As the pandemic enters its sixth month, it has cost nearly 240 thousand lives — by far an unprecedented death toll in the 21st century.
The battle to tame the deadly disease seems far from over, even as western countries are easing home confinements, and some businesses are re-opening. Coronavirus cases now exceed 3.3 million and attention is increasingly turning to developing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America where many have limited health care facilities.
Judd Devermont of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says that sub-Sahara Africa faces the twin challenges of surging COVID-19 and a packed 2020 electoral calendar.
“The region,” he writes, “is expected to hold as many as 16 elections in 2020. These include presidential and general elections in Burkina Faso, the Central Africa Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger, and possibly, Somalia.
“The reason for concern is because planned elections risk hastening the transmission of the virus at crowded polling stations. Also, Mr. Devermont adds, “the COVID-19 outbreak presents an opportunity for African leaders to strengthen their grip on power, exploiting health restrictions to suppress turnout or even delay elections.”
According to scholar Dan Paget, “some African countries are “rally intensive”. He notes that Tanzania, known to fit this category with frequent popular rallies, has a presidential election in October.
In Ethiopia, Nobel Laureate and reform Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has promised to deliver the country’s first free and fair election next August. He’s considering postponement if the government can’t control the virus’s spread.
As The Economist puts it: “Although most of Africa’s 49 countries have fewer than 100 confirmed coronavirus cases, their health systems will buckle if the virus spreads rapidly. COVID-19 has many side effects. The bulldozing of human rights should not be one of them.”
India is a country of 1.3 billion people, including 200 million Muslims, according to the Washington Post. “The Hindu majority has accused an Islamic missionary group, Tablighi Jammat, as “a major source of coronavirus infections.” Nearly a month after the charge was leveled, Prime Minister Narenda Modi issued an appeal for unity on Twitter. “COVID 19 does not see race, religion, caste or creed, language or borders… we are all in this together.” (India had, as of April 24, reported over 21,000 confirmed cases of the disease, and more than 700 deaths).
Malaysia is entering what it calls “a harsh mode” in its Movement Control Order to curb the spread of coronavirus. Police have set up hundreds of highway checkpoints, conducted home inspections, and have arrested thousands of suspected coronavirus carriers. According to VOA,
one of the detainees had even jumped into the Strait of Malacca to avoid arrest.
In the Philippines, police arrested more than 20,000 lockdown violators, and VOA quoted Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte as saying: “Shoot them dead, if needed.”
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has largely downplayed the severity of coronavirus, despite thousands of new infections reported every day. This, according to a hemisphere newsletter, The Conversation, in Ecuador. In the capital of that country, Quito citizens may only leave their homes for “essential work or food between 2 p.m. and 5 a.m. They must wear masks and gloves, and all public transport is canceled. People in Quito may drive only one day a week, as determined by their license plate. Ecuador’s death rate, according to The Conversation, “is starting to decline after more than a month of lockdown. But the spectre of COVID-19 victims unburied at home, in hospital hallways, and on the streets, hangs as a specter across Latin America.
SOME HOPE AHEAD?
*Uzbekistan is building 10 new hospitals for quarantining and treating patients diagnosed with coronavirus. Last month, the country has requested $1 billion in foreign aid from the Asian Development Bank, to counter the epidemic.
*There are two other encouraging stories from Asia since the disease struck. By taking control of crisis prevention early in the crisis, South Korea and Taiwan so far have significantly reduced coronavirus cases.
*Judd Devermont of CSIS notes that approximately a quarter of Africa’s 57 countries allow their diasporas to vote abroad and even in internally displaced person camps within their territories. Among them are Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Liberia, and Mali, with a combined population of well over a hundred million. “It is also possible,” Mr. Devermont concludes, “for African governments to stagger elections over multiple days to reduce the number of voters at each polling station.”
*The poet laureate at the Heils’ retirement community, Betty Anne Cox, closely follows international and national events on her website. This week, she shared her latest, entitled
“Tomorrow Will Be Better”. Her concluding lines, in this age of springtime quarantines:
“Oblivious to my angst, bluebirds hatch their young. A goldfinch sits in the hedge. The pink moon glows.
“Ode to Joy” surrounds me with Beethoven’s genius. Artists bless us with beauty. Tulips dot the landscape.
“Spring bestows hope to a world in need. Lifted up, I trust that tomorrow will be better.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More