The outbreak of the Novel Corona virus or COVID19 has shaken the world. Ever since it was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, it has spread across Asia, Europe and North America. No major instances have been reported from Africa, Australia and Latin America. After China the country that was badly hit was Iran and then Malaysia in Asia. Italy, Spain and Germany have resorted to lock downs to control the spread of the disease. Corona has hit the world in various ways.
• It has given rise to xenophobia. After it was reported that the disease was spreading as a pandemic from China, many Chinese and Chinese looking people had to suffer racial slurs and discriminatory treatment. Although the Chinese were able to control the virus by locking down cities and by creating and providing immediate health care to those testing positive, where disease was spreading US indulged in propaganda against the Chinese. Rumour was also spread that the disease was caused because the Chinese ate bats and snakes. Trump has repeatedly used the term Chinese Corona to lambast China for the spread of the disease.
• International borders have been closed and foreign travel has been suspended. Trucks carrying precious cargoes have piled up on the borders as the gates are closed. Travel disruptions have left people stranded. In some cases they have been asked to obtain expensive COVID free certificates. Something that students studying in foreign countries can ill afford. Quarantine has been imposed on travelers particularly pilgrims returning from Iran. The facilities at the Taftan entry point are unsanitary and unhygienic.
• It has spread scare. People have been asked to practice social distancing (a new word in the dictionary) and avoid contact lest they be infected. Public anxiety has been heightened because some governments have imposed curfews and in some cases called in the army to enforce it. Social gatherings like marriages have been cancelled. People have been confined to their houses and businesses have either shut down or at most slow downed because customers are not coming.
• It has added to the misery of poor nations. They don’t have the funds to cope with this international emergency. The US is using it as political card and has said that it would not lessen the sanctions against the Iranians despite the fact that it has hit the Iranians badly. Imran Khan has used the occasion to demand that impoverished countries should be spared the debt burden that they are saddled with to recover from the heavy losses they are suffering. There is a need to speak more firmly on this case. After all if you don’t have any money how can you repay debts obtained under stringent conditionalities.
• Transport, travel and hospitality businesses have been hit hard because people are not travelling and have been forced to stay home.
• Health services of countries affected by Corona have choked and stretched the doctors and nurses to their limits.
• Formal education has come to a standstill as schools, colleges and university have been asked to close down.
• International events have taken the toll. Sporting activity has been cancelled or postponed. In Pakistan the PSL session came to an early end. If the virus is not controlled the Olympics may also be postponed.
• Religious activity like pilgrimage to the Holy Kaaba has been stopped and the number of devotees is now down to a trickle. If the pandemic is not controlled, Haj may be affected. The annual pilgrimage brings together faithful from all over the world, who can be potential carriers. The pandemic in Malaysia has ostensibly spread because of the Tableeghi event. Understandably, attendance in the Jumma congregations had dramatically reduced. The Pope has addressed to an empty square in the Vatican City.
• The working of the government has been affected. The sessions of the parliament are either suspended or conducted through video conferencing.
Within this over all atmosphere of gloom and doom. good things that are happening. People are becoming more conscious about their personal hygiene. As more people stay home and all kinds of travel has exponentially decreased, so has pollution. Blue skies are once again visible. Smog is decreasing and air purer and healthier. Education and businesses have gone online. Good Samaritans are helping those in need.
Countries are expressing solidarity with each other. The Pakistani President has taken the extra ordinary step to meet the Chinese President in China. Pakistan has urged the West to lift sanctions against Iran. International diplomacy has taken to technology to devise common strategies. Noteworthy in this respect is the SAARC meeting held via video link to battle the deadly virus. So in time of adversity a moribund organization has shown signs of life.
Once the humankind recovers from this once in a millennium crisis, there will be social and cultural revolution. If proper lessons are drawn, people will adopt cleaner and greener practices. Waste could dramatically decrease. Cultural and international norms. Technology will reduce unnecessary human activities. Education, work, and commerce will go online. Brick and mortar structures may be replaced by technology hubs to conduct all kinds of businesses.
We are at the cusp of a sea change. Something that rarely happens in history.