Tackling virus: World needs cooperation not confrontation

Pakistan's ex-Foreign Secretary believes Trump's erratic style of calling out China is likely to remain, due to his re-election bid in November, as Trump tries to cover up his disastrous handling of the pandemic. China’s late response to the issue has been overcome by its role as a supplier of medical equipment around the globe.

Confrontation policies

We are now living in a world confronted with a deadly virus for which no cure and no vaccine appears to be in sight and which has by 30th April taken, according to John Hopkins University’s count, 233,416 deaths and recorded 3,273, 415 cases of infections globally. Both numbers are almost certainly an undercount.

The current count in the USA is 62,890 deaths and 1,069,826 cases of infection. Both these  numbers also certainly represent an undercount since it is not clear that all nursing homes have been covered or that death certificates have accurately recorded the existence or otherwise of the virus infection.

It is difficult to keep count of the number of research centers that are working on developing vaccines. WHO said in mid-April that three vaccines were in a clinical-stage while another 67 were in the pre-clinical stage. However, as one perused a long and bewildering array of reports, it seemed that there were many more efforts underway.

Read more: How Has the Virus Affected The World?

Some scientists/epidemiologists seemed focused at this point on developing testing kits that would provide a more accurate count of the number of “positive” cases and give scientists the basic data needed to ascertain if the right antibodies are being created and can eventually provide the sort of “herd immunity” that the Swedes are trying to get in their country. Even if such antibodies are created there is no scientific evidence to prove that such immunity will be of long duration.

Hope lies through cooperation not confrontation

A Financial Times report that analyzed asymptomatic cases, points out that based on new Chinese reporting, 60% of confirmed cases recorded over the last month were non-symptomatic when tested. It mentions similar results being obtained in South Korea and Iceland among others.

This has made more testing an absolute necessity because otherwise, these asymptomatic individuals will continue to spread the virus if social distancing is not maintained. Reconciling such social distancing and reopening of the economy which necessarily involves closer contact is difficult. One thing is evident. More testing is needed and such testing has to be global.

We will work with other countries to detect and mitigate outbreaks early to prevent the spread of disease. We will encourage other countries to invest in basic health care systems and to strengthen global health security across the intersection of human and animal health to prevent infectious disease outbreaks

The Trump Administration is organizing “Operation Warp Speed” that will pull together private pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and the military to develop a vaccine, and have as its goal the production of 300 million doses of the vaccine by January 2021. Experts agree that given the speed that this calls for it is unlikely to happen. Perhaps, it may also require these agencies to seek the cooperation of other countries most notably China.

More importantly, it has also talked of carrying out 2 million tests a week and enrolling the service of pharmacies for this purpose. One large pharmacy chain, CVS has however warned that these estimates were subject to “availability of materials critical to conducting coronavirus tests including reagents. Again, other reports suggest that the principal source for these materials is China and this would suggest the need for cooperation.

The need for PPE-masks gowns, etc. for health workers is at a peak not only in the States, but globally, and the major supplier with the facilities to ramp up production is China. Pompeo has expressed the hope that China will fulfil these needs and the FDA has even urged the Chinese to relax some of the restrictions they have imposed to ensure that only fault-free equipment is exported.

Read more: Challenges of Imposing Virus Lockdown: DC Islamabad explains

One notable example was the Chinese export of KN95 (the Chinese version of the N95) masks to Canada. They fell short of the Canadian standard, but Canada instead of rejecting them out of hand chose to retain them for use by workers in less sensitive areas.

Right now, Jared Kushner from the White House has organized an Air-Bridge to provide US aircraft free of cost to private companies for importing PPE and other requirements primarily from China, but also from elsewhere, with the condition being that 50 percent of these imports would be made available to hospitals designated by Kushner at cost plus while the rest could be sold on the open market at whatever price the companies chose to market them. This would also suggest the need for ensuring cooperation with China.

The purpose of providing these details about the virus and the global struggle to find a way to control the pandemic- or at least permit to some degree a reopening of economic activity- was to emphasize the need for global cooperation.

It is perhaps a statement of the obvious that today even while countries all over the world are working on finding solutions individually, scientists in the USA, China, and Europe where the majority of scientific talent is available need to work together, and they need a political environment that does not hinder this process. Cooperation not confrontation is what the scientists want.

White House National Security Strategy

But is this likely? In his National Security Strategy, published in December 2017, President Trump identified China and Russia as ‘Strategic Competitors’ and outlined the steps his administration would take to counter their efforts.

What is interesting however in the present Covid19 world is what the Strategy had to say about guarding against Pandemics.

The strategy says, “We will work with other countries to detect and mitigate outbreaks early to prevent the spread of disease. We will encourage other countries to invest in basic health care systems and to strengthen global health security across the intersection of human and animal health to prevent infectious disease outbreaks… At home, we will strengthen our emergency response and unified coordination systems to rapidly characterize outbreaks, implement public health containment measures to limit the spread of disease, and provide surge medical care—including life-saving treatments”.

Read more: US-China Tensions amid virus: When Elephants fight grass gets trampled

Based on what has been reported in the American media and internationally, the world may be forgiven for concluding that the failure to implement these promised steps was what has brought about the present situation in the United States. The present administration has however chosen to lay the blame on China.

