The year 2020 will forever be etched in our memories as the year the earth literally stood still as we struggle to make sense and adjust at a blistering pace to this new reality we have been unenthusiastically shoved into. The coronavirus has currently infected about 1.5 million people and almost 90 thousand deaths worldwide. The only continent free of this menace is the uninhabited Antarctica. Buzzling cities across the world have become ghost town as people retreat into their cocoons to protect not only themselves but their loved ones as well. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on humanities social, economic, political fabric since it emerged from China sometime in December 2019.
Perhaps the only winner is the environment that has for once in a long time taken a deep breath of fresh air as industries, airplanes, cars, deforestation has come to a screeching halt. Pollution in New York has reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus. In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019. The proportion of days with “good quality air” was up 11.4% compared with the same time last year in 337 cities across China, according to its Ministry of Ecology and Environment. In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions fading away over northern Italy. A similar story is playing out in Spain and the UK (Henriques, 2020). Perhaps this is one of the lessons from covid-19.
This crisis although not surprising to some scientists, scholars and others who were concerned about our preparedness for the next pandemic since the SARS in 2003. The catastrophic failure of the public health system is a chronic lack of investment in the health sector by most liberal capitalist state and the privatization of health services. Some thinkers, economists and concerned citizens have started to question if capitalism is a system we would want to take with us into the future. Going forward, health and scientific research must be of utmost priority for all states instead of investing in murderous adventures.
Some have argued that disasters can bring out the best and worst in people and this pandemic is no exception. We have seen, heard or directly carried out profound acts of kindness since this calamity befell us. Despite the doom and gloom around us especially with so much negative media sensationalism around covid-19, we see Dave Jones “If anyone near our shop has to self-isolate over the corona virus and are on benefits I will put together a two week food parcel that will be delivered to your door.” Rebecca helps an elderly couple “I went to the grocery store this afternoon. As I was walking in I heard a woman yell to me from her car. I walked over and found an elderly woman and her husband. She cracked her window open a bit more, and explained to me nearly in tears that they are afraid to go in the store.”
People in Spain, Italy, and Israel held rounds of applause for healthcare workers from their balconies and rooftops. A group of neighbors on lockdown in Spain sang "Happy Birthday" to an 80-year-old woman from their windows. The heroes of the day are the health workers risking their lives every minute even though some do not even have the proper protective gear. The delivery workers, bus and taxi drivers risking it all to keep certain essential services going especially in countries where its harder to stay home.
However, we have also witnessed some harrowing and vile instances of racism aimed at Asians and Africans. Some studies have shown that fear of the unknown like the novel coronavirus can invoke these sorts of reactions but I hoped we would all rise above that level of ridiculousness. What is even more shocking is seeing French doctors publicly suggesting that Africa should be used as a laboratory for the coronavirus vaccine experiments. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros has condemned these comments calling the remarks a "hangover from a colonial mentality." The virus has been labeled as Chinese virus, Wuhan virus and Asians face discriminatory comments especially on social media. Currently, a disturbing pattern has emerged the US and it shows that the greater majority of people dying from the coronavirus are African American. African Americans are much less likely to get tested for covid-19 even when they show symptoms. This shows the gross inequality and racism that is still present in American society.
Data from US south shows African Americans hit hardest by Covid-19. Louisiana, a major US hotspot, was the first southern state to categorize Covid-19 deaths by race. On Monday Governor John Bel Edwards announced that a shocking 70% of deaths were among African Americans, despite making up only 33% of the state’s population.
In Georgia, an incomplete data picture still shows African Americans – who make up 33% of the state’s population, compared with 60% for whites – are being hit disproportionately hard by the virus. Twenty per cent of the 9,901 confirmed coronavirus cases are black, compared with 15% who are white.
In Alabama, a similar story is playing out. Data released on Tuesday by the state’s department of public health showed black Alabamians are being infected and killed by the virus at a disproportionate rate. Black and white patients made up an equal proportion of deaths, at about 44% each. But, of the over 2,000 infections confirmed statewide by 6 April, only 37% were black, while 50% were white.
Alabama’s population is about 27% black and 69% white, according to the latest census data.
South Carolina is reporting 36% of Covid-19 cases are African American, compared with 56% white. Those numbers appear to be based on about 1,000 cases, less than half of the state’s current coronavirus tally of 2,417. The department of health did not respond to requests for updated data or a racial breakdown of coronavirus deaths.
Social distancing and self-isolation have been the mantras since the outbreak of covid-19 but it is worthy to remember that it might sound simple for some but the greater chunk of the world’s population especially in Africa cannot afford this privilege or luxury. Social distancing, self-isolation for weeks or months is virtually impossible for the vast majority of Africans. Most do not have a house big enough to isolate and distance, no fridges to stock up, no electricity, and no internet to stay up to date or work from home, and to cap it all, the vast majority live on less than $2 a day.
In fact, how are people in shared accommodation expected to self-isolate? Unlike some other parts of the world, most of us live on day to day basis so a day off work means no food on the table and most African governments do not have any safety net for the suffering masses. In essence, over 80% of the Africans will be victims of two tragic events not of their doing. Somehow they must find a way to deal with the deadly and avoid starving themselves and their families. It is a very sickening and impossible dilemma but “if your only means of livelihood is selling tomatoes or second-hand clothes at an informal market in a big city, how do you begin to do this "online"? The choice before you is often to stay home and fail to provide the evening meal for your family, or to brave it out into the city and try and fend for your family (Noko, 2020). What would you do?
This predicament has terribly exposed most world governments and should mark a turning point in our history. The world cannot return to business as usual once this crisis is over because "normal was the problem.” Going forward, the world, especially the developing world must learn to do better for their people, they must depend on themselves for key equipment and be food self-sufficient. Frantz Fanon in his indefatigable struggle stated that “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it."
Perhaps this is our great mission and we must not betray it because all our lives depend on it. Some leaders and individuals have stepped up to the plate but others are still pandering about. We cannot fail and must not fail. "The world is but one country and mankind its citizens" so, this is a collective uphill battle for all mankind. Each one of us must contribute in his or her own way, there is no sitting on the fence or non-alignment. All of us must take a side and human preservation is the only goal. Together we can overcome this great strife. Stay safe
Driver, G. (2020) 12 Individual Acts of Kindness Proving Love And Humanity Will Win Over The Coronavirus. https://www.elle.com/uk/life-and-culture/a31803574/individual-heroes-love-wins-coronavirus/
Lakritz, T. (2020). 16 heartwarming ways everyday heroes are helping people affected by coronavirus https://www.insider.com/coronavirus-help-acts-of-kindness-good-deeds
Zanolli, L. (2020). Data from US south shows African Americans hit hardest by Covid-19. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/black-americans-coronavirus-us-south-data
Noko, K. (2020). In Africa, social distancing is a privilege few can afford. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/africa-social-distancing-privilege-afford-200318151958670.html