring the meltdown of Wall Street and hopelessly interconnected world economy, a gift of globalisation and the laissez-faire capitalism. China, where it all began, which has been the factory floor of the world for many years, driving the world economy, has been the hardest hit.

The Middle East has also been badly hit. This is doubtless going to get worse in weeks and months ahead considering the oil, the chief source of the region’s revenue, has lost its glisten and is now as cheap as water.  The Gulf economies had already been battling the havoc wreaked by long years of low oil prices after the last global meltdown.

In a way, this crisis has been a great global leveller, unleashing chaos on virtually every country and economy. No nation is an island. And this economic pain is something that is bound to be experienced and felt by the high and mighty as well as the hoi polloi.  However, as in every crisis and challenge, it is the poorest of the poor and the most disadvantaged amongst us who would be the hardest hit.  Even those who are relatively better off face an uncertain, if not frightening, future.

Most developed and developing countries have unveiled massive economic stimulus packages with the US announcing a whopping $2 trillion-dollar relief programme. India has announced a package of Rs 1.7 trillion.

India is not placed any better notwithstanding the delusions of grandeur of some of its leaders and ruling class. As some conscientious sections of the media have been reporting, this crisis has hit the poor the hardest, with tens of millions of migrant labourers and daily wagers literally struggling for one square meal a day.

Can all these packages and economic doles really deliver help to those who need it the most though? Given the insidious nature of red tape and corruption in our countries, the question is only natural.  One can only hope governments would do everything in their power to rise to the occasion and help and protect their most vulnerable sections.  Also, the best relief is still the good old cash, although it may be frowned upon by our prudish babus and the indifferent Kafkaesque system that drives them.

But governments alone cannot be expected to help the needy and vulnerable. All of us have to do our bit for the people around us.  If we cannot make a difference in economic terms, we could try to help the sick and the elderly in our midst by delivering their food and medicines etc while observing the mandatory social distancing of course.

Finally, while we protect ourselves and our loved ones by keeping indoors in the comfort and safety of our homes, let’s spare a thought for millions of refugees and economic migrants, from Syria to Turkey and from Greece to Burma.

Having fled wars and genocide, they have been battling the elements living in open or in their inadequate tents. Hungry and homeless, they are even more vulnerable than the strongest amongst us to this deadly disease. In this fast unfolding health crisis, they face a clear and present danger and a health hazard like never before.

Sitting thousands of miles away, not many of us can perhaps reach out to make a difference. But we can certainly say a quick prayer for all those people out there. And yes, we will survive this once in a lifetime crisis and emerge stronger from it.  Insha Allah. We cannot allow an invisible, little germ to defeat and define us.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award-winning journalist and former editor. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com. Twitter: @AijazZaka