In December 2019, the first cases of the COVID-2019 (COVID-19) surfaced in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province in China. The COVID-19 is one of the seven types of coronaviruses that affect humans, including SARS and Mers-Cov. Given the ease of travelling, the number of cases increased significantly. On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the spread of the COVID-19 as a “pandemic”.
While some may perceive such international crises as opportunities for global cooperation, the political consequences have caused many governments to hold back. USA pinned the blame on China as the origins of the virus were traced to Wuhan. This proved to be a setback on the normalisation of Sino-American relations when US President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed a “Phase 1” trade deal on 15 January to de-escalate the trade war. Bilateral relations soured as Mr Trump announced on 29 May that the USA will exit the WHO, accusing the international organisation for aiding the Chinese government in covering up the epidemic. Some political observers have raised concerns that another “Cold War” is looming.
Health experts have pointed out that the infectiousness of the COVID-19 is much more widespread than other coronaviruses like the SARS. One of the reasons why governments struggle to cap the number of cases is that potential carriers exhibit symptoms like the common cold (runny nose and sore throat). Yet, these people ignore these signs and carry on with their lives. According to Professor Dale Fisher, an infectious diseases expert at the National University Hospital (NUH), the COVID-19 is a “smart virus” that spreads to vulnerable individuals.
When governments recognised that the pandemic has spiralled out of control, many have imposed border restrictions to clampdown the spread. On 18 March, Malaysian authorities enforced the Movement Control Order (MCO). Similarly, Singapore closed its borders to visitors on 23 March. To further tighten the noose on the COVID-19, the Singapore government announced the “Circuit Breaker” measures to limit movement of households in public spaces. Schools were closed and students had to conduct “Home Based Learning” (HBL). Yet, the horrors of the COVID-19 also manifested in the form of flared tempers and social isolation. All of a sudden, state-imposed restrictions have stifled the lives of many as a result of the “Great Lockdown”.
From an individual perspective, the COVID-19 has alarmed many. Some have expressed a sense of helplessness as the number of cases continue to climb. Their woes can be traced to bread-and-butter issues, like employment. For those who are severely disrupted by the pandemic, especially employees in the airline industry, questions have been raised over the future of work. Tech companies have scrambled to provide solutions, such as the video communications company Zoom.
The economic standpoint is clear. The effects of globalisation are being undone as the pandemic persists. Governments have hunkered down and introduced policies to protect their economies from further decline. The US Congress pledged nearly US$3 trillion to save the American economy from the recession. In Singapore, S$92.9 billion was drawn from the reserves to finance four different budgets. The damage is done. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects a three percent contraction in the global economy in April 2020, which is the steepest since the Great Depression.
In addition to the social impacts, the psychological consequences are as dire. As individuals strive to practise safe-distancing and adjust to a new norm, the less adaptive people fall prey to the mentally-exhausting effects. For instance, some feel anxious due to the loss of social freedom or experience financial hardship. As such, authorities have introduced means to cope, healthcare hotlines are established to provide counselling services.
In summary, the COVID-19 has undoubtedly turned the lives of many upside-down. Yet, all is not lost as humanity now has a chance to prove that people can withstand the test of time by working together.
By Justin Ng