The world after coronavirus
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 26, 2020 - 12:00am

There are two contrasting models emerging on how to handle the coronavirus pandemic. There is the Chinese model of total lockdown and leveraging its authoritarian government to impose the necessary discipline. While this model may seem successful, its results have been thousands of deaths and given rise to opposition to the Xi Jinping methods. There are reports that when Xi visited Wuhan, officials wanted him to be greeted like a conquering hero with accolade. The report said that the Wuhan residents rebelled and refused to participate.

The other model is the South Korean model in a country with a functioning democracy. This model has been described as one of open information, public participation, widespread testing and rigid tracing. South Korea has conducted around 10,000 tests a day which is faster than any other country’s record. Its total population is 51,000,000. The country can carry out 15,000 diagnostic tests a day. The most important thing is that they have sufficient supply of needed medical supplies including testing kits.

In order to encourage participation in the tests, there is a charge of $134 for each test. However, the tests are free for suspected patients which include people linked to confirmed cases or those who test positive. There are more than 500 designated testing clinics including over 40 drive-through facilities that minimize contact between patients and medical workers.

Once a person is considered infected, the government is able to track the person’s movement during the preceding 14 days through credit card use, CCTV footage and mobile phone records. These are also posted on government websites, with text message alerts sent to people when a new infection emerges in the area where they live or work.

This practice has raised privacy concerns; but, it has also encouraged people in areas identified with infections to come forward for checks.

The WHO Director General has also said that a lockdown can slow the spread of the  coronavirus; but, the ultimate solution is “test, isolate, track.” This essentially is the core of the South Korean model. At one time, it had 7,755 cases which was the fourth highest total in the world but only 60 deaths which is well below the WHO’s global average.

Readers will, of course, tell me that this model is impossible to implement here. First we do not have the medical supplies like testing kits sufficient for massive testing. Second, prioritization of testing will not be followed as politicians continue to insist that their families should have priority in testing. Tracing may also be difficult because we do not have the necessary technology. I am writing about this model to say that the right model is not China but South Korea. Again, if we can  do massive testing, then we will know whom to isolate and the rest of the population can go back to normal life.

After coronavirus

Yuval Noah Harari is more than just a historian. He is read by most of the opinion makers in the world today. He is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Homo Deus: A brief History of Tomorrow; 21 Lessons for the 1stt Century.

In a recent issue of the Financial Times there was an article entitled Yuval Noah Harari: the world after coronavirus. This article is so critical because of Harari’s opening statement: “This storm will pass. But the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come...Humankind is now facing a global crisis. The decisions people want governments take in the next few weeks will probably  shape the world for years to come. They will shape not only how to overcome the threat, not only  just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. We should also take into account the long term consequences of our actions. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive – but we will inhabit a different world.”

In this time of crisis, Harari says two important choices will have future consequences. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The first is nationalist isolation versus global solidarity.

During this pandemic some governments have pushed the use of technology to the limit for monitoring people and punishing those who break the rules. Everyone will immediately think of China and Russia who will  not hesitate to  use dictatorial methods. However, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu authorised the Israeli Security Agency to deploy anti terrorist surveillance technology to track coronavirus patients. When parliament refused to authorise the measure, Netanyahu rammed it through as an “emergency”.

The question is whether this surveillance technology will be legalised even after the pandemic.

In previous global crises, the United States was the global leader. Unfortunately, China is still distrusted by much of the world. The world must find another way to achieve global cooperation. Harari says: “  We also need a global effort to produce and distribute medical equipment most notably testing kits and respiratory  machines.”

Harari asks a vital question. Will humanity take the path of global disunity or global solidarity?

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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