CORONA’S DARK SHADOW ON HUMANS AND ECONOMIES

STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Re locating from one continent to another takes its toll on the body and mind. I did it last week and did not write a column. I apologize to those who missed it.

We are not living in normal times. We are crowded by fear and uncertainties. One sneeze in the airplane on the way back home sent everyone scrambling! We deal with cold and flu every year. Last year 25,000 people died of it in USA alone. But it is the devil you know. Getting a yearly flu shot has become a way of life. However this invasion of an unknown and extremely distorted version of corona virus family has the world on pins and needles.

For a change Pakistanis these days are in a good place. A nation forever short on good news, emotional relief and entertainment has been over taken by PSL. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the games too, although from the comfort of my living room. In Europe and North America popular sports with huge fan attendance are being cancelled. I pray for the safety of our PSL crowds.

COVID-19 also called SARS-cov 2 has shaken the world. It started in Hubei province of China in December 2019. Till date they have 80,778 reported cases and 3,158 deaths.  China has a region of 60 million under lockdown to contain the pathogen. The new infections are controlled. The spread reached a plateau and is now going down faster than expected.

How many countries can match China’s response? Very few. COVID-19 has spread to all corners of the world. It is now in 124 countries and 6 continents. Only Antarctica is spared so far. The foot print is wide and expanding. New clusters of this virus have been found in South Korea, Italy, Iran, Spain, France and Germany.

Italy has the largest reported cases, over 15,000 after China. The country is in a virtual lockdown. Roads are deserted. Health authorities are stretched and overwhelmed. Next is Iran with over 10,000 reported cases. There have been 291 deaths including several government officials. The epicenter is Qom, home to many shrines important to pilgrims. This could be a clear and present danger to Pakistanis.

WHO has raised the threat level to a “pandemic” on March 11th 2020. Pandemic means a serious disease that has spread to multiple continents affecting a large number of people. That is where we stand today.

SARS-cov-2 virus is a beta coronavirus like MERS-Cov and SARS-Cov. All three have origins in bats. These are rare viruses that spread animal-to-person; leading to person-to-person spread. The scary part is that so little is known about it. It is creating an environment of fear. The alarming spread and severity of this virus is unnerving. The fear of the unknown is paralyzing people.

This is the dark shadow cast by this virus globally. It has induced uncertainty in the minds of the people. We all know it is deadly, we all know there is no medicinal cure or a preventative vaccine to limit the spread. So we have to use common sense to overcome its danger and understand how the virus spreads.

COVID-19 is not airborne; it is transferred through droplets coming from a sneeze or cough of an infected person. Hence keep a social distance when in crowded places and wear a mask and gloves. The virus survives on hard surfaces for up to 12 hours. Avoid touching them in public places. Frequently wash hands with soap. If the virus lands on a fabric it survives for up to 9 hours. Wash the clothes worn in public places.

COVID-19 is transmitted by touching or shaking hands with an infected person. Do not touch your face till you wash hands or clean with an alcohol swab. Gargle regularly.  The most important is to avoid “non essential” social gatherings.

Prevention is better than cure. Survival rate is high amongst those with younger, thus stronger immune systems. It’s the seniors under threat.     

The biggest threat from this wildcard virus is the unsettling of global economies. Already national and international agencies are cutting their forecasts about growth. Stock markets, run by the most informed segments of business, are plunging.

China, the 2nd largest economy in the world’s manufacturing is stalled. The containment efforts by China are severely disrupting the supply chain.  Countries around the world have become reliant on goods exported by China. Retail businesses have slumped. Between consumer fears and restrictions on the borders it seems the world economies are headed towards a recession.

Aviation industry, tourism, oil sector, manufacturing, restaurants and hospitality industry are all in a crisis. Historically businesses find a way to survive, but my biggest concern is for the common man. What about the tourist guide or the driver who supports a family of six, the shop keepers are without customers, the vendor operating a stall in a basketball stadium when the games are cancelled, how will they survive? The common man who has to pay double the price for onions and ginger, what will they eat?

COVID-19 is killing people and killing businesses. It is time to seek relief from Providence. It’s time to remember our vulnerabilities; it’s time to understand how inconsequential and helpless we are when faced with an adversity beyond our control. Being humble and being careful is the best advice one can offer. This too shall pass.

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