Friday, May 8, 2020

Only Resilience Will Prevail

The date the earliest known person to have fallen ill with symptoms of corona virus in Wuhan is said to be 1st December 2019; however, some believe that the first case happened about two weeks earlier, on 17 November 2019. China officially alerted the World Health Organisation of the outbreak on 31 December 2019. The first death occurred on 11 January.

WHO declared the outbreak as a pandemic on 30 January, after some 8,000 cases with a death toll of 170 were reported. And within a few days new cases were detected in many countries.

To date, confirmed cases stand at 3.8 million and the number of deaths about 270,000. The numbers are still climbing by the day. The worst hit is the US, where the respective figures are 1.3 million and 77,000. The UK is another sad story. Its death has surpassed 30,000; yet the light at the end of the tunnel is still so dim. Italy, Spain, and France appear to be recovering, but the toll has been very heavy. Iran, once thought to be a basket case, has also fared not too badly compared to these first world economies. The outlook is still uncertain, given the conditions and politicians’ mentality in many parts of the US and countries like Brazil.  

China, where the Covid-19 is said to have first occurred, the figures are 84,000 and 4,643 respectively. No death has been recorded for many days. South Korea and Taiwan have done well to contain the spread. Ditto many countries in Southeast Asia and Australia and New Zealand. Japan appears to be a disappointment, so is Singapore, which at one time was hailed as the gold standard in the management of this pandemic. There is still a big question mark in the case of Indonesia even though President Joko Widodo is a very enlightened leader.

Safe for a need to wear face mask when venturing out, life is more or less back to normal in China, South Korea, and Taiwan. East and Southeast Asia and Europe are also easing up on their lockdowns.  Politicians in the US are still unable to get their acts together; on the issue when to open up again, each state is left to its own devices, although Donald Trump had earlier pretended that he was the one to call the shots.

How each country has been managing the containment of Covid-19 speaks volumes of the resilience, or the lack of it, of that society.

China had Wuhan completely locked down on 23 January, when the whole nation was about to celebrate Lunar New Year (25 January) and within less than a month after the outbreak was officially reported to WHO. When the top Beijing official was interviewed on the need, I could see her professionalism. Personal freedom simply has to give way to the greater good of society, something that many in the West, especially its media, just cannot understand. The people of Wuhan have emerged with greater thoughtfulness for neighbours and the community. If not for the timely decision, China would have suffered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in terms of death numbers.  

Italy, Spain, France, and the UK are amongst the most sophisticated societies in the world. They have many world class medical researchers and clinicians. Yet, they fall flat on this count. Why? They have a large percentage of elderly in their population and these people are most vulnerable to such virus attacks. Their hospitals, though world class, are quite ill-equipped. They did not even have enough personal protection equipment to handle sudden outbreaks. More importantly, they had lost too much precious time to flatten the curve! Some of their leaders had also been quite apathetic when the outbreak was first announced. Boris Johnson is a case in point. Simply put, the Europeans have been too complacent for too long.

Donald Trump should go down in history as the ineptest leader of all time. I do not think he has any feeling for those who have died tragically of this virus. American are dying by the thousands each day, yet, his appearance for media briefing every day is all for his re-election bid. Publicity, publicity, publicity. And China is his bogeyman, for he knows the Pareto Theory well. 80% of Americans do not bother to think. Even amongst the elites and scholars, everything about China is bad. This is not helped by what is coming out from China. By nature, Chinese tend to be defensive when confronted, even though they do not need to be. And many of its diplomats and thinkers are not able to articulate things well in English. Of course, they needed time to ascertain that Covid-19 was in fact a new deadly outbreak. Of course, there are speculations (and studies done by respected researchers) that Wuhan may not be the source of the virus. Of course, they have not understated the infection and death numbers, save for some initial mis-tallies. (Why should they?) They should just sit back and allow Science to speak and not succumb to Trump’s bait. By denying, you add fuel to Trump’s and his sycophants’ furnaces. You can REJECT CATEGORICALLY when the evidence is there for all to see.  

Kishore Mahbubani in his latest book HAS CHINA WON? has painted both the US and China very well. The US thinks it can behave in any manner it wants; on the other hand, China seems to be losing its cool.

Only two Western countries are managing the crisis well – New Zealand and Australia. I would attribute this to their understanding of Asia. The two societies are also generally more intellectual than their American counterparts. Of course there are also many China haters and xenophobes there.

Singapore was the poster boy in the initial days. But strangely, they have totally overlooked the conditions in their foreign workers’ dormitories and thus have allowed the situation to explode. With some 20,000 cases already in the book and with the number still climbing, its hands are certainly full even though it says it is very well equipped to cope. These migrant workers are key to many of its industries. With them having to be quarantined and Singapore’s desire to get everything right before they restart each engine, the country may also have lost precious time in returning the economy to normalcy early.

Many argue that normalcy will return if a vaccine if found, I am a little pessimistic about this hope. By the time a vaccine is available, I believe many many more thousands would have died. The US and many countries in South America are particularly at risk, not to mention the refugee camps all over the world. I am afraid flattening the curve as a measure is already past its shelf-life use. The economy has to get restarted, lest the depression will be so deep that the less resilient economies or societies will be incapable of rising from the ashes for a long long time. The only solution left is for authorities to keep enforcing the Social Distancing rule. And sadly, this need is seen by many in the West as an affront to their right to exercise personal freedom!

I wish what has been predicted by an Israeli mathematician (Prof Isaac Ben-Israel) will come true – that Covid-19, like many pandemics before it will finally out by itself.

I am afraid few societies are as resilient as those in East and Southeast Asia to emerge stronger after the crisis. China is one, unfortunately, nobody wants to look at WHY it works!