Opinion: Coronavirus and the world hereafter
The first life on earth appeared some 4,100 million years ago. Then 4,097 million years later, the first humans stepped on the blue planet.
The earliest fossil evidence of early Homo sapiens appears in Africa around 300,000 years ago. Homo sapiens, meaning the ‘wise-man’ has ruled the earth ever since. Several battles, massacres, famines, nuclear attacks, and two world wars later, it is still here, undefeated and unchallenged.
We have long feared that the human civilization can end only by some asteroid striking the Earth. But the greatest threat to mankind came not from outside the blue planet but from something on Earth otherwise considered dead; a virus. Virus meaning ‘poison’ in Latin is a small parasite that cannot reproduce by itself. Once it infects a susceptible cell, a virus can direct the cell machinery to produce more viruses.
The virus in this case named Covid-19 by the WHO is a Novel Coronavirus; a group of related viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. The first case of Covid-19 is said to have appeared in Wuhan, the sprawling capital of Central China’s Hubei province, allegedly somewhere in October or November 2019.
Fast forward to today — at the time of writing this article, there are over 6,65,000 infected and 30,000 dead with over 200 countries affected. Today, as on March 29, 2020, there are more cases of Covid-19 outside China with USA, Iran and Europe being worst hit.
A lot of emergency measures are being taken to control the spread and effect of Covid-19. Many of these measures which seem temporary today will be part and parcel of our daily life in the near future and we won’t even realise how rapidly the world around us changed due to Coronavirus.
What are you hiding?
The 9/11 attacks laid the ground for the introduction of full-body scanners at all major airports around the world. Under-the-cloth scanning, despite several health and privacy issues, has been accepted by people for better security. Full-body scanners detect what a person may be hiding under their clothes, metallic or non-metallic. But these scanners are unable to detect what a person may be hiding under their skin; a virus or any contagious disease.
With Covid-19 outbreak, we are seeing the introduction of health scanners that detect passengers with potential health threat at the airport. Thermal scanners and laser thermometers were introduced at all airports to check the temperature of passengers and see if they have the symptoms of Covid-19. However, with improvement in biotechnology and faster bio-detection kits and scanners, bio-tests may become normal in future. Every passenger may be subjected to testing for contagious viruses and diseases upon arrival in any nation. Every nation will put forward strict measures to protect itself against any such future virus outbreak.
Ancient wars were fought with swords, sticks and armours. The next big revolution in warfare came with the invention of gunpowder in China. In the 15th and 16th century, the Ottoman, Mughal and Safavid dynasties established their control over Turkey, India and Iran, credit to their mastery in gunpowder warfare. Equipped with new cannons and horse-cavalry, Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty, was able to defeat Ibrahim Lodi, the last of Sultanate of Delhi, at the First Battle of Panipat in 1526. The Mughal dynasty then lasted for 300 plus years till 1857 in India.
The world since then has seen many transitions in warfare, more accelerated during the industrial revolution and the two World Wars. There’s a high possibility that the next front of warfare will be biological and not nuclear. The fear of Biological Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) has become stronger with the outbreak of Covid-19 which has engulfed more nations than the World War II and is set to cause greater disruption and economic distress in the coming months.
How likely is it that a rogue nation or terrorist organisation would develop bio-weapons and unleash its wrath on this more than ever globalised world? The suicide bombers might be replaced by suicide-virus-carriers / patients in future. The next patient-zero might be well-aware of what he is carrying and doing. The next big challenge for all nations will be to stop such rogue nations and terrorist outfits from developing and unleashing bio-weapons on the world. There is more than ever need of investment in R&D of bio-technologies and bio-detection kits, scanners and devices. The next virus developed in a lab might be faster and deadlier, and not give us enough time to respond. The next war-front will be biological.
Nationalism, borders and globalisation.
After World War II, the world realised that to stop the next world-war we would need greater international coordination and trade. In 1945, the United Nations was formed and in the year 1948, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was set up as an agency of the UN. In the coming decades, the world saw nations coming closer, distances vanishing, globalisation and capitalism rising, and inter-nation dependency increasing.
In the past few years, we have seen a rise in nationalism around the world. Brexit, US-Mexico wall, Trump’s call for fewer imports from China, the growing power of right-wing populist parties in Europe, democracies electing nationalist leaders, people demanding stricter immigration policy and more domestic manufacturing; these were already happening. With Covid-19, this pattern will accelerate and more hyper-nationalist leaders and states will rise.
Economic activities and globalisation run on trust. During the Covid-19 crisis, people had to fall back upon nation-states and depend entirely on domestic production as the global supply chain failed and WHO lacked the resources and capacity to control the outbreak. Trust in the global supply chain and international organisations declined. We might now see more nations and companies strengthening their domestic manufacturing and supply chain, and nation-states rising as people lose trust in international organisations.
In the past few days, we saw globalisation crumbling with nations closing their borders and airports to isolate their population from the infection. The Covid-19 spread looms a question on the existence of open borders and alliance of nations like the European Union for the free movement of its citizens. With even provinces, cities and towns closing down on the free movement of its residents and not allowing outsiders, it is natural for nations to do the same. In the crisis of Covid-19, the nations that were late in closing down their borders to foreign visitors are greatly suffering and their healthcare infrastructure is collapsing.
As the Covid-19 passes, many of these restrictions will be lifted but it is unlikely that there will be a full restoration of the old order. Some of these temporary measures will stay.
Manufacturing and industries.
When the world woke up to the crisis of Covid-19, many nations realized how much they rely on China for essential imports. China had slowly become the manufacturing capital of the world. The weapons against Coronavirus; masks, sanitisers, medicines, sanitizing machines, ventilators; were mostly being manufactured in China. Majority of nations had little or no domestic manufacturing of these essential items.
This crisis has greatly undermined the basic principles of global manufacturing, and its fault lines have been revealed. Nations and companies will now have to rethink their dependence on imports and scale up their domestic manufacturing. No capable nation will depend upon imports for essential medicines, healthcare equipments, and supplies. The domestic manufacturing and supply chain will be strengthened.
The general public in China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and South Korea popularly wear masks to reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases and to protect against air pollution. In Taiwan and Japan, wearing of masks during flu season is seen as a sign of social responsibility, and anybody not doing so is looked down upon.
Coronavirus, even when it passes, will make masks common around the world. With the growing threat of viruses and flu, not wearing masks will soon be considered a public-safety threat, just as bad as not wearing a helmet or a seat belt while driving.
We have recently seen cases like in Hyderabad where a couple was attacked by shoppers for not wearing a mask in a grocery store, and a man beaten in Kolhapur for not wearing a mask and sneezing in public.
Masks, sanitisers, and washing of hands will become a lifestyle and hygiene statement. People will demand cleaner public spaces and hangout spots. This will also impact delivery services, restaurants, hotels and everything in hospitality space. Greater attention towards hygiene and more widespread use of masks will lead to lesser outbreaks in the future.
It is natural to assume that virus outbreaks will now be common with a novel virus coming every decade or sooner. There is a need for greater global coordination and information sharing to stop and control the next outbreak. More effort and capital need to be infused in bio-research, vaccination and healthcare facilities. There is also a need for more transparency between nations and their citizens for greater trust-building and strengthening the fight against outbreaks. A single nation, Government or person cannot stop the outbreak. The fight against outbreaks will be driven and won by the community.
Covid-19 is a wake-up call for mankind, and we all must awaken.