Editorial/Opinion

A new world order

We are living in extraordinary times, the likes of which were probably last seen during World War II in the 1940s.

The great majority of us were not around back then, unless you are in your 80s or 90s today to recall the gloom, fear, and anxiety that enveloped every aspect of life.

Today, even the smallest nations have closed their borders, global travel has come to a virtual standstill, and people across the world including here in Sri Lanka are being confined to their homes even as the list of countries on lockdown continues to grow.

We Sri Lankans have had our fair share of curfews and lockdowns during the 30-year-long war, two insurrections, communal riots, and more recently, during the Easter attacks last year. But all that pales into insignificance compared to what the world is witnessing today. In Italy, which lies at the heart of Europe, bodies are piling up by the thousands with mortuaries and cemeteries overwhelmed.

Germany, France, Spain, Greece, and the UK in continental Europe and the US across the Atlantic are now ticking human time bombs. With no vaccine or cure in sight at least over the next six months, only time will tell the human cost of the deadly Covid-19 global pandemic
that has brought both the powerful as well as the not so powerful to their knees.

The more powerful nations including China, where it all began, have invested trillions of dollars in building modern armouries and high-tech
weapons, but this pandemic has shown that they count for nothing when faced with a catastrophe of this nature.

This pandemic is not exactly a surprise; it had been prophesied and predicted millennia ago in the Bible, centuries ago by French astrologer Nostradamus, and even just five years ago by tech guru turned philanthropist Bill Gates, who predicted back in 2015 that the next war will not be fought with weapons, but in hospitals. He predicted that a viral pandemic was at hand and is on record asking people to prepare for it. He however stopped short of saying
whether it will be in the form of biological warfare and if so, who the main actors will be.

As is to be expected, theories are aplenty as to how the coronavirus came about notwithstanding the version about its origin from a meat market in Wuhan. With China facing the brunt of the trade war with the US, it is being speculated by keyboard theorists that it was just a matter of time before China hits back.

US President Donald Trump’s stoic refusal to call the pandemic any other name but the “Chinese virus” has further helped fuel the
rumour mill. In response, Chinese media is now becoming increasingly vocal in asserting that the virus is in fact an American invention thrust upon China during the latter part of 2019.

Whatever the claims and counterclaims may be, the fact of the matter is that the fuse has been lit. The way things are, no nation is likely to be spared with 172 countries reporting cases as of yesterday. Like many world leaders, Trump, until a week ago, lived in denial that a catastrophic issue was at hand and simply dismissed the rapidly building crisis as fake news propagated by the Democrats to destroy Wall Street. The rest of the world could not help but simply look on in disbelief. His indifference however changed dramatically when reality hit home early last week as cities in the US began recording multiple Covid-19 cases.

Now, just days later, the most powerful nation on earth is at a defining point in its history as it stands on the cusp of what could be its greatest challenge since World War II.

Back home, although the initial reaction to the pandemic was Trump-like, with the infected numbers rising on a daily basis, authorities finally saw the writing on the wall and ordered a two-day curfew last Friday (20). We will have to wait and see whether it was too little too late, but the conduct and behaviour of the so-called 90%-plus literate citizens has certainly not helped the cause.

Meanwhile, the authorities here were searching for the overseas returnees who had gone into hiding to avoid being quarantined. The irresponsible and disgusting conduct of these people even warranted comment from the President himself.

The media – both state and private – have been in overdrive cautioning people on the dos and don’ts in order to curtail the spread of the deadly virus. Yet, many people simply do not seem to care and have been going about their daily routines as if nothing had happened. Taking advantage of the “work from home” order and the free travel allowed on trains, hundreds of people have gone on trips and picnics and even pilgrimages to Adam’s Peak where the Head Priest of the temple has defied government requests to shut down.

This resulted in the Police having to block access routes to the sacred mountain and turn away people arriving at the Hatton railway station.
If this was bad enough, people have been thronging Sathosa outlets in the thousands with no precautions whatsoever, to take advantage of the price reduction in tinned fish and dhal. Their logic – to hell with the virus, let us save a few rupees. Comically, when a curfew was announced, people were seen lining up at fuel stations too. But what took the cake was a “corona dansala”, where a herbal concoction was being distributed to ward off the virus. No doubt the same cups were used to serve many people.

With a deadly virus in the air, a great number of people have chosen to ignore warnings for their own protection. What to do, one might ask?

The primitive thinking and irresponsible conduct of some citizens will bring to nought all the hard work and stringent measures being implemented by the Government and security forces.

The authorities seem to be well aware that although they have more or less managed to locate and isolate the great majority of those who arrived in the country since 1 March and identified their immediate family members, the danger is that there are hundreds more who have been exposed to those persons.

Therefore, the personnel they interacted with at the airport, banks, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, shops, malls, taxi drivers, etc. are now potential carriers of the virus. They in turn have interacted with their own families and friends which would mean a much wider circle of possible carriers. Which is why a lockdown was the only sure way to tackle the crisis.

The Government, for its part, needs to ensure that the curfew is strictly enforced and that essential supplies such as fuel, gas, rice, vegetables, and other commodities are available in the required quantities when the curfew is lifted. The last thing that is needed now is for people to fight over supplies. With many of the supermarkets running out of stocks and countries from which supplies are sourced now in lockdown, this might prove to be a challenge, but the Task Force which has done a good job so far must ensure steady supplies. It must also ensure the uninterrupted supply of utilities such as water, electricity, and telecommunications.

Despite the gloom, there is a beneficiary from the global pandemic and that is planet Earth. For the first time in decades, the planet has been provided breathing space with factories shut down; cars, boats, ships, and planes, lying idle; and people confined to their homes. One thing is for sure, when the virus is finally conquered and things begin to return to normal, it will be a new normal. The world as we once knew it would have changed permanently. Global and local economies will never be the same again with millions out of business and out of work. A new world order is in the making. Who will take the lead, is the trillion-dollar question.