One year later: Wuhan virus crisis has wrecked global health, stability

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By John J. Metzler

The global pandemic has devastated health standards, the economy, and through stress and the undertow of uncertainty and hardships has affected the sanity of citizens worldwide.  Lockdowns, arbitrary regulations, school closings are taking their toll on the social fabric.

Now as a second wave of the Wuhan Covid virus is sweeping Western Europe, and spiking in places as varied is South Africa, India and Brazil, Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s Regional Director for Europe warns, “This moment represents a tipping-point in the course of the pandemic, where science, politics, technology and values must form a united front, in or to push back this persistent and elusive virus.”   He added, that “more than 230 million people are living in countries under full national lockdown, and more governments are expected to announce lockdowns.”

A South China Morning Post report in February 2020 noted: ‘In bestselling suspense author Dean Koontz’s 1981 thriller The Eyes of Darkness, a virus to be used as a biological weapon is developed in Wuhan, China.’ / SCMP

Last year more than 26 million COVID-19 cases were confirmed throughout Europe.  Dr. Kluge added “This is an alarming situation, which means that for a short period of time we need to do more than we have done and to intensify the public health.”  Two million people have died worldwide.

Earlier in the crisis people assumed and were told, “Europe got it right in treating and isolating” the virus. Maybe for a while; but since the Autumn countries ranging from France to Spain, Germany and Italy are in the deadly crosshairs of Corona. The United Kingdom faces a particularity lethal “second strain” of the virus which has prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to practically shut the country down as the outbreaks surge from London.  Given the lockdown people in England, Scotland and Wales must stay home and only can go out for limited reasons.

Britain’s National Health Service is strained to the breaking point with new hospital admissions.

In France lockdowns have closed cafes and restaurants, and restricted travel. The Macron government has mandated a curfew in major cities to control the outbreaks; the 6 PM to 5 AM curfew has strained nerves and shattered small businesses.

France has seen numbers surge with expanding daily infection rates despite the lockdown.

Europe’s grim numbers are worth noting; the United Kingdom has seen 95,000 deaths, Italy 84,000, France 72,000 and Germany 50,000.

Significantly the USA faces a steep fatality rate from Covid; over 400,000 Americans have died in less than a year. Correspondingly the U.S. is facing a relatively mild flu season; largely in part to the COVID-19 safety precautions as well as more than 188 million flu vaccinations.  Both flu and Covid deaths, especially among the elderly population, tend to affect people with multiple underlying health conditions.

A Vaccine to the rescue?  We finally have the tool if not silver bullet to stop the Covid spread. America’s much maligned Operation Warp Speed delivered and has fast tracked and helped develop a safe vaccine for the USA.  But many state governments and politicians are acting like the proverbial Keystone Cops in directing and misdirecting vaccine distribution. New York state has stumbled with changing regulations and priorities.

But look at the data. Vaccine distribution in Israel, the United Kingdom and the USA, lead the world in the number of vaccine doses administered; as a percent of the population vaccinated, the American rate stands at about three times higher than most other European countries such as Italy and Germany.

The Biden Administration is pushing for a Herculean effort, backed by signing fifteen Executive Orders, to deliver one million shots in one hundred days.  Will the President’s Pen magically make U.S. Pharma firms produce more vaccine doses to shortly appear in clinics across America?

Further afield, Iran’s Ayatollahs say no to the Anglo/American vaccines, so they are probably looking to China for the jab.  Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made unsubstantiated claims that the American and British vaccines were “untrustworthy.” He decreed, “importing vaccines made in the US or the UK is prohibited.” So far 56,000 Iranians have died during the pandemic. Let’s face it, Iran’s clerical elite will probably get a U.S. vaccine!

Islamic Iran has banned imports of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines.

In a strange twist, Argentina who should know better, has decided to use the Russian Sputnik vaccine!  Argentina became the first country in Latin America to use the Russian shots. But in a bid to get an additional 15 million vaccines, Argentina’s socialist Fernandez government is     currently in talks with China to procure the Sinovac vaccine. China’s President Xi Jinping said that his country is “ready to work” with Argentina to boost cooperation.

But the depth of the global crisis goes beyond borders.  UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned, “We are at a 1945 moment, but this is not 1945.  Today’s war is against a microscopic virus.  Tomorrow’s could be against terrorists in cyberspace.”

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]