There is a need to be clear about what happened in China. According to a timeline prepared by the “Business Insider” China first informed the WHO of an infection on December 31st and closed the Huanan Seafood market with which they associated the outbreak on 1st January.

According to reports that have had wide circulation despite this outbreak the party leadership in Wuhan went ahead and allowed the organization on 19th January of a banquet-the Thousands Households Banquet at which every guest brought their own food to share- in the city’s Baibuting neighborhood. Not only the people of Wuhan but guests from all over Hubei and perhaps other parts of China participated and then dispersed.

The fact is that as every country in the world runs up deficits to put some money in the hands of unemployed or underemployed citizens and tries in some measure to protect the most vulnerable sections of their societies

On 20th January China’s leading virologist Dr. Zhong Nanshan, renowned for tackling the SARS epidemic in 2003, arrived in Wuhan and dismissed the mayor and started in earnest the fight against Covid19. In a ‘mea culpa’ a couple of days later Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang pointed out that “As a local government official, I have to wait for authorization before I can release [information].”

What does this prove? Surely not that the Chinese deliberately held a virus spreading banquet. They made the mistake of letting politics take precedence over science – a not unknown phenomenon in the country accusing China of obfuscation, etc.

US Administration plays out its domestic re-election bid

Such evidence, however, is not what Secretary Pompeo is looking for as he provides the material that will strengthen President Trump’s re-election bid while deflecting attention from all the mistakes that the Trump administration has made in tackling the problem.

Instructions have gone out from the Republican party organization that in their solicitation of votes party workers should focus not on Trump’s own record but on the evil doings of strategic competitor China and the need for holding them accountable, and even more ominously for allowing suits to be filed for claiming compensation for the damage the Chinese lack of transparency has done.

Read more: COVID-19 & virus: Has it attacked our brains?

This has been tempered in recent days and in small measures since the USA must continue to look to China for PPE and reagents for testing, etc. But this is a goal that Pompeo has not given up on and he has convinced President Trump that this is his best re-election gambit.

It also seems clear that WHO which initially received plaudits from Trump has now been denied funds and been accused of being in Trump’s words, the pipe organ of the Chinese, as part of the campaign against China. A US senator has called the WHO the CHO (China Health Organisation). All this is not aimed at WHO, but is part of the case against China.

One may think that Pompeo is having difficulty in securing a hearing for the case he seeks to make. All the interviews he gives are to FOX news or CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network). But the reach of the machine he has is far greater than anything that can be mustered against him.

He is also helped a great deal by the fact that for all Americans – Republicans, Democrats or Independents – the Thucydides Trap – a confrontation between a rising power and the established superpower – is very real and none are prepared to countenance an erosion let alone a collapse of American supremacy.

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There have been voices raised against Trump’s decision to leave WHO, but the principal point made is that this will allow another international organization to fall into China’s hands. Of course, this argument has been strengthened by China stepping in to provide $50 million to the organization.

The fact is that as every country in the world runs up deficits to put some money in the hands of unemployed or underemployed citizens and tries in some measure to protect the most vulnerable sections of their societies, they have to turn to the United States and its control of the dollar; its role as the reserve currency of the world has been further strengthened in this crisis.

Over time, the USA has turned from being the largest creditor nation in the world to being the largest debtor nation. But the control of the world’s reserve currency and the all-pervasive belief that it is the country in which investment is best protected will maintain its dominant position.

Read more: Locking down the Essentials: Whilst Hoping to Survive the Virus

There are many other facets of the impact of Covid19 that need to be looked at. Will countries now decide, with the monstrous deficits that they are running up, to put their defense budgets on hold, whilst in the immediate future still looking towards this body of disciplined personnel to help cope with the turbulent situation that is bound to come particularly in poorer cities of Africa, South America and South Asia. No institution gives up its budget easily but this is a unique situation calling for a spirit of sacrifice for the larger good.

Will regional cooperation between the countries facing a common threat increase? Will it be worthwhile or is the nature of the virus such that each country has to develop its own measures? Will each country fight desperately to buy or receive PPEs, and the other equipment like ventilators or will they be able to arrange an equitable distribution of what is available based on the severity of the virus onslaught?

One thing is certain the era of globalization is at least temporarily over. Now each country will try to build inventories and not be part of a global chain in which materials come into one country are processed and pushed on to another for further finishing, and then to yet another for marketing. This globalisation has yielded benefits, not necessarily equally to all the countries in the chain, but will not operate now for most goods.

Read more: Post-Virus World Order: Democratic or Authoritarian? 

Many countries will look for food security which may involve having to import temporary workers to harvest crops and to prepare the soil for the next crop. This raises its own dangers of transmission between countries and even within countries?

Visionary and large-hearted cooperation will be needed from the leaders of the developed world and from the financial institutions they control. In some measure the IMF, World Bank, ADB and other regional institutions have done reasonably but much more is needed. Will it be forthcoming?

Ambassador Najmuddin A. Shaikh is the former Foreign Secretary and former Ambassador to the USA and Iran.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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