2020 has been contested to be the dawn of a new decade or otherwise. The year has started for the rest of the world with so much expectation and projections as usual. Whilst the universe except for WUHAN, the capital of Hubei province, the largest and most populous city in Central China, was basking in the euphoria of a brand-new Gregorian year, this industrial city in China was contending with a deadly pandemic. The rest of the world was sequestered. Who would have thought in weeks to come, that the world will pause and also be in self-isolation?
The internet, social media, television and all channels of human communication is now awash with the pundits, opinion leaders, political leaders, scholars, accidental scientists, conspiracy theorists and religious leaders pushing various propaganda, theories, postulations and hypotheses.
Yes, it happens every century! In 1720, it was the great plague of Marseille(black death) – 100,000 casualties. Sequentially in 1820, it was the Asiatic Cholera pandemic with 100,000 deaths. Of course, 1920 Spanish Influenza that recorded about 100 million deaths has become a sudden referral point. A century after, we now have the vicious CoronaVirus – Covid-19 to contend with. A quick review of the chronology confers perfection to the ordering by these accidental historians whilst forgetting a bouquet of pandemics that have ravaged mankind since the onset of the 15th century and even earlier. These self-acclaimed internet sensationalists and data curators will always produce a rhyme. It happens every century. From the Black death of 1353 to the Persian plague of 1793 with over 2 million deaths, mankind has always been challenged by these pandemics. The 19th and 20th century also bore witness to an assemblage of epidemics with substantial mortality rate – 1915 Lethargica(Sleeping sickness) pandemic with over a million fatalities, to the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic with over 32 million deaths till date.
The dawn of the millennium also has added its own affidavit to the unending list of global health challenges. A quick pick shows that we had SARS(Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in the early 2000’s, the swine flu of 2009 and “our own Ebola virus” epidemic which claimed over 11,000 lives across the years. Humanity has always contended with various pathogens for existence. The quick fix Historians and internet mavericks may be wrong in placing these events in a centenary chronology. This myth of, it happens every century may be deceptive as each of these listed pandemics has presented as novel and defied science and research till man conquers or ameliorates its effect. COVID – 19 will not be an exception.
It has also been given a shroud of religiosity. It must be the wrath of God(god) on mankind. This must be the long prophesied ‘mors perpetua’ in reality. Pastors, Prophets, Imams have made prodigious declarations of the cause and effect of this pandemic even the cessation date. The ‘Basilica Sancti Petri’ and St. Peters square is bereft of the usual sea of heads, the obligatory Umrah pilgrimages to Makkah and Medina is suspended, our locally celebrated largest auditoriums are all empty! Sports is also not isolated from this enigma – Olympics, Euro, leagues across nations have also been suspended. History is being written, Wimbledon, my favourite grand slam has been put off for the first time since the second world war.
The conspiracy continues. Initially the virus was developed by the USA to distort China as part of the ongoing battle of supremacy – trade war. Now that the USA is fast becoming the epicentre of the pandemic, the theorists have somersaulted to attribute it to be biologically developed in labs in China to displace the USA as the world’s leading country and largest economy. Maybe they are correct. China only shut down WUHAN the epicentre of the virus without impact on Beijing and Shanghai, today 206 countries/ territories are on lock down. What a mystery? Today Chinese cities are reopening, and the global supply chain is anxiously waiting for its vital medical supplies – face masks, PPE, test kits to rescue the dying in various ICU’s. Is the world shutting down with China as the only open market now? But these kits are failing with accuracy below 30% as seen in several countries – Spain, Czech Republic etc. Should they be trusted as several activists are preparing litigation against them for hiding this pandemic. Had China won the purported 3rd world war without firing a missile, my pundit friends may have gotten some positives on this one anyway.
