Points to ponder in the post Covid-19 world | Sunday Observer

Points to ponder in the post Covid-19 world

27 September, 2020

As we have experienced, the novel Coronavirus has changed the life of each and every human being on this planet, one way or another. Phrases such as ‘social distancing’ or ‘hygienic social practices’ have become familiar in our daily conversations and our daily doses of information we eagerly gather from various sources. By looking at the progression of the number of people tested positive and the number of deaths with time, in countries such as USA, Italy, Spain and India, one can safely assume that they could have had a better control of the numbers and saved much more lives had they started practising ‘social distancing’ much earlier than they did.

Of course, that by itself may not have had a significant effect if large scale testing, immediate isolation of infected people and contact tracing were not implemented from the very beginning. On the contrary, countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam, despite many frequent travellers to and from China, have managed to keep numbers low from the beginning.

Though we are not in the same proximity to China as these countries, we have been having a multitude of Chinese nationals travelling to and from Sri Lanka due to increased numbers of pre-Covid-19 tourists and also due to all the construction projects handled by Chinese companies. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka also managed to keep the numbers at a very low level with a minimum number of deaths due to the swift and appropriate actions taken by the Government, the unwavering commitment by the Security Forces and healthcare professionals and also a near perfect compliance by the citizens.

Vietnam detected its first Covid-19 case in January 2020 and managed to keep the rate of infection at a very low number with zero deaths till August, 2020. An interesting fact about Taiwanese fight against Covid-19 is that it was led by the Vice-President Chen Chien-jen who happens to be an epidemiologist graduated and trained at Johns Hopkins University in the USA. Most of the professionals in the frontline against Covid-19 in these Asian countries graduated and/or trained in Western countries, mainly in the USA and UK.

Therefore, it is safe to assume that the knowledge, ability and the commitment, or lack thereof, of the healthcare professionals cannot be the reasons for the higher numbers of infections and deaths in those countries. It must be other factors such as lack of commitment, will and support by the respective governments and the people’s opposition to strict lockdown, tracing, testing and quarantine measures that the professionals suggested.

One other important factor common to almost all Asian countries is that they had to fight SARS in 2003 and learn the hard way that they were not prepared and equipped to fight an epidemic of that nature. Therefore, the governments decided to invest more in their public health systems focusing, especially, on preventive measures against similar epidemics.

Things to learn

There certainly are a lot of things to learn from it not only for Sri Lanka but also for developed countries. Vietnam implemented a targeted approach to testing and quarantining infected people immediately. Hot spots with community transmission were locked down immediately and the government communicated frequently with citizens to keep them informed and involved in the public health response.

Preventive measures

After their encounter with SARS in 2003, they invested heavily in preventive measures such as establishing a national public health emergency operations centre and a surveillance system.

Hospitals are required to report diseases that seem to be spreading fast and/or different from the ones they have seen before so that the ministry of health can track epidemiological developments across the country in real-time. Event-based surveillance empowered the public including teachers, traditional healers, religious leaders and other community leaders to report any public health events so that any sign of emerging outbreak can be detected at the earliest possible time and take necessary actions.

It is clear that if the governments act early, diligently and intelligently then the damage done by an outbreak of an epidemic can be minimized. Countries usually are prepared to defend their geographical territories and even their information and communication network against viral attacks but not so much against viral invasions of the health of their citizens. It is time to consider medical and bio-defence programs as priorities in their national security programs.

It looks like we will have to live with Covid-19 for at least another year or two.

How will our lives change? Will the world turn to telemedicine more and more to protect the medical professionals and also to spread the reach of healthcare to all corners of the world? How will the new world economy look like? If these types of deadly viruses are mostly zoonotic then what can we do to protect ourselves while protecting our animal habitats and the environment? Will there be crowded cafes, sporting events, concerts and rallies in our cities? Will we be comfortable in using crowded public transport systems? Can the airline industry survive this drought? Will the education be mostly online? Will we become less social or anti-social creatures?

Safeguarding human life

While we ponder on such matters, we should focus on the lessons we can learn from this experience.

One of the important lessons to learn from all this is that irrespective of the management strategies and theories used, safeguarding human life has to be at the top of any system of management, whether it is a business, an international organization or a country.

There is no use of any technology and/or new discovery, if we cannot sustain life on this planet. Looking at the struggle the whole world is facing at present, fighting Covid-19 and also trying to get the economies of individual countries back on track, one can see that designing and implementing preventive measures to keep such invisible enemies at bay as much as possible, from all life forms is of utmost importance. First and foremost we are human beings and all other identities (faith, race, or nationality related) are just a sign of diversity and not of any basic fundamental difference to claim any sort of superiority or hatred towards others. We are all connected on the basis of this single identity like how the internet connects all the personal computers/smart phones irrespective of the brand of those devices. A virus will not discriminate against any of those characterisations other than the barriers set against it. Understanding this idea of ‘One Humanity’ makes one truly a global citizen.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and thirteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted at [email protected]