The Financial Express

Where will the pandemic's death toll stop?  

Where will the pandemic's death toll stop?   

As the death toll from the global coronavirus epidemic crosses the astounding 10 million mark, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guiterres utters the doleful requiem, "Our world has reached an agonising milestone". It is indeed a milestone but one that the human race would have done anything to avoid. For the first time in modern human history, a sub-microscopic pathogen has woefully exposed the helplessness of highly advanced science and technology that even boast unprecedented progress in life and medical sciences, technological automation and even artificial intelligence. The world stoops capitulated before the tiniest bug.

Will coronavirus equal or surpass the cases of 1918 Spanish flu estimated at 500 million, then one-third of the world population and claim as many or more lives (between 17 and 50 million) by the time it ceases to be a threat to life? By summer 1920, Spanish flu disappeared without vaccine or medication. It is now believed that aspirin used for treatment of that flu only exacerbated conditions of patients or hastened their death because the doses of 30 grams a day proved heavily toxic.

Spanish flu spread like wildfire at a time when the First World War had come to an end and poverty, hunger and malnourishment of both civilians and troops returning from war fronts only provided an ideal environment for a pandemic. This time the world is not ravaged by such a war but threats of war loom large on many fronts of national and international borders and seas. Apart from war-ravaged Sudan, nowhere does exist a post-war breeding ground for the rampaging virus. But surprisingly, the country known as the only superpower for months proved to be the hotspot for the virus and although the surge has come down a bit, still there is no sign of its drop to a negligible level. India by this time beat the superpower America in terms of daily infection although its mortality rate is very low.

In 1918, the United States of America made news for mismanaging the pandemic. But at least the surge then can be explained by the fact that soldiers returning from America carrying the virus extensively infected civilians. After 102 years, in normal time no lesson from the Spanish flu epidemic came of use. The responsibility of that lesson's uselessness lies entirely on the man who leads the American nation. Had he paid heed to the warning issued and advices given by experts in epidemiology, immunology and other areas of medical science ---world's best in their respective field ---no more than 30,000-32,000 would have lost their lives to Covid-19, those experts claim. After more than 200,000 deaths, experts like Anthony Fauci now make the grim prediction that by December 400,000-420,000 lives may be lost to the pandemic. 

Much as the race for development of an effective and safe vaccine may go in different countries, the US president's withdrawal from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and refusal to collaborate with the rest of the world in the fight against the virus has not only weakened the international effort but also made a rift in the UN system. It is all because of President Trump's eagerness to use the situation to his political advantage. It may prove suicidal, though.

In this context, the UN secretary-general's introspective observation makes a sad commentary on political leaderships in many countries across the globe. By extension, it also exposes the psychological diseases the modern civilisation is suffering from. He says that the numbers are mind-boggling but more importantly the dead were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, sons and daughters, friends and colleagues of a vast number of people. Many of the patients who died in isolated hospital beds did not even have any near and dear ones to bid them the final farewell. Many families will simply be devastated, losing their bread earners.

Can it be a backlash for the greed and arrogance of the super species that has tried to dominate Nature? There is no limit to gaining destructive power and wealth in order to intimidate each other both at personal and national levels as also to promote consumerism and luxury at their filthiest. The combined result is that the planet has become unstable and unsustainable. Even as the pandemic rages furiously and millions of people the world over have been rendered paupers or unemployed, the superrich are adding fabulous sums to their already mountainous amounts of wealth.

Even in its present state the world can feed three times the population now walks on its surface. The one billion tonne of foods wasted annually valued at $3.0 trillion could mitigate the world hunger to a large extent. The privileged have unlearnt the virtue of living with the least. They would not even share a small portion of their wealth to save the humanity now in utter distress. If consumerism and luxurious lifestyle were not fuelled at this outrageous proportion, natural resources did not have to deplete so fast precipitating the climate change at this perilous level. Maybe, just maybe, viruses like Spanish flu or coronavirus would not even come into existence. The most rational animal invited Spanish flu by making the World War I happen in 1918 and now this deadly bug too might be a creation of the climate disruption caused by excessive greed and consumerism. The virus may spare human civilisation sooner or later but climate change will not. Frequency of natural calamities like floods, cyclones, storms, wildfires of unprecedented order is an ominous indication.   At a time collective international initiatives were highly in demand, bickering takes its place. Redefining development with an emphasis on green technology and rational distribution of wealth and incomes as against capitalist possessiveness can arrest global warming leading to the recovery of the planet's sustainability.


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