Year of pain

AS the sun rises on New Year’s Day, there is hope that some semblance of normality will return to the global order. In 2020, the international system was upended by Covid-19, with the coronavirus destroying routines and enforcing a ‘new normal’ on billions. Though the infection was first identified in December 2019, its full, deadly impact was felt in 2020, when it was declared a pandemic. Recovery will take time; a second wave is tearing through nations across the world. While a number of vaccines have been readied to fight the disease, raising hopes that the tide may soon turn, the emergence of variants of the virus in the UK and South Africa pose fresh challenges to the global health community.

Indeed, there have been several significant developments in 2020. But momentous events such as the defeat of the Trump White House, the Brexit deal, and the shifting sands of the Middle East where a number of Arab-speaking countries have embraced Israel have been overshadowed by the death and economic devastation inflicted by the pandemic. While hundreds of millions across the world continue to be threatened by war and poverty on a daily basis, the coronavirus has shown that healthcare cannot be ignored by global policymakers. Once mighty economies have been brought crashing down as thousands queue outside food banks. Whole sectors are enduring extreme turbulence, millions of jobs are at risk, or have already been lost. Countless children across the world have had their education and exams disrupted, with those without access to technology missing out on online learning. But these are all by-products of the pandemic. At its heart, it has shaken the global health system to its core, from advanced countries all the way down to the developing world. At the time of writing, the global caseload was 82.8m, while nearly 2m people had succumbed to the virus or post-Covid complications.

Looking ahead, the international community must firm up its resolve to fight this pandemic, which does not recognise borders and jurisdictions. Richer states must not be allowed to procure all available vaccines; poorer states should be given equal access. Front-line health workers and individuals at high risk must be prioritised everywhere. Crucially, it is time that the movers and shakers of the global order realised that healthcare is essential, as diseases can devastate the international social and political order. As for Pakistan, thanks to an effective strategy and good fortune during the first wave of the pandemic the country escaped the worst. However, the second wave is proving lethal and the state cannot afford to let its guard down. People must be reminded that the danger has not passed, and that social distancing and good hygiene practices remain the best weapons to fight Covid-19, while wild conspiracy theories should be countered with facts.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2021