The Covid-19 has left terrible impact on the people regardless of their region, country, community, ideology, faith, caste, creed, colour etc., symbolising thereby the Marxian thought of a classless society with no rich or poor and privileged or unprivileged. Moreover, compared to the earlier calamities, the Covid-19 made a widespread dent by instantly deluging whole Europe, America, Africa and Asia.
The pandemic turned ruthless for the absence of the requisite vaccine and robust health systems and structures including the PPEs, testing kits, ventilators, hospitals, ICU beds etc. Intensive care units are on the verge, and beyond, of being overwhelmed. It sparked off the conditions corresponding to the ‘failing systems’ in some, if not all, highly developed European countries.
It led to the flattening of the police powers, marginalization of civil liberties and democratic values and squeezing of the press freedom. The rulers have almost turned authoritarians to adopt anti-Covid measures without formal public debate. They impose the state writ on the people and term every anti-state ‘dissent’ as a threat to national security. Electoral democracy is therefore transforming into ‘electoral authoritarianism’. Social security is a casualty in consequence.
More important, the pandemic struck a death blow to the concept of international cooperation as each country pursues its self-interest and fights the virus on its own, reinforcing, in a way, the realist belief in ‘state-centrism’ and ‘self-help system’. The comeback of the strong state, rise of nationalism, failure of global governance, slackening of globalisation, sharpening of interstate differences and the absence of collaborative scientific cooperation are the natural corollaries of the epidemic.
The predicament deepened with the misplaced Trump policies and his challenge to the international cooperation initiatives, treaties and structures, erection of ‘physical and metaphoric walls,’ restriction on the fresh immigration and stoppage of the WHO aid. Further damage was done by the indifference of the regional and international forums. The periodic meetings of the G7, G20, and SAARC like international and regional forums failed to lessen the health emergency. The UN Secretary General called the pandemic “a global health crisis unlike in the 75-year history of the United Nations”. Former Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, rightly lamented: “This is the first great crisis of the post-American world. The UN Security Council is nowhere to be seen, G20 is in the hands of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and the White House has trumpeted America First and Everyone Alone for years. Only the virus is Globalised”.
Optimistically, however, the Covid-19 offered strange benefits to the peoples and the states. The humans rediscovered themselves by developing unique resilience and potential to adapt themselves to the unhealthy post-Covid conditions. The states, despite their unceasing hostilities, learnt to recognise ‘interdependence’ and ‘humane economy’ as the ultimate reality of their future relations. The sharing of vaccine and allocation of substantial funds, alongside the defence, for the health and education sectors exemplifies the same. The trend would last for 1-3 years where after there will be again an uptick in the volume of the states’ annual defence expenditure.
Likewise, the Covid underscored the need of ‘decoupling the global economy’, developing the regional supply-demand chains for the sustenance of the millions of peoples, organising collective scientific research and evolving collective response to the Covid-like urgencies in future.
Moreover, it tended to regulate the massively swelling world population exactly in tone with the Malthusian thought about the Principles of Population (1789): that diseases and famines constitute ‘positive checks’ on the otherwise potentially exponential population growth. Such ‘positive checks’, Malthus underlines in his “Catastrophe’ theory, are necessitated for balancing between the spiking population and the requisite food supply for the survivors from the catastrophe. Even the moral restraints like human abstinence from sex and marriages constitute the ‘Preventive checks’ on the population explosion. The use of condoms is yet again seen as an effective means of withholding the reproduction process and sustaining the food supply of the survivors from any given disaster.
Incidentally, the Covid-19 combines both the intertwined processes of ‘positive’ and ‘preventive checks’. In the first instance, it caused 1.6 million global fatalities and 74.9 cases alongside 42.3 million recoveries. By November 2020, the US topped the list among the five major Covid-affected countries with 2, 67,000 deaths and 13.4 million cases followed by Brazil with 1, 73,000 deaths and 6.31 million cases; India 1, 37,000 deaths and 9.43 million cases; Russia 39,895 deaths and 2.3 million cases and France 52,325 deaths and 2.22 million cases. The figures represent the official version only and could be higher for the concealed or unreported data especially from the third world countries for their ignorance, poverty or feeble health and medical systems either.
Lately, the US, UK and the Russian companies have rolled out the vaccines for the purpose. But, the vaccine is not largely approved or distributed either, manufacturing issues apart. Its simultaneous launch by these competing European companies in December 2020 is conspicuous. They did so hurriedly to exploit the market when they were actually unsure about its efficacy. Precisely, six people died in Pfizer’s late-stage trial of the Covid-vaccine, revealed the US Food and Drug Department immediately after the UK rolled out its own vaccine. Further, since sampling was done on the people of a certain country, its administering to the other global peoples could be ineffective for their varying DNA, immune system, and physical setting. Similarly, its widespread use is perceived to be unlikely. Quite a vast global space may not get its benefit until 2022. Its affordability by the poor peoples is equally doubtful. Poorer countries run high risks as billions of their peoples shall have access to the vaccine only by 2024. Their only hope shall be the vaccines administered by the WHO.
Eventually, the virus would continue consuming humans for several years from hereafter as the cases are surging and so do the deaths, per se, in the US and other countries. The WHO Chief’, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, rightly reported sometime back: the ‘virus is accelerating than slowing down as… new cases surface globally on every single day. It is not going away soon but stay like the virus causing the cold. One has to live with it as far as possible’. The new virus-waves and the lock and un-lockdown situations are consequential to the unclear behaviour of the virus. Consequently, the Covid would continue as a ‘positive check’ on the rising world population for some time more than is usually thought of.
In the second instance, it sufficed as a ‘preventive check’ because of the worsening economic system. For the unprecedented economic lockdown, global trade plunged between 13% and 32% in 2020 for border shut downs, travel restrictions and other pandemic-related disrupts. Millions of youth are rendered unemployed world over due to the closure of factories, companies, stock markets, shopping complexes, business hubs, tourist destinations etc. The US alone registered between 27-38 million un-employees by April 2020, higher in 3 months of the Covid-19 than it did in 2 years of the Great Recession. Europe, Africa and Asia are no exception to the mounting range of unemployment since the coming of the Covid.
The huge human toll is there. Inestimable deaths are thought to follow joblessness, hunger and starvation of the youth and others in the underdeveloped or under-developing countries. Economic crisis will be temporary though, yet it will take lot of time to heal up for the established co-relationship between health emergency, economic recession and falling world population. Eventually, the youth would neither want nor can afford their marriages at least until the eviscerated economies recover, thus facilitating the Covid to affect ‘negative checks’ on the rising world population.
Beyond doubt, the Covid-19 is dreadful in terms of human loss, economic torpidity, social insecurity and psychological damages. Additionally, it has been harmful to global cooperation and hard-earned democratic values due to the assumption of the authoritarian powers by the elected representatives of the states. Simultaneously, however, it set a trend to control the swelling global population, prioritize allocation of substantial funds for the health and education sectors and recognise global cooperation as an effective tool to fight against the Covid-19 like tragedies.
Prof. Mushtaq A. Kaw is former Director Centre of Central Asian Studies , University of Kashmir, Srinagar