Covid – 19: We Can Choose our Path
TODAY THE ENTIRE world is facing a crisis of unimaginable proportions. A highly infectious pathogen to which we have no immunity, no cure, and no vaccine has raced across the world and brought great nations to their knees at a speed and scale without parallel in living memory.
At this very moment, Italy, one of the eight wealthiest countries in the world, lies prostrate against the fury of the virus. It is now reporting more deaths from Covid-19 than China. The country is completely locked down as its health system buckled and crashed as the tsunami of patients coming to the hospitals utterly overwhelmed their capacity to deliver health care to their people.
And yesterday, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States, declared that it is now on a war footing to confront this perilous threat.
St Vincent and the Grenadines, though possessing very little material wealth has the advantage of having relatively few international visitors, so the dreaded COVID-19 came to us only last week. We can therefore learn from the experience of nations who walked the path before and are now in full combat mode against this virus.
The truth is the virus is novel – and what we know about it is expanding every day. Only yesterday we learned new and critical information on the properties of the virus. It survives in the air for 30 minutes. It survives on cardboard for one day. It survives on other surfaces for three days. These emphasize the complete necessity of social distancing and following the basic hygienic practice of washing our hands frequently, preferably with soap – and not touching our faces.
In this regard the cases of Taiwan and South Korea are particularly instructive. They refused to panic. They put in place key defensive measures. Their authorities were transparent in making clear to their citizens the nature of the threat. They explained the reasons for the quarantine measures and other protective measures that they required of their people. And their people stayed disciplined – doing what was asked of them to protect human life.
What this crisis truly requires of us is the greatest act of citizenship – protect our fellow Vincentians while we protect ourselves. We are the greatest threat to each other. We must bear in mind that this virus is particularly treacherous. Eighty per cent of us who contract the virus will not show any symptoms. We will not know that we are carrying the virus. But we will transmit the virus to others who will not be that lucky. Twenty per cent of them will get sick and at least two percent could die within six weeks.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, with our population of 109,000, should Covid-19 take hold here, it would be difficult for our health care system to respond.
There is of course a different path – that of Taiwan and South Korea. They have demonstrated that in the fight against Covid-19 it is possible to break the rate of new infections, break the rate of deaths, and return normalcy to their populations. But it does mean that all Vincentians, young and old; policy makers as well as the ordinary man need to recognize that we are now engaged in a fight for our lives. We must stop the rate of the transmission of this virus. It can be done by prudent, cautious decision making by our leaders and by ordinary people committing themselves to the discipline of social distancing and exemplary hand and cough hygiene. We have no other choice.