Thailand’s COVID-19 response is an example of resilience and solidarity: A UN coordinator’s blogCOLOMBO, Sri Lanka, November 10th (IPS) – SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has spread worldwide spread exponentially over the past ten or so months. There were 49,195,581 cases of COVID-19, including 1,241,031 deaths, on November 6, according to the Center for Systems Science at Johns Hopkins University.
More than a third of the world’s population has been locked up. The world economy is in its deepest global recession since World War II, and large numbers of people are losing their livelihoods and are suffering serious physical and mental health effects.
The pandemic has allowed states and companies to step up technological surveillance and authoritarianism, curtail privacy and democratic protest. As a virulent second and even third wave of the pandemic speed in various countries, people are gripped by fear and despair about their own survival and the future of humanity.
The origin and prevention of the virus are mired in controversy and conflict between conventional and conspiracy theories.
However, this unprecedented, multi-faceted global crisis requires deeper investigation and broader discourse on its causes and long-term solutions. Biomedicine, social sciences, and ecological and ethical perspectives must be integrated in order to overcome this pandemic as well as other pandemics predicted in the coming years.
Controversy about origin and prevention
Given the lack of media coverage, there is little public awareness of the likely laboratory causes of previous pandemics such as the H1N1 outbreak of 1977-78. The world’s scientific and media institutions attribute the origin of COVID-19 to an animal-to-human (i.e. zoonosis) transmission at a fish market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
While US intelligence sources originally claimed the same, they admitted in March 2020 that the pandemic may have been due to a leak from the laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
The Wuhan Institute is affiliated with the U.S. Army’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which conducts research and testing on bats and coronaviruses, as well as gene-editing biological weapons.
The Wuhan Institute also has a close, decade-long partnership with the US Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Maryland, the leading US military laboratory for research in the field of “biological defense”. USAMRID is known for periodic shutdowns due to its troublesome records of safety procedures.
In Gain-of-Function Research (GOF), “viruses are manipulated in the laboratory to investigate their potential to infect humans”. This type of research has been criticized by many scientists on ethical grounds because of the accidental release risks GOF viruses pose to human health. In October 2014, on public health grounds, the US government banned all federal funding from efforts to “weaponize three viruses”: influenza, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Given this US ban, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), reportedly outsourced GOF research on bat coronavirus to China’s Wuhan laboratory in 2015 and obtained licensed US government funding for the laboratory to continue. ”
In early 2018, officials from the US Embassy in China raised concerns about “insufficient safety” at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. US science diplomats warned that the research the lab was conducting on bats “posed a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic” in part due to the lack of adequate security guards.
No action was taken, however, and despite the controversy, Dr. Fauci has been appointed and continues to serve in the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force’s lead physician.
Hollywood films like Contagion 2011 presented eerie premonitions of COVID-19. In 2015, Bill Gates, billionaire and advocate of global population control, warned of a major threat from a global pandemic.
A pandemic simulation called Event 201 was conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in October 2019. The World Economic Forum forecast up to 65 million deaths from coronavirus.
However, the global biomedical, political and business executives who were aware of the impending Covid pandemic have not taken the necessary precautions to keep people safe. The United States, Europe, and other countries did not have appropriate test kits, respirators, hospital beds, and medical staff when the virus began to spread.
A failure of leadership lies behind the massive destruction of human, livelihood, and social life that we are witnessing today.
Controversy over mitigation
While lockdowns, curfews and the isolation of entire communities and regions seem to be the norm, the effectiveness of this approach and its huge negative economic, social and mental health consequences come into question.
The success of the mainstream approach depends on a variety of local socio-economic factors, such as the age of the population, health infrastructure, leadership, the mobilization of people and the fair, uniform and compassionate enforcement of preventive measures.
Duplicate standards in enforcing Covid health protocols can fuel resentment and weaken overall compliance, putting the health and safety of entire populations at risk. Apparently, under strict Covid guidelines in Australia, some people have been prevented from visiting dying family members, while at the same time VIPS and celebrities have been exempted from strict quarantine measures.
Likewise, high-profile delegations from China and the United States (led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo) arrived in Sri Lanka in the middle of the deteriorating second wave in October 2020 and appeared to be dispensing with national Covid guidelines.
Many countries in the global south such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Senegal and Rwanda have contained the pandemic more successfully than the United States and rich European countries.
On November 1, Rwanda and Senegal reported 0.28 and 2.04 Covid deaths per 100,000 people, respectively, while the corresponding number for the US is a staggering 70.4.
