The new killer has grabbed people’s attention. It has become the main concern of officials and health authorities around the globe.
It is not the first time the world has faced such a murderer. What is new is that its crimes are committed in our modern era.
If the new Coronavirus appeared half a century ago, things would be different. Its victims could have been hunted amid strict official secrecy. The epidemic would not be revealed, neither to citizens nor to the world.
Perhaps we would have read stories about it decades later, in diaries of people who lived through its fears and hid its details in their papers.
But we live in another era, where there is no room for secrets. The little spy phone is an international reporter. A brief picture or message is enough to show the entire world what is happening in a forgotten faraway village.
The world of silence no longer exists. All secrets are posted on the internet. But what is terrifying is that social media has also opened the way for rumors, exaggerations, and scenarios of intimidation and misinformation.
Streams of messages and videos flow around the clock. Their validity and accuracy are very difficult to verify, especially when it comes to a pandemic, which laboratories have not yet succeeded in understanding its source and its treatment methods.
Humanity cannot be blamed for worrying about it. The story began in Wuhan, China, but soon proved to be very dangerous. Every day, a new victims’ list is published.
As in thriller stories, every day, information and rumors emerge about the virus infiltrating a new location.
It is enough to hear the story of the Diamond Princess, which was put in quarantine off the Japanese coast, and was considered the main center of the epidemic outside China. Much will be written later on the suffering of those who died in hospitals, of those who waited for death in their homes, and others who transmitted the infection to members of their families.
The virus unleashed a state of unprecedented panic, despite the harshness of wars and conflicts in various parts of the world. Fear prevailed at airports, trains and ships, and in schools, universities, and hospitals.
Governments felt the pressure of painful news. Thus, flights were canceled, and certain nationalities were not allowed to enter. Sports matches have been postponed until further notice.
The spread of the virus revealed the fragility of the world. It does not need a fierce war to drown in anxiety. Fear doubled when the new killer emerged in other countries, such as South Korea, Iran, Italy, and others.
It was a tough exam for these countries’ health infrastructure. The World Health Organization moved quickly, providing capabilities and means, but the confrontation ultimately depends on the readiness of each country and its ability to provide a rapid response to the “number-one enemy.”
The Coronavirus has caused huge economic losses so far, especially as it originated from China – the “world’s factory”. Losses in industry, commerce, and tourism will hit Italy, then Iran. The virus has also caused traumatic scenes in a world of exchange, travels, and inter-relations: a passenger refused to sit next to a Chinese on a plane or train; a citizen of a faraway country refused to go to the Chinese restaurant he used to visit frequently… The virus has created a state of isolation around individuals and among countries.
But a tormenting question is raised: If a country with China’s capabilities is unable to contain the virus quickly, what would happen if the epidemic broke out in a war-torn state or with few capabilities and old institutions? What happens, for example, if the new killer appears in refugee camps that do not already have the minimum level of health care to cope with regular illnesses? What if the world had to live for months with news on the virus proliferation and the increasing number of victims?
The first message that must be assimilated is the need for governments to empower institutions that defend the lives of people, i.e. health institutions, firefighting services, and civil defense, and every organization concerned with dealing with epidemics and disasters of all kinds.
No task is more vital than protecting the lives of people. It is evident that a lot of money that governments spend in less important areas must be directed to strengthening these institutions to enable them to save those infected or threatened.
It is crucial that the world raise its voice, warning of the danger of the new killer, and for the media to contribute to awareness, warning, and guidance, and for everyone to conclude that our planet is more interconnected than ever, and that the arteries of the global village are intertwined.
It is a state of human solidarity that offers some consolation, at a time when identity crises are spreading, and many people are digging the wells of hatred and intolerance.
Despite the prevailing panic, it is important to be realistic. The new killer is not the big killer. Its figures are very modest, compared to the outcome of the bloody wars in our countries…The wars of eroded states, perforated maps, interventions, and violations...
The new Coronavirus is a hideous killer, but the scale of its crimes does not rise to the size of the massacres that terrorize our countries.
If only the world would raise its voice against the waves of hatred and open human slaughterhouses and the arrogant policies that spilled blood over broken countries…
*Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper