With millions in residential confinement globally, it’s tempting to turn to past generations for a sample of wisdom from sagas of old as we deal with covid-19, and hopes for an easing of the crisis:
“Do not expect to make headway with a frail sail width.”
—the Eyrbyggja Saga, Chapter 20
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
—Njal’s Saga, Chapter 5
“Best it is for Man’s words to seek peace when it’s possible.”
—A Viking saying, 800-1200 A.D.
“Sail Width” in Our Current Crisis
More than five and a half months since the Wuhan, China, breakout, global deaths from the epidemic now exceed 300,000 climbing hourly. So, which are the countries which have significantly reduced their losses with sufficient “sail width” — or systems of control or prevention?
Mark Travers, a science reporter for Forbes Magazine, said polling shows the most successful countries at taming spread of the virus are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, India, Japan, Norway, and Vietnam. I would add Taiwan to the list.
Mr. Travers adds: “Surveying over 2,800 Japanese adults, researchers in Japan found that even non-mandatory government directives were effective in increasing pessimism and caution. That, in turn encouraged behavioral changes necessary to reduce the spread of the virus.”
“In other words,” he concluded, “in times of pandemic, a government’s ability to instill a heathy amount of citizen fear may be one of the more effective ways to keep them healthy.” (Despite justifiable concerns, the two official covid-19 death tolls were reportedly the world’s highest in the U.S. and Russia as of May 14. Most specialists believe actual death totals for China, the world’s most populous country of 1.3 million people and origin of the pandemic, are much higher than the 4,633 deaths officially reported by Beijing).
“Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained”
Clearly, more investments are needed to halt the virus’s spread, and most urgently, in poorer African, Asian, and South America countries, with fewer hospitals, doctors and medical facilities and where hunger looms.
In a Page 1 Washington Post story May 15, Liz Sly reports:
“For now, at least, covid-19 seems to be largely a disease of the rich, developed world, with 74 percent of the 4.4 million cases reported worldwide occurring in North America and Europe, along with an overwhelming 85% of the deaths.
“But economists and U.N. officials say that it is in developing countries, where the vast majority of the world’s population lives, that the most damaging long-term repercussions could be felt.”
“In India,” Ms. Sly adds, “half of the workforce lost jobs overnight (so far in 2020 when the country imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. In Africa, 65 percent of the population lives in crowded informal settlements where social distancing is difficult.” (That’s according to Stephen Karingi of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa).
“Best It Is for Man’s Words To Seek Peace When It’s Possible”
Clearly, the poorer countries need urgent relief, with no time to waste. The covid-19 outbreak has caused the World Health Organization to establish a fund to help them. At the end of April, WHO had set a target goal of $675 million to begin a global assistance program.
A much more generous aid initiative is essential, perhaps even one that compares with the post-World War II Marshall Plan. That’s the recommendation of Oxford University Professor of Globalisation and Development, Ian Goldin.
Writing in The Guardian on April 21, he reports, “Ten African nations have no ventilators at all. In Uganda, there are only 55 intensive care beds for 43 million citizens. Malawi has just 25 of these beds for 17 million citizens, while in Bangladesh, there are just 1,100 beds for a population of more than 160 million. And while Britain’s health budget is $4,000 per citizen per year, in African countries it averages $12 per citizen per year, according to the OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”
And Professor Goldin concludes: “If there’s one less lesson covid-19 has taught us, it’s how interconnected our lives are. What I have called “the butterfly defect of globalization” means is that systemic risks anywhere are a risk to us all… Now, more than ever, we must show solidarity beyond our borders.
“Our health depends on the health of others. If we are to look forward to a better future, people elsewhere must too.”
There must be a 21st century Marshall in our midst who can consider how an effective global initiative might be built. In my view, there can be no greater challenge that national leaders and diplomats of both the industrialized West and beleaguered developing countries must squarely face together to overcome today’s pandemic and its perils.
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