Covid-19 – the political virus – EDITORIAL By Stabroek News

Stabroek News


Covid-19, the little virus from Wuhan, China has arguably had more of an impact on the modern world than World Wars I and II, the Great Depression and 9/11. It has resulted in the deaths of at a very minimum 4 million people and has brought political and economic systems to breaking point.

Diseases tend to do that: The Black Death, a bubonic plague, which swept through Eurasia between 1346 and 1353 killed an estimated 45% to 50% of the population. It scythed down so many rural labourers in England it caused severe labour and crop shortages. Tensions between landowners and the newly powerful workers (due to their scarcity) would eventually result in the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and the decline of the feudal system.         

The Spanish Flu, a virulent strain of the influenza virus, which actually originated in Kansas killed more than 20 million between 1918 and 1920. It possibly helped the allies win the first World War and it is said that when US President Woodrow Wilson was struck down by it at the peace talks in Paris, he was so mentally weakened he gave into French and British demands to punish Germany and hence helped sow the seeds for the rise of Hitler and World War II.

It is hard to compare Covid-19 to those diseases as we live in a very different world, one that is far more advanced medically but also more interconnected and interdependent. For example this virus’ lightning fast spread was initially assisted by air travel.

What is also remarkable is how, almost by design, this virus has exploited and exacerbated the flaws and divisions in countries’ political systems. It has been argued by some that its escape from China into the wider world was enabled by the Chinese Communist Party’s tendency to secrecy and to control information. And once it was abroad, many western style democracies hesitated to make public health decisions that circumscribed cherished freedoms.
America in particular with its faith in individualism, a suspicion of big government and “socialised” medicine was a perfect receptacle and consequently has seen over 612,000 deaths. The race and class divides in Brazil have also contributed to its death toll of 550,000. In Tunisia this week protests over the government’s handling of the pandemic resulted in what was effectively a coup, rolling back democratic gains coming out of the Arab Spring. All around the world mankind seems in a state of anxiety and agitation.

As for Guyana, human life has always seemed somewhat cheap. There appears to be a collective toleration for high rates of road deaths, maternal mortality, suicides and murders. It could be a legacy of colonialism that counted the bodies deposited on these shores as expendable and replenishable units of labour, rather than as citizens to be protected at all costs. It might be we are more used to diseases such as zika and chikungunya.

Maybe that is why the deaths of 533 (and counting) fellow Guyanese from Covid-19 is seen by some as a job well done. Never mind we are seeing a death rate of 67 per 100,000, behind only Suriname (109), Belize (85) and Trinidad and Tobago (74) in the Caribbean. Despite extenuating circumstances such as having a land border with Brazil, we could have done and should be doing better. Sadly the sharp political and ethnic divide and a lack of a strong middle ground means a consensus on what is the best course of action has never emerged. But when was it anything else be it our views on GPL, potholes or flooding?

Meanwhile, the all-powerful business class has at every turn chafed at having its activities restricted. Some businessmen huddled in their homes at the beginning of the pandemic while compelling their low level staff to risk their lives to work. Now they are demanding the vaccinated be “protected” from these same workers. This new development, of a fully vaccinated Georgetown elite and middle classes and a large proportion of the working classes resisting the vaccines is extremely dangerous. It is one step away from saying to those who are not getting vaccinated that they are on their own and deserve their fate.

Measures to have citizens take the vaccine should not be punitive. What is needed is more understanding of why so many are resisting the vaccine, increased outreach and education and most importantly we need political cooperation because the suspicion surrounding the vaccines has some of its roots in the political divide.

In this regard the comments of Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon on the authenticity of the Sputnik vaccine were very unhelpful and obscured the bigger issue we are now facing of a shortage of second doses. The PPP/C too must take responsibility for not including the opposition in its Covid-19 programmes. One can only dream what might have been the impact if President Ali and Opposition Leader Harmon had received their first shots together in Linden – a symbol of unity over at least one issue.

There have however been some good things to come out of the pandemic both here and abroad. The economic argument for imposing fiscal austerity during a recession has been thoroughly discredited. The floodgates of public coffers have been opened wide and such concepts as universal basic incomes are now being accepted and indeed implemented as governments realise that a social safety net is vital to withstand this and future crises. And while a lot has been written about the irresponsibility of young people we have also seen an exciting outburst of creativity and resourcefulness among that generation of Guyanese. Many have started online shops, catering outlets and other small businesses. Their resilience is something that should be acknowledged.

Sadly it looks unlikely that Covid-19 will have a similarly transformative effect on Guyana’s political elite and the eternal enmity between the two main parties. Some things on this planet are indestructible.

It is impossible to guess what will happen with the virus and its variants in the coming months. One random change in its protein spike and the vaccinated could be as vulnerable as everyone else. Globally we are seeing financial instability, dangerous inflationary pressures, labour shortages (as many seem unwilling to return to the workforce), a near collapse of supply systems, and increased geopolitical tensions. And there is still a long way to go.

Mankind has always comforted or cautioned itself through storytelling, often with happy endings or at least ones with some kind of resolution. But Covid-19 is not fitting into some parable of good over evil. Instead it has potentially landed a mortal blow on the human race that might result in the latter’s long, lingering decline – pathologically, economically and politically. As TS Eliot wrote “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 08/11/2021 at 1:38 am

    As TS Eliot wrote “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”

    I like this one better:


    These lines from Ernest Hemingway’s novel THE SUN ALSO RISES, reveal a lot about the human experience when it comes to success and failure. …

    It is common to the human experience that we are rarely motivated to act unless a crisis is upon us.

  • wally n  On 08/26/2021 at 1:43 pm

    Ok guys how is this coming along??

    Aug 13 (Reuters) – U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N) has initiated a rolling submission to Health Canada for Molnupiravir, an oral antiviral therapy treatment for COVID-19, it said in a statement on Friday.

    Molnupiravir is being developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics for the treatment of non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients. read more
    Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler

  • wally n  On 08/27/2021 at 9:37 am

    Got this from my daughter, comments

    Actually very informative, I thought..

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