The vast majority of those infected recover easily, and only the elderly and people with other pre-existing illnesses are most susceptible. So far, on November 6, 32,368,883 have recovered from a total of 49,195,581 confirmed cases.
Given this reality, many epidemiologists propose “targeted protection” of the most vulnerable groups so that the rest of the population can develop “herd immunity”. the point at which the majority of a population becomes immune and limits the spread to those who are not immune.
Sweden is the leading example of a country breaking the global norm of mandatory lockdown, social distancing and use of face masks. Sweden saw many more cases and deaths during the first wave of the pandemic than its Scandinavian neighbors.
However, Sweden saw relatively fewer deaths in the current second wave, while other Scandinavian and European countries that had strict lockdowns at the start of the pandemic have seen massive infections and deaths.
Given the relative failures of the mainstream lockdown approach and its negative socio-economic and psychological impact, alternative long-term approaches such as the Swedish one should be considered.
A May 2020 report by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in the US suggested the COVID-19 outbreak will not end until 60% to 70% of the human population becomes immune to the virus, which is between 18 and May take 24 months.
Meanwhile, many virologists and world leaders argue that the only way to eradicate the virus is to “get it to everyone” as soon as possible. Pharmaceutical companies are now scrambling to provide a vaccine, the miracle cure to end the pandemic, and a highly profitable one.
However, there is no certainty that a vaccine against COVID-19 will be as effective as previous vaccines against viruses such as smallpox.
The Gates Foundation, which has funded the UK’s Pirbright Institute, which is currently working on a vaccine against COVID-19, will benefit from the vaccine commercialization. Bill Gates is requesting a “digital certificate” to identify individuals receiving the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine.
These certificates are backed by a massive organization called ID2020 and are designed to provide access to other social and economic rights and services. Mass vaccination to eradicate COVID-19 is seen as an opportunity to launch a global digital ID, and ID2020 is already testing one in Bangladesh that is “biometrically linked” to fingerprints.
According to reports, MIT, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is also investigating a “covert way of embedding a vaccination record directly into a patient’s skin” – a so-called “quantum dot tattoo”.
What would happen to those who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or other mandatory, possibly gene-altering vaccines in the future? Are they denied access to essential services and excluded from society?
Does the research and practice, such as gain-of-function research and bio-weapon development, introduced in the name of disease prevention pose a greater threat than it does to protect human and planetary life?
And how are the unprecedented changes in human behavior this year with increasing reliance on artificial intelligence undermining ancient patterns of human connection with nature and with one another?
Regardless of political and cultural differences, the emerging economic power of China is pursuing the same growth-driven development model as the declining Euro-American alliance. The pandemic has brought to light the dangers of this technology and market-oriented system.
While conventions against biological weapons and bans on functional gain research and the like are necessary, the multifaceted Covid crisis requires a fundamental change in the global military-industrial system.
A crisis is a turning point, an opportunity for change. In order to understand where and how to turn, more and more people need to question the values of the prevailing globalization paradigm, including how to manage the Covid crisis.
How did prioritizing unbridled economic growth over environmental sustainability and human wellbeing contributed to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic? How have deforestation, climate change, and human expansion into other animal habitats contributed to easier transmission of viruses between species?
How has the pollution of the earth’s water, air and soil from industrialized agriculture and militarism resulted in human immunity being weakened and susceptibility to new viruses and diseases increased?
How did the dependence on the globalized import and export economy during the Covid crisis lead to massive job losses and a shortage of essential foods and medicines?
It is time to develop a more balanced, ecological way of life that respects the environment, supports bioregionalism and supports local communities. More and more people are questioning the prevailing notions of success and development and are switching to agroecology, community-based and healthier ways of life.
These developments need to be complemented by calls for more transparency, ethics and accountability in the use of technology, particularly biotechnology and vaccines against COVID-19 and other viruses.
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic makes people more sensitive to the fragility and insecurity of life and our physical and emotional networking with one another and with the rest of nature.
The crisis can teach us to overcome fear, excessive greed and individualism and to develop compassion for the suffering of humanity and other ways of life. It offers the opportunity to overcome despair and powerlessness, to jointly challenge oppressive political and economic structures and to steer the world in a fairer, more ecological and healthier direction.
* Asoka Bandarage’s new book, Colonialism in Sri Lanka, examines the political economy of 19th century British Ceylon and includes a discussion of the neo-colonialism that has followed and continues. It will be available here as an e-book or paperback from September 14th
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