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The End of the Beginning?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 16, 2020 11:16

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The struggle against COVID 19 is not a war. That leads to inappropriate actions and responses.However, wartime rhetoric and experience may well inspire and guide in these times.

It was in the dark days of war when Winston Churchill told the British Parliament and Commonwealth: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The present crisis has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The world should have been prepared; warnings should have been heeded. In the belated struggle to prepare it is tempting to ask who was at fault. It is human, and futile, to seek scapegoats. Delicate, overgeared economies falter, exposing potential workers and clients to destitution. This is the time for real leadership, to draw together the resources available, to plan.

South Africa started early, imposing a draconian lockdown and drastic economic measures. Mobilization of some 60, 000 community health workers to screen cases bought valuable time. Machines to test for TB were repurposed to test for Coronavirus. Soldiers were called up to enforce the lockdown.

Cape Town suburbs rioted against lockdown. Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Of course there were problems: Communities defied the lockdown. Hard-handed actions by gun-toting security forces accounted for as many deaths in the first days of  the virus. Major hospitals were contaminated and had to be partially closed down. Scientists and the manufacturing community responded by retro-designing ventilators and protective equipment. Astronomers were appointed to coordinate scientific and manufacturing efforts, a domestic appliance manufacturer distributed thousands of ventilators, and an arms manufacturer produced ambulances.

Some try to use the crisis to further their ideological agendas. Marxists in the government refuse approaches to the IMF and World Bank for funding but are ready to seek loans from China and Russia. Race-based bailout measures for businesses were proposed.

This is only the beginning. As we brace ourselves for the expected peak in September, scientists linked into global networks are developing treatment and vaccines, effective treatment protocols, and medicines, resilient systems. Manufacturers coordinate supplies and transport with counterparts all over the world. Economists compare policies, matching measures with the rest of the financial world for the largest peacetime deployment of public finance in history. They know hunger kills more people than the virus. A new global economy must develop to avoid exclusion of people. Health systems must become resilient to prevent pools of infection in poor communities.

Gangsters lend money to the destitute to create new networks where governments fail. Dictatorship rears its head. Health surveillance threaten democracy.

And the end? A global response to future pandemics, to avoid the piecemeal preparation and reaction that has cost thousands of lives is essential. A global economic Marshall Plan is being devised to restart and coordinate the global machine. Local resilience and sourcing must develop to take into account environmental concerns.

 Never has so many people owed so much to so few medical staff worldwide, who, often with inadequate equipment, are trying to save countless lives. Let it be acknowledged (to paraphrase Churchill): This is their finest hour.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 16, 2020 11:16

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Source: The Guardian

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