By Arab News
By Faisal J. Abbas*
The most powerful weapons of mass destruction, the most terrible natural disasters, and the most vicious terrorist attacks have all failed to inflict upon 21st-century humanity the destruction caused by a single, tiny virus.
Medical researchers have expressed it clearly and directly; as long as there is one person with COVID-19 in the world, the possibility of another pandemic remains.
Can it be that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, an entity with no mind capable of thinking, observing or planning, has nevertheless discovered our weakness as human beings, our Achilles’ heel — our need to be together?
For no digital app can make up for our need to hug those we love, kiss our parents’ foreheads, shake hands with those we meet, attend weddings or perform a duty of solace.
No virtual reality tool can compensate for our instinct to travel.
No distance learning program can provide the benefit a student obtains when interacting with their classmates in person under the supervision of a teacher, no matter how sophisticated the algorithms.
In just four months, this virus has wiped out thousands of years of social traditions and customs, forcing us to hide in homes that have become more like the caves that sheltered the first human beings (though, thankfully, our “caves” are safer, air-conditioned, and equipped with electricity and wifi).
It is hard to believe that this virus has no intelligence, when it seems to have learned how to present a deadlier challenge than any we have faced before.
Cholera was transmitted in polluted water; we beat that. HIV was transmitted through direct sexual contact or infected blood; we beat that.
But this virus requires only a handshake, a conversation, or even touching the same elevator button as an infected person.
Not even acute respiratory diseases such as SARS and MERS were so aggressively contagious.
And we still do not know whether a patient recovering from COVID-19 will have permanent immunity; or if the summer heat will reduce its spread, as happened with SARS.
Even if we found a cure and a vaccine today, there is no guarantee that “COVID-20,” or another developed virus that is more deadly and contagious, will not emerge within months.
Can our human psyche, not to mention the global economy, endure a second wave of infection, forced confinement, bankruptcies, and death?
“Survival of the fittest” is the phrase used to describe the evolutionist Charles Darwin’s concept of natural selection, which means that those who survive will be those who are best adapted for their immediate environment.
Our immediate environment is polluted with coronavirus, and it kills the weakest among us — the elderly, the newborn, those with chronic diseases, and those with a weak immune system.
It will not affect, for example, Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s wealthiest footballer currently spending his virus confinement in a luxury mansion on his native Portuguese island of Madeira, in the same way as it will affect the people of sub-Saharan Africa, 63 percent of whom lack the basic resources to wash their hands with soap and water.
The pandemic has caused a temporary attrition of the funds of giant corporations, but they will emerge from it safe, sound and perhaps even more powerful after acquiring their competitors, or benefiting from their resources to enter new sectors.
For example, Amazon, taking advantage of the increased demand for online shopping, is hiring 175,000 staff to keep up with home deliveries.
On the other hand, many small businesses will go bankrupt, especially in countries that lack the resources to support their economies with long-term subsidies, exemptions and grants.
The same applies at state level; the affluence, health and hygiene of individual societies, the ratio of youth to the elderly, the extent to which governments can control the discipline and compliance of their people with laws and regulations, and the existence of independent and empowered government institutions, will undoubtedly affect the condition in which each country emerges from this pandemic.
The virus has also exposed another weakness in many countries, including the greatest ones; their dependence on third parties for the manufacture and supply of health equipment and medication.
The pandemic is increasing and enhancing international cooperation, not the other way around — something we began to see in recent G20 resolutions, under this year’s Saudi presidency.
New alliances, or an increase in the effectiveness of old ones, loom on the horizon.
This is no longer a luxury but a need, because the pandemic has hit everyone. The only way out is to join hands and work together to defeat it.
- Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas