R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
April 3, 2020

Economic disruption a major challenge

The fight against the relentless coronavirus pandemic dwarfs all else on the global stage today. In the process it continues to shatter myths, mistaken beliefs and false propaganda.

Yet such is the outreach of modern communications technology that the fear spread by its enveloping presence is causing panic on a scale never before witnessed.

In the process, with a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of casualties, one is prone to come to the conclusion that this is the gravest health threat, and the deadliest, ever facing mankind. Even without going back several centuries, the facts would deny this.

The so-called COVID -19 was preceded by other influenza viruses, perhaps the best remembered being SARS of 18 years ago. Yet, the Asian Flu (1957/58) and the Hong Kong Flu of ten years later were far more deadly, each having a death toll of over 1 million. The AIDS epidemic of which we were once so mortally afraid has already well over 30 million dead victims. But to crown them all, the Spanish Flu, at the conclusion of World War 1 in 1918, put an estimated 20-50 million persons to rest permanently.

Whatever our fears and state of panic, the tens of millions death toll is unlikely to be attained in this particular case. That is not at all to deny its grave danger or indeed the possibility of it getting out of hand and causing more fatalities than we may expect, but it is the severe disruption of human activity and the social and economic implications on a global scale which is even more worrying. At the end of the COVID threat, we will be able to tally the mortalities from direct infection, but who, beyond estimates, is going to be able to calculate the post-pandemic human loss and suffering?

Even at this stage, when the disease has not yet reached its peak globally, it is clear that the world is not going to be the same again. The massive disruption to human social and economic activity is itself going to have a heavy toll and impact substantially on the post-COVID world. Since World War 2 there has been no comparable global phenomenon – the citadels of global capitalism have been thrown in disarray, global trade has shrunk to unprecedented levels and countries, large and tiny, powerful and weak, have succumbed to the reactive strategy of ‘lockdowns’.

Certainly these are necessary in some, maybe many quarters, but we cannot afford to be guided by short-term thinking alone. The death toll may be dramatic, but not many will feel the pain, occasioned by trying to revive shut-down economies, the tragedy of babies dying for lack of food, the social fall-out from pent-up anger and range, brought about by joblessness, lack of social interaction and just by being “grounded’ at home. What of the homeless?
Whereas after the 2008 global recession, countries could immediately employ strategies to resuscitate economies and boost trade, the lingering health threats are sure to be impediments this time. How does one relax lockdowns without the danger of opening the door to a resurgence of the COVID threat?

There are also the complications. Just as the heath threat crosses all national boundaries there is the suicidal oil price war led by the Saudis. Normally falling oil prices would be welcomed but this is in the context of greatly reduced demand. Then there are still the dangerous examples of narrow nationalism and prejudice, and the pursuit of warlike aims and mindless imperialist schemes to try and strangle countries like Iran and Venezuela, at a time when the whole world faces a common enemy.

How could you justify, in the midst of thousands of deaths in the USA for instance, the State Department putting out a US $15 million reward for the arrest of the President of Venezuela whom it accuses of drug trafficking? Should the emphasis not be on finding drugs to fight COVID?

Or how could you justify the action taken under the criminal Helms-Burton law in the USA to block a shipment of critical medical supplies (ventilators, masks, rapid diagnostic kits) sent to Cuba by Jack Ma, the famed entrepreneur and founder of ALIBABA Foundation, from reaching that island even though it is the No.1 country assisting globally in the anti-COVID crusade?

If we are going to recover we need cool heads and wise, realsistic strategies. The clamour for “lockdown’ may sound attractive, but it is the strategies for economic recovery, for social reintegration, for keeping our youth focused and occupied which are even more important. The worst is yet to come, and never forget that when we lose sport and recreation, we disable critical levers of social interaction.

We do not possess the financial resources of large countries, cannot print money at will, and already burdened with everyday demands, are facing a huge challenge to both meet the demands of the COVID threat as well as to reboot our economies. It is a task which does not call for demagoguery and political division, one bigger than determining the outcome of the next elections. Our children’s future is at stake. Are we up to the task collectively, together?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.