Life in the time of COVID-19: Quo Vadis Homo Sapiens?

United Nations handing over 250,000 medical masks to Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio.
United Nations / Eskinder Debebe

Dr PL de Silva is Director, Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD) Malta and Adjunct Professor, Institute for Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University

NEW YORK, March 31, 2020 (IPS) – The writing is on the wall for all to see from far and wide – there is nowhere to hide from this invisible enemy, a new coronavirus, maybe with the exception of self-isolation, quarantined at home and even then, we are not 100% safe.

An event of planetary magnitude is currently being visited upon homo sapiens (the so-called ‘wise man’ in Latin) – the primate species that includes you and me and every single other human being inhabiting God’s good earth – irrespective of nationality, sovereignty, national borders, ethnicity, race, tribe, caste, color, creed, language, culture, political faction, power, wealth or the lack thereof.

UNHCR notes that “all of us are truly only as safe as the most vulnerable person”.

How we as a species, rise to the challenge of overcoming the global onslaught of COVID-19 and the unstable environment it has produced appears to be a multiple trillion-dollar question.

In fact, according to Reuters, March 30, 2020 “The U.S. Federal Reserve has offered more than $3 trillion in loans and asset purchases in recent weeks to stop the U.S. financial system from seizing up” and yet, this biggest ever stimulus package may not be big enough.

According to the United Nations, the world’s emerging economies need a $2.5 trillion rescue package in order to cope.

COVID-19 is the real McCoy

Dr Mike Ryan the Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergencies Program discussed the global response to COVID-19 on Al Jazeera (March 27, 2020) and noted: “It all started in December last year, when cases of an unusual pneumonia were reported in the Chinese City of Wuhan” in Hubei Province, central China.

The early doubters, naysayers and fake news peddlers – who infamously claimed that COVID-19 was just like flu’ – have all been proven wrong. We have a full-blown pandemic on the rampage.

The COVID-19 coronavirus infection rates breached the half million mark with the U.S. in pole position and is evolving rapidly by tens of thousands in a number of countries. The death rates are equally alarming, and the Centers for Disease Control is anticipating a death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 in the United States alone before all is said and done (and that too no one knows for sure is when).

Dr Ryan says that “predictions are extremely unhelpful at the moment…there is no accurate way to predict the future…we have to deal with what we see now in the coming weeks and plan for the situation deteriorating in a number of countries, which it has”.

Considering the plague-like conditions decimating the health care infrastructure and services in developed, affluent first world countries like in the US., Italy, Spain, U.K. amongst others, one shudders to imagine the horrors that will be visited upon densely populated countries with less robust healthcare, such as in the continent of Africa, Asia or Central and South America.

Millions of lives are at risk and according to epidemiologists, we would be lucky if a successful vaccine is developed within two years. In the meantime, the genie is out of the bottle and here to stay with us homo sapiens, potentially infecting victims year on year till a proven vaccine is developed by the pharmaceutical industry – i.e. “out of the thirty candidate vaccines currently under trial” according to Dr Ryan.

In the meantime, definitive, adequately resourced public health interventions “with contact tracing, isolation and quarantine” along with surveillance, nationwide lockdowns, social distancing and proper hygiene – with regular, 20 second hand washing with soap and water in particular – are what is most urgently needed to flatten the curve and halt the rapid spread of COVID-19 (though not getting rid of the virus).

The most vulnerable of all are hundreds of thousands of refugees and irregular migrants hemmed in highly congested camps with poor hygiene, sanitation, water, food and shelter. This is a ticking time bomb and COVID-19 could wreak untold havoc that could spiral the pandemic out of control, unless and until special attention is given to the redress the plight of these unfortunate souls including tens of thousands of children.

Quo Vadis Homo Sapiens?

The bell is tolling on account of the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic and UN Secretary-General Guterres has called for ceasefires in ongoing conflicts in fragile, deeply divided societies and warring parties to stand down – in order to enable robust public health interventions to be implemented. Not everyone however appears to have heeded this call for ceasefire.

The aftermath of the devastating airstrike on the Tajoura Detention Centre, in the suburbs of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, last year. Credit: UNSMIL/Georg Friedrich

For example, according to ISSD Malta sources on the ground in Libya, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater USA, Erik Prince (brother of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – née Betsy Dee Prince) has allegedly masterminded the launch of yet another sustained attack (at the bidding of his paymasters in the United Arab Emirates) with the objective of toppling the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli – using artillery, mortar barrages and six helicopters along with an array of other weaponry and mercenary forces.

Likewise, Daesh also known as Islamic State or ISIL terrorists attacked a Sikh temple in the heart of the capital Kabul in Afghanistan on March 26 and killed 25 morning worshippers and one child. Roundly condemned by Secretary-General Guterres.

It is glaringly obvious that despite the existential threat posed by COVID-19 protagonists are engaged in business as usual, not comprehending the full ramifications of what is unfolding. They do not understand that a planetary reset button has been pressed and it simply cannot be business as usual going forward.

Dr Ryan notes: “The reality is that we, human beings, have globalized the planet…we have stressed the environment, we have invaded the animal-human interface, we have allowed diseases to cross into humans and when those diseases do cross from animals to humans those diseases can amplify” and spread as in the case of COVID-19.

He goes on to state that “we have left ourselves vulnerable to emerging diseases, the diseases themselves are entirely natural but we have created the conditions (of globalized travel for example) that enables these diseases to spread and cause tremendous damage to our health systems, economy and social systems, and deaths of loved ones as you can see happening now”.

The true heroes risking their lives every single day to protect their patients and communities are under-resourced and public health workers, who are stretched to the limits of their endurance at the frontline of tackling COVID-19 and displaying their selfless humanity in no uncertain manner.

The Future challenge

One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought close to home to each and every one of us is that we have got our priorities in life wrong. We simply cannot pretend that this pandemic did not happen and go back to living our rather pathetic, self-centered, self-absorbed, narcissistic lives without a thought or care for the planet, environment and climate.

We are a symbiotic part of the greater whole and we need to reinvest our resources and cumulative talents and energies in new priorities that cater to the greater good and not the casino economics and priorities of market-driven capitalism.

In terms of the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Dr Ryan said: “when this is done we all need to sit down and see what sort of society we want to have in the future, one that is prepared, one that is ready, one that is equipped with the supplies it needs, one that is willing to invest in the sort of defense we need as a population” – the multiple trillion dollar question is whether we are to continue using these funds “to be defended from foreign armies or…to be defended from viruses” and other deadly pathogens.

Our really significant investments and civilizational focus must be geared towards protecting homo sapiens and our societies and “civilization and way of life” – irrespective of nationality, sovereignty, national borders, ethnicity, race, tribe, caste, color, creed, language, culture, political faction, power, wealth or the lack thereof.

Human lives must matter, no matter who you are, or where you are from, and humanity must really have meaning for all of us going forward.

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