The world is in trouble but…
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - March 10, 2020 - 12:00am

As of March 8, 2020, worldwide infection of the COVID-19 has exceeded 106,000, with more than 3,600 deaths. This is a death rate of 3.4 percent, assuming all the countries are reporting correctly and/or they have adequate testing equipment and adequately tested a correct random sample. While China was the origin and still have the most infected and fatalities, the virus has spread to more than 90 countries and will likely cover all countries in the world. There is already panic buying for medical supplies, household and food stuffs in some cities in many countries, indicating insecurities in the abilities of governments to control this pandemic.

We are over the 2nd month of this health crisis and the economic effects are already very palpable. Stock markets all over the world have lost 25 percent of their values. The travel industry is experiencing lost revenues estimated at over $300 billion. The supply chain disruption is causing $400 billion in foregone revenues so far, and lost earnings in the hundreds of billions. If this will mean a 1 percent reduction in the world’s GDP of $88 trillion, (the value of all the goods and services produced in a given year), this is an $880 billion in revenues that could have gone to businesses and individuals. If we add the opportunity losses in the world’s stock market, these would be an almost $2 trillion loss of earnings and capital, which would take years to recover. In the meantime, we have to contend with higher unemployment.

The socio-political effects are also alarming. Discrimination and racism have emerged targeting Chinese and Asian-looking persons. Fear and isolation feeds on prejudice and hate, and some in the social media promote these feelings. The inadequacy of the health care systems is challenging the incumbent political leaders of many countries with potential destabilization. Even the education system has been disrupted with as many as 300 million students forced to study from their homes. Governments in all the affected countries are coping in varying degrees, depending on the extent of the infections, but since there has never been a precedent of this kind of pandemic in a globalized world with information and communication technology providing instant worldwide information, it is almost impossible to placate or assure the people that everything is under control.

Aside from isolation and quarantining the infected, there is still no radical cure or treatment. Vaccines may be months or years away, so this pandemic may inundate the hospital/health facilities and the capabilities of medical and health personnel in many countries. This is not a reassuring scenario for the people but many governments have been remiss or slow on this aspect even if they have the financial resources to effect these. It could be a matter of priorities or competencies for some governments like when they slashed health department budgets or they underpay their health professionals.

The world has other major problems also with humanitarian dimensions like the unending Syrian War which has produced two million refugees wanting to cross Turkey to get to Greece and Europe. Then there are the Afghanistan battles, even with a ceasefire agreement, the wars in Ukraine and Africa, and the human rights violations in authoritarian countries. We also have the natural disasters like the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, forest fires and destructive floods in all four continents. These are trying times but I would like to believe, that in the over 4,000 years of recorded civilization, mankind has developed the capability and resiliency to survive. But history has also shown that the quality and kind of leaders matter in going through a crisis to get the cooperation of the people. The people should elect the right kind of leaders. The world is in trouble but we are the world.

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