• Saleem Qamar Butt

Dark and Bright Sides of Pandemics

A pandemic is the global outbreak of a disease. There are many examples in history, the most recent being the COVID-19(Corona Virus) pandemic, declared as such by the World Health Organisation on March 12, 2020. Pandemics are generally classified as epidemics first, which is the rapid spread of a disease across a particular region or regions. The Zika virus outbreak that began in Brazil in 2014 and made its way across the Caribbean and Latin America was an epidemic, as was the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016. A lot of conspiracy theories spread through social and electronic media with regards to origin and spread of Corona virus notwithstanding, COVID-19 began as an epidemic in China, before making its way around the world in a matter of months and becoming a horrifying pandemic, which till writing of this piece has taken more than 10000 lives while almost 300,000 people all over the globe have been infected. The satisfying news so far is that in a few weeks China has been able to control it to a great extent, while rest of the world is still struggling in a big panic.

The documented history of such malaise ironically starts with Prehistoric epidemic: Circa 3000 B.C. (about 5,000 years ago), when an epidemic wiped out a village in China. The history then runs us through Plague of Athens: 430 B.C., Antonine Plague: A.D. 165-180, Plague of Cyprian: A.D. 250-271, Plague of Justinian: A.D. 541-542, The Black Death: 1346-1353, Cocoliztli epidemic: 1545-1548, American Plagues: 16th century, Great Plague of London: 1665-1666, Great Plague of Marseille: 1720-1723, Russian plague: 1770-1772, Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic: 1793, Flu pandemic: 1889-1890, American polio epidemic: 1916, Spanish Flu: 1918-1920, Asian Flu: 1957-1958, AIDS pandemic and epidemic: 1981-present day, H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic: 2009-2010, West African Ebola epidemic: 2014-2016, and Zika Virus epidemic: 2015-present day. All these epidemics and pandemics caused varying human losses but panic spread due to COVID-19 is unprecedented mainly due to social and electronic media and leadership of major countries indulging in blame games instead of joining hands to defeat the monstrous virus.

A lot is being said about the COVID-19 by political leaders, bureaucrats, doctors, academia, religious teachers, cult leaders, media anchors and social media bloggers. Their postulations revolve around themes covering it as another form of biological warfare to undermine Chinese economic strides, another way to change leading global economic and socio-political system, wrath of God and a warning by The Almighty, God’s way of repairing planet earth and correcting wayward social system, punishment for eating forbidden food i.e. snakes, scorpions, monkeys, pigs, crocodiles, lizards and bats etc, consequences of remaining unclean and not praying to God enough, accidental leak from biological plant and a deliberate spread through covert form of warfare against opposing countries etc. While each pronouncement may have some reasons, logic or weight, however, none is considered the whole truth; especially when seen in the historical background of above mentioned epidemics or pandemics. The only valid comment remains, “this will also pass”; the extent of damage however will depend upon each country’s capacity, will and wholesome strategy to deal with this ghastly challenge. Te most important role for the leadership is not to allow spread of despair and panic while ensuring adherence to every possible measure at individual, community and national level to arrest contagion spread of this virus, which is very much curable as demonstrated by China. For Pakistan, effective check on all ground, sea and air transport entry points, thorough medical checkup, enforced quarantine in appropriate medically supervised places before allowing the incomers to move in every nook and corner of the country should have been a good start; but never too late.

Some analysts may believe that the economic repercussions of the corona virus pandemic must not be taken as an ordinary problem that macroeconomics can resolve or assuage. Rather, the world could be witnessing a fundamental shift in the very nature of the global economy. The immediate crisis is one of both supply and demand. Supply is falling because companies are closing down or reducing their workloads to protect workers from contracting COVID-19. Lower interest rates can’t make up the shortfall from workers who are not going to work; a lower interest rate would not make up lost supply in the following period. The supply shock is aggravated by a decrease in demand due to the fact that people are locked in, and many of the goods and services they used to consume are no longer available. Most of the airlines have been largely grounded, railways mostly reduced to minimum, other public transport plying at lowest, fuel demand greatly reduced resulting in lowering of oil prices, restaurants, shopping malls, entertainment places, parks etc are closed…..all contributing to unemployment and increase in poverty and hunger; thus problems of poor and developing countries are likely to be compounded beyond measure. Therefore, for at least next few months, countries may have to rely greatly on self sufficiency and on natural-economy instead of global economy or globalisation that is expected to creep back after some jolts and may be with changed shape, framework and stature in the global standing of leading countries. Above all, the human toll of the disease may be the most important cost and the one that could lead to societal breakdown. Those who are left jobless and without assets could easily turn against those who are better off. Already, such scenes as the recent escape of prisoners in Italy, prowling in some street of London or the looting that followed Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 might become humdrum. If governments have to resort to using paramilitary or military forces to quell, for example, riots or attacks on property, societies could begin to disintegrate. Therefore the wealthy countries and people will have to come forward to help the less privileged to make them survive and stand again on their feet in a much better and balanced society.

Although the enforced global lock-down may have colossal economic cost as already main stock exchanges of the world have crashed; yet, the repair of planet earth with regards to ecology and equally important enforced family reunion, which had been badly eroded by high-tech gadgets in the last almost three decades is a blessing in disguise. Praying to Almighty Allah, seeking forgiveness, refraining from eating forbidden foods and practices, adherence to high standards of hygiene and sanitation sounds like back to basics though, nevertheless badly needed by humanity in general.

21 March 2020

· Saleem Qamar Butt, SI (M), (R) is a senior Army officer with rich experience in International relations, military diplomacy and analysis of geo-political and strategic security issues. (Website: www.sqbutt.com )