By Guuleed Samatar
We are experiencing an unprecedented time. An invisible enemy, omnipresent and intractable in nature has struck the world. Its onslaught has been sudden, invasive and all encompassing. In a short span of time, the enemy made indelible inroads into virtually all and sundry. This ostensibly invincible enemy has brought the entire world to its knees – a virtual standstill.
The name of the elephant in the room is novel coronavirus. It is a virus that transcends everything: race, ethnicity, skin color, creed, identity, occupation, geographic or legal boundaries. Corona is unrelenting killer that does not distinguish between rich and poor, the “haves” and the “have nots” – a truly “equal opportunity” virus. It strikes at will; selectively infests and acts with impunity. The virus spreads easily with no vaccine or proven treatment currently available.
Fear and panic grips communities across the world. Countries have placed their citizens on lockdown and billions of people are confined to their homes. Tens of thousands have lost their lives to the deadly Coronavirus and millions have been infected globally. An effective ban on hugging, kissing and handshaking has dealt a major blow to familial intimacy and affection. Prolonged isolation and quarantine are having significant implications on the healthy relationships of couples living together. A spike in domestic violence, increase in marriage break ups or a coronavirus baby boom is being predicted. Ageing parents are required to self-isolate or being sheltered separately from their children, as the virus has the tendency of infecting elders disproportionally.
The interwoven fabric that strengthens family bonding has been severed. The sick and dying are not getting the care and compassion they deserve from their immediate family members or loved ones. Restrictions imposed by health authorities have kept family members from bidding final farewell to their loved ones. Burials are held without the attendance of the immediate families of those taken away by the virus. With lockdowns, social distancing and self-quarantine becoming the new norm, prolonged isolation is taking its toll on people holed up at homes.
The world was caught unprepared and ill-equipped to this global pandemic. The most advanced medical facilities and state-of-the-art hospitals are unable to cope with the ever-increasing number of people contracting the coronavirus. Shortages of personal protective equipment, medical masks, gloves, face shields, testing kits, gowns, hospital beds, ICU beds and mechanical ventilators have became commonplace in many advanced countries. While the poor Not-so-Western nations have been served a stern notice, the powerful and mighty nations of the world – China, USA, UK, France, Italy – have dreadfully bowed to the coronavirus.
For the first time in recorded history, the world has ceased its mundane functions. Fearful of the looming plague, many governments across the world have closed their borders, suspended international and national flights, imposed restrictions on movements of people and enforced country-wide nighttime curfews. Bustling metropolitan cities in the world have turned to ghost towns. Highly venerated places of worship are slammed shut. Mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, including the most sacred Ka’bah have been closed. Major public venues such as movie theaters, shopping centres, sports arenas, museums, casinos, concert halls, opera houses have sealed their doors. Public gatherings, communal prayers and funerals have been banned. Weddings, honeymoon, vacations and pilgrimages are cancelled.
Many international sporting events have been halted or postponed. Educational institutions of all denominations have been closed. The social life has been entirely suspended, to say the least.
In an ultimate poetic justice, the world is having a taste of the hellish existence meted out to the Uyghurs and Tibetan minorities who have endured decades of lockdowns, forced isolation, segregation, cultural genocide, religious persecutions and other untold atrocities perpetuated by the same source of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The scourge of the coronavirus has devastated world economies and the lives and livelihoods of millions of vulnerable, low-income populations are at stake. Potential disruption of food supply chains is expected as a result of population and transport restrictions that are likely to wreak havoc on food production and delivery. Widespread food shortages, soaring prices and depletion of food reserves are some of the imminent dangers looming in many food insecure countries. In conflict-affected countries, existing fragile social safety nets will be less able to cope with the shocks. With the disruption of global remittance, millions of diaspora reliant population will bear the brunt. The population in many African and Asian countries are heavily dependent on remittances from their diaspora in the Western countries and the Gulf Arab states, and as the source countries are under coronavirus lockdown, the remittance will dry up. This will severely affect the economies of these fragile countries.
In traditionally food deficit countries with none or limited national food reserves, people dedicate high proportion of their meager income to the purchase of staple foodstuffs. Food expenditure is a major budget element for the majority of the vulnerable population who live a hand-to-mouth existence. The impact of coronavirus on global trade and transportation may necessitate local traders resorting to hoarding of stocks and triggering excessive price increase. Food price volatility can have substantial adverse impact on food security and political stability in many fragile countries.
As the world anxiously awaits the coronavirus to pass, no one can predict how the world will look like when the lockdown is lifted or whether the world will ever return to the status quo ante. Nevertheless, some of the current restrictions are set to last for a long time to come.
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