It seemed that the worst of the coronavirus was behind us as countries around the world eased lockdown restrictions. However, it’s starting to look like that was just the beginning. And we’re now facing a second wave that could be significantly worse than the first.
When the COVID-19 pathogen began to garner attention in the news in January, it was nothing more than a mystery virus coming out of China. But then, as it started to move out of Wuhan to other parts of the most populous country on earth, we started to pay attention. Then, as it moved to South Korea, Taiwan, and other parts of South East Asia, it became clear that what we were calling the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was a highly contagious disease that had the potential to spread around the world.
Starting with Japan’s refusal to allow the cruise liner, the Diamond Princess, to dock in their harbours, it would soon turn into a crisis that required action from the highest levels of government. Fast forward a few months and just about every country in the world had closed down their borders and locked down their citizens. And then the debate turned to the economic consequences.
In America, the idea of mandating people to wear masks was considered an assault on democratic freedom and it wasn’t long until the rest of the world was up in arms about being forced to stay home. Rather than looking for smart solutions like moratoriums on debt repayments, we pressured our governments to re-open economies and ease social distancing measures.
Even though we knew what the science said, which was that lockdowns, hygiene and other measures to limit contact with other people was the only way to “flatten the curve”, we put faith in people to behave the right way and not to push the limits.
A new spike in cases
Even in Europe, one of the most socially responsible regions in the world, borders have been re-opened and people have gone back to work. For the opening weeks and months of the crisis, Europe had been hit harder than anyone else, but it would seem that it wasn’t scary enough.
Now, there are 12,000+ new cases throughout the continent in just the last two days. And, even the most responsible regions who handled the outbreak the best, such as Australia, are seeing a similar surge in cases. Between New Zealand and Australia, there have been 90 new cases reported in the last 48 hours. And earlier today, BBC reported that the lockdown Melbourne is returning and Al Jazeera estimates that 300,000 people will be staying home.
Elsewhere, India has seen a massive spike in new cases and deaths, with 467 people dying from their ailments yesterday alone. Worse yet, there were over 14,000 new cases reported across the African continent, with South Africa now surpassing Germany in total cases, – over 200,000 reported cases of coronavirus in Africa’s biggest economy, which happens to be home to millions of refugees from other parts of the continent.
And, of course, the worst case scenario for the devastating consequences of ignoring the ability for COVID-19 to utterly decimate a population comes in the form of none other than the land of the free and the home of the brave, the United States of America.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there are now more than 2.93 million cases throughout the country, with a death toll of over 130,000. While 4th of July celebrations went ahead this past weekend, with no social distancing observed whatsoever, even Texas has realised that it’s time to mandate wearing masks. Donald Trump himself seemed to be endorsing wearing a mask, despite being strictly opposed to it up until recently. However, the good news is that in New York, the epicentre where social distancing measures have been practiced, new cases are dropping significantly and it now has the lowest number of hospitalisations since March and is fast becoming the least infected part of the country.
Brazil has more than 1.6 million cases and more than 65,000 fatalities, which could very well prove to be the template for how bad COVID-19 could be for developing nations, such as those in Africa, who have been relatively better off than other parts of the world until now.
Quite simply, COVID-19 has not been taken seriously and we have been treating the restrictions as if they have not been imposed by government leaders in good faith. We’ve fallen for the trap of believing that the only way to sustain economic activity is through physical contact. We have forgone pursuing smart solutions to problems merely because we don’t have the mental dexterity to tackle cabin fever. We have collectively decided that money means more than lives. And, worst of all, we’ve underestimated this virus and we’re banking on the hope that a vaccine will soon be developed, which is not a certainty.
In short, we think that we’re starting to see the last throes of the coronavirus pandemic, but the truth is that it’s just getting started.