As we write, governments around the world are scrambling to deal with the spread of the coronavirus, which has sickened at least 176,500 people worldwide and contributed to more than 7,350 deaths. These figures are likely to increase exponentially without the enforcement of stringent and effective measures. Canada shut its borders to anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident, while the European Union ordered a halt to all non-essential travel. The USA has declared a national emergency, restricted airline flights into the country, ordered restaurants, schools and businesses except grocery stores, pharmacies and banks closed and recommended limiting social gatherings to 10. In France, President Emmanuel Macron banned all social and family gatherings, placing the country in an unprecedented lockdown. A number of African countries —Kenya , Senegal , Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia have declared cases while others like Zimbabwe, Chad, Tanzania, Somalia , Ghana, Ivory Coast have instituted restrictions. South Africa has declared a state of disaster and so has The Philippines. These actions together with those in China, Italy, and Spain among others provide lessons learned and portray examples of epic struggles against an invisible enemy. All these jurisdictions have imposed restrictions of between 2-8 weeks duration. Cancellation of sports activities over the world, now threatens next Summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
COVID -19 and the Distinction between Global effects and Globalization
Prof Ian Goldin, at Oxford Centre of Globalization, likened the COVID-19 pandemic to a virulent form of globalization, even more so than the 2008 financial crisis that slowed down the world economy. In 2008, the world appeared much more unified, hence global models for stimulus packages were variably applied to reduce respective economies from total collapse. Yet it magnified the inequality among and within countries. While the financial crisis may have been due to globalization, the current pandemic is a global one. Deregulation was the source of the former crisis, mainly instigated in the developed countries, but with severe impact on developing countries, with least access to effective social safety nets. The slow down on the world economy in 2008 mostly affected the vulnerable and exacerbated inequality within and among countries. Persistent inequalities were fanned by the arteries of globalization. The projected effects of the coronavirus is much more devastating with domino effects across the globe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed COVID 19 a Pandemic. Its virulence as illustrated by the number of deaths and impending social and economic consequences, is compounded by the fact that it is both a public health and an economic emergency. It exposes the need for strengthening public health, better science, national unity, regional coordination, international solidarity and social support. These elements are required to ensure economic resilience during and after the passing of the Pandemic, whose timeline remains unpredictable.
Already England has announced a COVID Bill guaranteeing £300Bn of government assistance or 15% of GDP, to provide liquidity through support packages, business interruptions loan schemes and loan guarantees, especially for small businesses and the service sector including the airlines. It also includes mortgage holidays, employment support and cash grants to support the vulnerable groups. The USA has advocated US $850bn stimulus package to give relief to small businesses and affected industries like airlines and to support those in need.
"This enemy can be Deadly but not Unbeatable"
Prevalence of the infection is different in different states. The responses are in turn based on these differences. Enforcement of China’s draconian measures to quarantine whole cities for example, has resulted in a massive slowing down of the Coronavirus. Scientists around the world are proclaiming that from an epidemiological perspective, the earlier the action taken, the better the results. But the race to contain the virus is constrained by lack of a vaccine. While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has initiated trials this week, indications are that it will take at least a year to produce an immunological safe vaccine. Hence preventing the spread will be dependent on information based on the science and building the bonds of trust to manage the risks and achieve mitigation and containment. There is need for coherent policies as a Nudge to slow the trajectory of the virus.
Acknowledging Cuba's Effort and the role of CARPHA
What has emerged is an illustration of the ill effects to human development caused by the ideological divide. According to reports, Cuba produces a drug known as Interferon Alpha 2B, that could save thousands of lives in the COVID-19 pandemic. The drug has been produced in China since January 25 and, according to data from China, has managed to effectively cure more than 1,500 patients from the coronavirus. It is one of 30 drugs chosen by the Chinese National Health Commission to combat the respiratory disease and is currently been prescribed in Italy. The drug was first developed in 1986 by a team of researchers from the Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) and has benefited thousands of Cuban patients since its introduction into the national health system. It has been used as a treatment for HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, Herpes zoster or Shingles, Dengue and different types of cancers. The medication is said to increase the natural production of interferon in the human body and strengthens the immune system of patients, thus, is effective in treating the coronavirus disease. https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Cubas-Interferon-Alpha-2B-Successful-in-Treating-COVID-19-20200317-0015.html
Small island states in the Caribbean, most of which depend on tourism and other service industries, have commenced putting in place programs to prevent the spread of the virus. Chief among these are strengthening health systems, enacting policies based on scientific information, widespread public education and establishing mechanisms for enforcement. They are also considering sourcing supplies of Interferon Alpha 2B from Cuba as part of an overall strategy.
A regional approach is essential for identifying resources, sharing expertise, resisting the temptation for bilateral negotiations that distort regional efforts. It is to the benefit of CARICOM, that the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has become a lead institution in the implementation of the Caribbean Cooperation in Health. in collaboration with the Pan American Health Agency(PAHO). CARPHA has the capability to conduct the necessary tests on behalf of the entre Caribbean but in particular for those smaller islands without local laboratories and test kits. It therefore must be one of the priority institutions in which to invest as a cost effective measure for the Caribbean.
In fighting the contagion of COVID -19, the world is engaged in a war of a different kind. It is most likely to revolutionize the way we live, work and play. It may well be referred to as 'social distance-together'
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.