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Death and despair… learning from Covid-19

Published : Thursday, 4 June, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 207
Mohammad Zaman

Death and despair… learning from Covid-19

Death and despair… learning from Covid-19

Currently, there are more than 6 million Covid-19 cases globally with nearly 400,000 deaths. In addition, there are those who have died unaccounted in many countries around the world. The United States has now recorded 103,000 + deaths due to coronavirus - a grim and ugly milestone that shall remain a historic tragedy to mourn and remember for all times to come. Even when we cry and collectively grief for those known and unknown deaths, how do we deal the despair caused by the rude reality accompanied by the uncertainty of the pandemic? The invisible virus is moving like a terror haunting everyone everywhere.Those who already died of coronavirus were loved ones in their families; thus, the losses and the grief can't be measured and are irreparable. Unfortunately, it is not over yet.

The US has remained the epic centre and at the top of the Covid pandemic for some times both in terms of case numbers and deaths. The top 15 countries on the global list of pandemic cases areUSA (1,768,600+), Brazil (438,810+), Russia (387,620+), Spain (284,980+), UK (269,125+), Italy (231,730+), France (186,235+), Germany (182,450+), India(167,250+), Turkey (160,975+), Iran (143,845+), Peru (141,778+), Canada (88,510+),Chile (86,940+)and China (82,940+). With China ranked number 15 in the global list, the horror experience from Wuhan has now faded away.

In recent weeks, Brazil and Russia have taken over the hot spots from Spain, UK, and Italy, with the highest number of cases in the USA, nearly one-third of the total cases worldwide. The huge mass of people on the streets this week protesting across the US over the death of George Floyd, a black men who died due to racist police brutality, will likely lead to more localized surges of new infections and deaths due to absence of social distancing.

The death rates among the top 15 countries vary - for instance, Spain has the highest deaths- 580/per million populations, followed by UK - 558 and Italy - 548. In the United States, it is 312 person per million; for Canada it is 182 while gross under reporting are suspected in cases of China - 47, Russia - 30and India - only 03. Brazil recorded 126 deaths per million populations. The tragedies associated with covid deaths in these countries - particularly in the USA, Brazil,  Spain, UK, and Italy--are largely outcomes of late responses, inadequate preparedness, weak and/or lack of access to public health infrastructure, and lack of coordination between the federal and state governments.  
Despite the raging pandemic--often with upward trajectory such as in many states in the US--some are lifting the stay-home and other restrictions and gambling on early and phased re-opening of the economy. Americans love dollars over health. Will it work? South Korea, which was touted as the "model" for containment and later reopened, enforced shutdown again due to spike in virus infections in some clusters.

Countries in Asia - for instance, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan - have not yet experienced the peak despite their surging numbers. For instance, Bangladesh with 54 cases and 5 fatalities in the first week of April is now 21st  on the list with 55,140+ cases and 746 deaths, although many may still have remained unaccounted caused by the slow pace of testing, tracking and reporting mechanisms. The surge will likely continue in the coming weeks due to potential transmission during Eid travels/holidays and the recent massive evacuation of 2.5 million people in the coastal districts triggered by the super cyclone Amphan to some 8,000 enclosed cyclone shelters risking further spread of the virus.

India, which ranked 15th globally with 29,451 cases in the last week of April, jumped to number 9 on the list with 167,250+ cases; new cases average over 1,000/daily. This still seems low due to lack of access to testing, now at 2,527/per million populations. A religious gathering in mid-March in Delhi reportedly led to a huge surge. So far, the highest number of cases have been reported from Mumbai and Pune. Migrant workers are becoming affected at alarming rates. The caseload will likely approach a million within several weeks. Lockdown in India with 1.3 billion people has many challenges, particularly for those who are poor living in packed slums in cities, faced scarcity and hunger. Worried for its economy, the restrictions are slowly being lifted and will completely re-open on 01June.

Pakistan experienced a significant surge in the month of May. It is now 18 in the global covid list with 64,028+ cases with 1,317 deaths against 14,079 cases and 300 deaths reported in the last week of April. Unable to control the spread of the virus, the government urged citizens to follow the mandated standard operating procedures or face further lockdowns after the Eid holidays across the country. To many, flattening the curve and containing the virus through lockdowns are already irrelevant. The lockdowns initially were limited to major urban centres; the virus has now hit all corners. It is unclear whether another lockdown is the solution and, faced with an economic collapse, if it can be enforced at all.   

The coronavirus has brought endless miseries to our lives everywhere. The economy is at disarray; we have lost jobs, livelihoods, and the so-called new normal is messing up our social lives and living. Some of these effects might linger for months, even years and alter the way we live in the future. So, as we mourn the deaths - known and unknown - we need to reflect on the combined effects of the pandemic on public health, the economy, our work, our social behavior and the family.

The tragedy of the pandemic hinges on how we stop it.A noted expert summed it up so well: "I hope that we can resolve to learn more, test better, hold our leaders accountable and better protect our citizens so we do not have to reach another grim milestone."

Dr Mohammad Zaman is an
international development specialist and advisory professor, National Research Center for Resettlement, Hohai University, Nanjing, China

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