The soothsayers continue with their reel of conjectures. Like Nostradamus, the man who saw tomorrow, the Corona virus has been foretold by the American Writer, Dean Koontz in his 1981 thriller – The Eyes of Darkness. According to these online conspiracy theorists, Dean predicted the killer virus “WUHAN – 400” which they uncannily linked to Covid – 19. They also impishly failed to juxtapose the symptoms as foregrounded by Dean in his book. Do they share similarities, or the internet sensationalists oversee the orchestra as usual? What really is their motive, instil fear or share and distribute knowledge? As they say in Africa, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, a 2018 teen Netflix movie ‘My Secret Terrius’(episode 10) predicted the novel CoronaVirus. As expected, these conspiracy theorists have eerily marked a nexus with the rampaging Covid – 19. Maybe these make-shift, junk data scientists are correct. What do I know?
Our dear mongers have also attempted to awoken the spirit of Robert Nesta Marley aka Bob Marley by attributing that this pandemic was foretold in one of his hit tracks of the 1977 album(Exodus) – Natural Mystic.
Cities, towns and hamlets are on lock down. Our lexicon has new appendages – ‘social distancing, self isolation, flatten the curve’. We have espoused new ways of life – I had to wash my hands to enter my usual local grocery store. We have all been condemned to house arrest. Suddenly, the occupants of this sleepless universe have become eremites, social coenobites. In the legendary Fela Kuti’s voice, ‘confusion everywhere’.
Apothecaries and Physicians are in disarray. The most standardised and certified laboratories and scientists are helpless. The morgues are fast sating with corpses, the crematorium is overheating! The frailty of humanity is being exposed. The fortune 500 companies whose executives never sleep as all calls/emails must be responded briskly are suddenly suffocating. Those historic meetings and MOU signings with Camera click which must not be missed not even for family event/child graduation are helplessly put off – indefinite. The rounds of sleepless financial markets are brazenly mute. The terrorist is suddenly not bombing. No missile or rocket launcher is suddenly being fired. The heat of global and local politics as well as the usual threat of war has suddenly been extinguished. Is this a way to achieve a pseudo world peace or is what is stronger than the cricket visiting it in its hole? Who paused the world? This our round the clock global village that we claim cannot stop for anything. What cannot be seen with our naked eyes has exposed the weakness of man.
Whichever came – CoronaVirus or “Covikk One Nine”, has tested our collective resolve, response and leadership. Whilst the situation has thrown up leaders who have resolved not to be drowned by this unseen guest, it has also exposed the gross inadequacy and neglect of our healthcare system. This pandemic has again reminded humanity of its closely compartmentalised existence. Even though we continue to distance each other through the creation of judicial boundaries, our existence is physiologically entwined. From Wuhan thousands of miles away, to the fissures of the Sahel in Northern Nigeria, how did it get there? While the daily briefings, speeches and response plans has laced our Tv screens, some of them has indeed been insightful. From Andrew Cuomo’s daily response plan to the raging Corona pandemic in New York whose briefings has been described as ‘lessons of leadership’ to the White house and down to our own Babajide, This Virus after all has suddenly created demonstrative and empathetic leadership. Asides from the subnational government of Lagos, it seems we have a lifeless centre locally(Nigeria) here. The sheer disbelief in their capacity is manifested in the transmission of the influential Abuja patients to the now acclaimed healing land – Lagos.
My dear friends, whether it is curse from the Almighty(doubt if He punishes his own),deliberate laboratory invention or error, centurion plaque, prophesy, power play, supremacy battle or natural occurrence, humanity is in unison of the undeniable truth, that the world is currently at war with an unseen enemy. Whether we adopted it as CoronaVirus or plagiarised it locally(Nigeria) as “Covikk One Nine”, the existence of the human ecosystem has been evaded by a Black Swan. Leaders(religious, political, scientific etc) have responded with a dogged fight as the domineering character of creation. In the worlds of Winston Churchill in his historic speech to the House of Commons during the battle of France in the second world war – “we shall never surrender”. Even with other pandemics that till date has defied cure, humanity will never surrender in this conquest. The world has responded and is still responding to this battle.
