Tedros Adhanom, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), warned in 2018 that no country is fully prepared to fight a new pandemic. Fast forward to 2020 and this prediction has come to fruition: the COVID-19 virus has brought the entire world to a standstill. Governments across the world have responded to the pandemic with an extraordinary sense of urgency to save human life. Grisly cases of COVID-19 deaths in poor countries like Ecuador have seen scores of dead bodies left on sidewalks. Developed countries have also not been spared with thousands dying in the United States, UK, Spain and Italy. This blog explores how countries were affected and governments responded to contain the pandemic and bring relief.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Wuhan City on the 31st of December 2019. The city has a population of over 11 million people and by the 23rd of January 2020 Wuhan was placed on quarantine. Early on, many applauded the Chinese government for rapidly constructing hospitals to treat those affected.
However, critics argued that the Chinese government could have responded much faster and more transparently. Dr Li Wenliang, a physician at Wuhan Central Hospital, first reported the outbreak to local government officials in early December of 2019. Despite this, the government accused Dr Wenliang of spreading false rumours. The government also cracked down on journalists and implemented tougher restrictions on media freedom, under the guise of containing misinformation and fake news.
China has also not been transparent in revealing an accurate number of deaths, especially in Wuhan city where it under reported by 50%. This not only skewed the extent to which the virus was deadly, but also did not inspire any confidence that China is a capable state fit to deal with a pandemic in a way that is transparent, and reflective of reality. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China is expected to have economic growth of 1,2% this year. However there are fears that once the country opens its economy, new cases of COVID-19 may re-emerge.
COVID-19 has devastated Italy. Its population is largely elderly people whose immune systems are weathered by old age and chronic illnesses. Despite having one of the best health care systems in the world, the rapid rate of severe infections overwhelmed the country’s health care system, almost bringing it to a collapse. Many countries learnt lessons from the Italian experience. The country did not recognise the magnitude of the threat posed by COVID-19, and failed to organize a systematic response to it. It was slow to implement strict social distancing measures. On the positive side, the country showed that the outbreak can be contained by doing extensive testing; proactive tracing and monitoring of medical personnel and other vulnerable workers.
Italy’s five week lockdown has seen a decrease in the number of infections and deaths, prompting the government to consider a gradual lift of the lockdown. Phase two of its lockdown regulations is intended to start on the 4th of May 2020 and citizens will be obligated to wear face masks in public spaces. As the country also opens its economy, at least 30% of workers would still have to work from home.
United States of America
The USA has the unenviable distinction of having the most number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. President of the USA, Donald Trump has made many worrisome statements about how well the country is responding to the pandemic. However, the most worrisome to date, is the comment that the USA would have done a “very good job” if it kept the country’s COVID-19 deaths at 100 000. New York is the worst affected city.
Despite this, Donald Trump is persistent in his move to open the US economy. Some protesters have supported this call arguing that it has far more devastating effects on the economy. As with any pandemic or socio-economic crisis, poor people are disproportionately affected. Much of the effects of COVID-19 in poor black communities have been due to a lack in access to health insurance, having pre-existing health conditions, or working in service-jobs that requires them to be in-contact with people. The death toll of black Americans in Chicago is 72% even though they make up 30% of population in the city. In Michigan 41% of black Americans died even though they made up 14% of the population in the city. Millions are unemployed resulting in long lines at food banks.
About 28 million Americans do not have medical aid, which prompted the federal government to roll out a free COVID-19 testing programme. The federal government allocated a $2 trillion emergency package to relieve citizens. This money is intended to replenish medical supplies, fund social welfare grants, unemployment insurance payouts, aid small and big businesses and fund the air and road freight industry.
Inequality in South Africa is glaring and the government has had to buckle up quite tightly in its fight against COVID-19. There is a large population of poor people who are HIV/Aids positive and carry other pre-existing conditions such high blood pressure, diabetes and Tuberculosis. These communities are often located in over-populated townships and informal settlements where social distancing, access to water, sanitation and housing are also in crisis mode.
The number of food riots that have erupted in poor communities across the country, has also shown that the COVID-19 virus is as much a hunger crisis, as it is a health crisis. Although the South African government has made food parcels available to indigent people, it helps no one when some Councillors distribute food parcels to their own family and friends.
The South African National Defence Force was deployed to assist the police in maintaining law and order during the lockdown. Most were deployed to the townships. Residents in many of these areas have accused the law enforcement authorities of using excessive force and humiliating them.
As the lockdown continues, governments across the world are facing pressure from business and citizens to reopen their economies. Governments have the difficult task of saving lives, maintaining livelihoods, and preventing a resurgence of COVID-19. As a result, many are taking a staggered approach when lifting lockdown restrictions. In the immediate future, people should still practice good hygiene and social distancing while participating in the economy. However in the long term governments will have to make drastic and systemic changes to prepare for a new outbreak in the future, and secondly re-think the ways in which the world can operate better.
Keep comments free of racism, sexism, homophobia and abusive language. People's Assembly reserves the right to delete and edit comments
(For newest comments first please choose 'Newest' from the 'Sort by' dropdown below.)