By – Daniel Ojukwu
When news first made the rounds about the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), it most likely seemed like a Chinese problem that would soon become an unfortunate piece of sad history, soon to be forgotten as it came at a time when everyone was settling into the New Year and trying to be as optimistic as possible amidst threats posed by tensions between the USA and Iran.
What began in Wuhan, China as dozens of “pneumonia” cases of unknown causes on December 31st, 2019 claimed its first life on January 11th, 2020 and has kept the numbers up ever since, hitting 147 of the world’s 195 countries, infecting over 370,000 and killing over 16,000.
On a daily basis the world is itching to get the latest news, latest figures, updates and promises that could either signal an end to the pandemic or establish the severity of the situation so we can be well prepared. I, for one, have heard suggestions of an end to the world as we know it, and conspiracies of a ploy to deplete the world population using a “bio-engineered weapon of economic warfare”.
Hoaxes have reared their heads since the early days of the outbreak. Before Africa joined the rest of the world in battling the disease, many had questioned why the continent had remained free of reported cases, with some suggesting that the weather conditions on the continent was too harsh for the virus to survive.
Regardless of what you believe(d), the number of affected African countries are in double figures spread across various regions.
Growing up, I was made to believe that the only thing the world ever did together at the same time was breathe. It was a riddle at the time which I didn’t want to accept as being so simple and narrow. I mean seven billion people who only had air in common? Fast-forward many years after and we’re closing borders in unison, losing money in unison, globally self-isolating and only interested in staying safe. Ironically, the lot of us have face masks on and are careful about what we are breathing in.
The world’s deliberate effort at combating the pandemic together was emphasized by China’s deployment of 300 doctors to help with the situation in Italy after the European country recorded a higher death rate than China where the first case was reported.
Economically, every country is taking a hit and will likely take more hits in the coming days with minimal activity on the stock market, border closures, visa restrictions and enforced ban on social engagements and gatherings.
Impact of this on global economic growth has been huge. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has halved the global gross domestic product (GDP) growth projection for 2020 due to Coronavirus. Countries are making continuous loses in the stock market with the U.S. stocks suffering the fastest fall from all-time highs to bear market on record.
The impact does not end there as Oil pricing is also affected by the lack of economic activity. Chinese oil demand has fallen and just like dominos, many countries have less need for oil as industries are shut and less commercial activity has meant a dip in oil consumption, leaving countries like Nigeria with a problem on their hands. The 2020 budget of the Nigerian government was made with the expectation of a rise in oil pricing. The current situation throws a spanner in the works of the country as well as other oil-reliant countries around the world.
There is the risk of inflation and continuous devaluation of currencies of smaller economies affected by difficulty in importation and lack of demand for their major exports. Nigeria recently announced a devaluation that will see a dollar sell for N380, inadvertently affecting the man who earns minimum wage and the woman who has to stock up her kitchen in case a nationwide isolation is announced. There is a likelihood that the self-isolation directive would be difficult to manage in countries lacking the proper social security structure to ensure that people can actually stock up and stay indoors.
Social Interaction is already greatly regulated. Some countries recommend a gathering of no more than 50 people; Germany enforces a meeting of no more than two people unless they live together. While we figuratively join our hands in the fight against COVID-19, social distancing means we can only join them by keeping them apart.
Individuals and firms are having the same problems of job losses, prices increase owing to panic buying, and disinformation. Airplanes are grounded in many countries to prevent the transportation of the virus, football stadiums are shut, forcing clubs to debate league cancellations, reduction in staff salaries and a refund of Television broadcast revenue while players engage in mini football challenges online.
Prominent figures like Tom Hanks, Idris Elba, Mikel Arteta and convicted sex offender, Harvey Weinstein all tested positive to the virus, increasing public awareness.
Today it is commendable that the world is speaking one language and focusing on the bigger picture to find a solution together instead of hammering on the source (even though Donald Trump would have it the other way). The World Health Organization carefully named the disease COVID-19 after the virus and the year it was discovered, avoiding a reference to where it was discovered to prevent stigma.
Now there are tests with Chloroquine after reported successes in France. There is also a sustained effort by global authorities to combat the spread of disinformation to prevent hoarding and panic which could be more deadly than the virus itself. The high recovery rate and zero new cases from China both point to hope that was earlier evasive.
No matter what happens, one thing is for sure, at this time when the world is knocked down in a battle against a virus without a cure, it is fighting not as China or as Italy or as the USA, it is fighting as a united globe that has been beaten down, grounded like a plane, devalued like currency but not isolated like a recovering patient, it is fighting as one.