As Georges Clemenceau noted during the first world war – “war is too important to be left to the Generals”. The response of the organised private sector and public-spirited individuals has been phenomenal. The staggering donations and the terrific erection of infrastructure(within days) has renewed hope of survival whilst underpinning the endemic failure of successive regimes/governments. Should we continue to leave governance in the hands of these charlatans or involve these young dynamic private sector moguls/ captains who have successfully built and managed multi-billion-dollar corporations. Some of the clinics we have budgeted billions over the years cannot even boost an antiquated ventilator.
Eventually, Coronavirus will be over sooner than expected and life will strive to restart, but the scars will be a festering sore for some years to come. The lessons/impact will overwhelmingly create another round of glitziness – analysis paralysis. Strategy formulation for post-corona economic survival will dominate the consulting space in the next few years. The top tier consulting firms will sign multi-million-dollar contracts for advisory services on post corona survival strategies for firms. The various stimuli disbursement will of course be managed. Every crisis presents golden opportunities indeed.
Indeed, Corona has brought tremendous change in our lifestyle. It has indeed taken so much from us. According to the words of the WHO DG, Dr Tedrous Ghebreyesus, it has also given us something special, the opportunity to come together as one humanity, to work together, to learn together, to grow together.
The ineptitude and (in)sincerity of our leadership has been exposed. Unfortunately for them, they cannot take the usual trip to state-of-the-art hospitals in the UK/USA to check their blood pressure. There is nowhere to run to anymore. As said in the local parlance, ‘we die here’ has come into manifestation. Even those health havens are overwhelmed not to talk of the non-existent medical infrastructure in our dear country. According to Madiba, “real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people”. We either build health infrastructure or we perish together. For the first time in this country, if a top government official falls and strains a toe, he/she will have to remain and be treated in this country. The private sector must rethink their CSR strategy and deploy more towards real institutions/infrastructure for humanity. You are as strong as your weakest link.
The concept of work is also being redefined by this Pandemic. As the Labour leader asked, “who are we least able to do without in a crisis, the refuse collector or the billionaire hedge fund manager”. Who is actually doing more for our society at this very moment? The millionaire sports icon or health officials in the frontline. We need to re-evaluate our classification of work and begin to value and respect the contributions of our ‘supposedly’ low skill labour. These uncelebrated workers have proven to be the most essential for our existence. Employers of labour must also start implementing the age-old rhetoric of work- from-home. Though not optimal, a lot of organisations have been working from home since this pandemic. Businesses have not collapsed. I experienced temporary glitch with my internet service provider yesterday and the issue was resolved within minutes by a work-from-home mother and IT engineer. Did she really need to increase the traffic density of Lagos with its attendant health stress by travelling daily from Ikeja to Victoria island in Lagos?
Fame, position, pedigree and wealth are suddenly worthless. Life is indeed vanity upon vanity. Some spouses have argued that this period will heal their strained relationship. That may of course be debatable though the credit of the most important resource, time is of their great advantage. Unfortunately, if your relationship is not fundamentally healthy, this season may or may not help much as you may be quarantined under the same roof, but self-isolated from each other.
Social distancing will only impede the spread of the virus but will not provide the much desired victory of this war. Discovery of the vaccine is the only assurance of a cure to this epidemic. Presently there are firms in the clinical trial stage of the vaccine with over 40 firms still at the preclinical stage. We can only patiently wait for that Eureka moment.
Businesses and economies will soon reopen. China may reopen the city of WUHAN by April 8th and Donald Trump has alluded to kick starting the economy. Though hard choices, economy vs public health emergencies will be laid analogous to each other. Covid-19 is after all not a death sentence especially in persons with no underlying health conditions and non-geriatrics. This age bracket constitutes over 80% of the active workforce. Various economies have provided billions and trillions of various economic stimuli, this must be recovered from taxpayers viz an active and productive economy. Labour managers may not continue to pay salaries for staff that work from home in such an isolated and passive economy. Most of these managers are capitalist after all!
While the effort, rhetoric, response and bailout continue across the world, human life is being lost and the challenge and risk factor of the virus is still very high. We can only trust that the high level of hygiene is continuously imbibed post-Corona and the lessons cause a change in our society and humanity in general. It is now obvious that we can live without some things we thought were indispensable.
Stay safe and observe the health guidelines.