Covid gloom shadows world as power of central governments grow

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By John J. Metzler

As the New Year brings hope and renewal, the tragic reality remains that the Covid-19 virus with all its deadly variants, continues to plague the planet now fully two years after the malady emerged from Wuhan, China.  Thus, despite much justified optimism over wider vaccinations, the pandemic has not broken its deadly grip on societies, economies nor the collective psychology of most people.

So here we stand more than a year after Operation Warp Speed produced three vaccines in record time saving millions of lives worldwide. Yet stunningly during 2021, and despite widespread vaccinations across America, the USA actually suffered more Covid deaths than in 2020! Fatalities in the U.S. now number a staggering 825,000!

Beyond the obvious public health requirements needed to tackle Covid, there’s a troubling political narrative that equates health security with social control. / Francis Mascarenhas / Reuters

The global toll remains grim; Brazil recording 619,000 deaths, India 481,000, the United Kingdom 149,000 and France 124,000.

Additionally, more than twenty countries on four continents have seen a Covid surge recently.

New York City once again has become the epicenter of the Omicron surge in the USA, though significantly Omicron is not nearly as lethal as the Delta strain.

South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have weathered the crisis with relatively small numbers of fatalities. As for the People’s Republic of China from where the virus originated, genuine data remains sparse, and it would be a bad joke to accept official statistics.

Nonetheless, we lurch from one crisis to another and nervously react to the latest pronouncements from alphabet soup agencies from the CDC to the WHO.

Yet our once near Pavlovian response to the mantra of Dr. Fauci with his many scientific rectitudes are now often viewed with little more than passing disdain. His ever-changing advice and edicts during the pandemic have become footnotes to the sad story. Mixed messaging only compounds a confused situation.

America suffers from an acute case of Pandemic Funk, a justifiable but overplayed fear stoked by some public health officials and government agencies and reflected by media malpractice.

First people were encouraged to get two vaccines to be safe. Then, better get the booster! But has that solved virus transmission?

For weeks long lines have again formed near mobile testing clinics and walk-in medical sites in places like New York.

In early January the USA hit one million positive tests in one day owing to the Omicron surge! Yet the Biden Administration has been woefully unprepared for the surge and moreover stocking supplies like monoclonal antibody treatment.

But beyond the obvious public health requirements needed to tackle Covid, there’s a troubling political narrative that equates health security with social control.

Vaccine mandates here in the United States or throughout Europe are based on levels of control not seen since WWII. We’re talking about the curfews, lockdowns, health vaccine passes, and the electronic data scoops which have all become part of daily life. Federal mandates loom.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) concedes, “While there were 1.8 million recorded deaths in 2020, there were 3.5 million in 2021 and we know the actual number is much higher.” This sobering worldwide tally has been rising amid the Omicron strain.

Yet, WHO’s Director General Tedros stated, “I still remain optimistic that this can be the year we not only end the acute stage of the pandemic, but we also chart a path to stronger health security.”

Dr. Tedros added, “Right now, Delta and Omicron are twin threats that are driving up cases to record numbers, which again is leading to spikes in hospitalizations and deaths. I am highly concerned that Omicron being more transmissible, circulating at the same time as Delta is leading to a tsunami of cases.”

But beyond America’s borders the writ and power of central governments is clearly growing from France to South Korea. Australia presents a travesty of vaccine lockdown and bureaucratic overreach.

In France the government has announced that wearing masks in public spaces would become mandatory for children as young as six years old. The Netherlands remains under a tough lockdown. Austria’s fourth national lockdown of the pandemic has ended but tight restrictions remain for unvaccinated people. In all cases there have been growing anti-lockdown protests.

Germany’s Health Minister Prof. Karl Lauterbach told broadcaster ZDF, “at no point in time would there be a risk that the country’s health system would be overwhelmed.” He added optimistically, “I do believe that we can live with the coronavirus. That we can get our normal life back completely; That’s what we are fighting for.” He’s right.

Have we beaten Covid? Not yet but keep calm and carry on.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]