Wednesday, April 17, 2024

How Covid hogged headlines wasn’t a poor man’s story

The virus came first, and then the vaccinations. The jabs, so-called, have now become more complicated than the issues surrounding the virus and its spread, and vaccine politics is spawning a new variation called common and garden squabbling between various societal actors, doctors, Government officers, vaccine priority maniacs — and sundry others.

What all this brings to a focus is the all-consuming nature of this pandemic. Every other issue, either local or international has become insignificant in the face of the Coronavirus, so-called. Today’s global economy, and hence the value of currencies, the wealth of nations and communities, the future trajectory of lives of all younger people on the planet — everything seems to hinge on the Coronavirus, the restrictions placed around it, the accommodations made because of it, and so on.

But this virus, looked at carefully, certainly does not seem to be the issue of the impoverished communities. To be sure, the economic privations visited upon the poorer people as a result of the virus, are having a massive negative impact on these disadvantaged folk.

But the virus per se as an issue — now that is a different matter. There is a distinction between the virus and its spread as an issue in its own right, and the attendant economic problems and other societal issues this contagion spawns. It is important that the difference is understood.

The virus, and the intense focus on it, is essentially a richer man’s issue. The devastating consequences — especially the enormous economic repercussions the pandemic so called has on the people of the world — now that is a poor man’s calamity.

This is a virus whose global spread has been on the world’s media crosshairs for well over one year now. It is the world’s top story since the contagion began to spread in epidemic proportions in the early months of 2020. Since then the world media, and definitely the local media here in Sri Lanka, have not veered one jot away from the idea that this is the one important matter that hogs the headlines, and the news space.

Grabbing headlines

There has not been a story that has had such a sustained run as the top headline grabbing issue in the world media, ever. That is probably something we can all agree on. The virus is a story, the vaccinations and the variations that follow are a story, and then everything connected to the virus from online learning to Work from Home (WFH) to the gamut of issues with ridiculous descriptions such as the ‘New Normal’, have all been the story since the year 2020 began.

So whose story is this primarily then? If you take this country, the fatality rate in 2020 from dengue was 0.11 percent of persons afflicted. With Covid, the fatality rate is 1.3 percent of persons afflicted. In the big picture, is there a massive difference between 1.3 and 0.11? Not that this writer sees one, unless the reader sees something else that the writer is missing.

However, did dengue get 0.1 percent of the media attention and other types of concern such as the focus of the bureaucracy, etc., that Covid engages? The mosquito-borne disease has not gathered anything near the fuss Covid has enjoyed despite the reasonable similarity in mortality rates from both viral diseases.

 Who was it that said it is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled? Some say Mark Twain did, but never mind. The world media driven narrative from Covid has essentially been fed to countries, to Governments and then to people because the issue of the virus is essentially a concern of the more well-to-do interest groups on this planet.

Its repercussions have hit the poor, and that meant the economic fallout from the virus. That certainly has to be a concern of the poor, more than the rich, doesn’t it? What can they do about it? It is something that has been inflicted on them, all over the world. True, there was no reason to essentially lock down communities due to the dengue pandemic, but if one-hundredth of the attention was paid to dengue by the world health authorities and the international community, many more dengue deaths could have been prevented in this country, and in others.

But that was not a concern of anybody, least of all the richer, well-funded interest groups that drive the media narrative about Covid. Contagions before this also were not their business in the way they have made Covid their business. At the time Ebola spread in West Africa, there were around 11,500 deaths in that part of the continent in the years 2014–16, and that is about a third of the deaths from Covid in the same region in the years 2020–21.

Ebola vs Covid

They were however looking for a vaccine for Ebola for years (they have one now). Note that the deaths from Covid in that region in Africa are not 300 times as much as the deaths from Ebola. It is just at the most, three times more — the deaths from Covid contrasted to the deaths from Ebola in that region, to repeat.

But was there one-thousandth of the attention being paid to Covid, paid to Ebola? If the argument is that Covid spread far and wide internationally contrasted to Ebola, well then Covid-19 is 50 percent less contagious than SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), smallpox or polio, and several times less contagious than measles. But SARS and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) have higher fatality rates than Covid, though Covid spreads faster. Well that simply means that just because Covid spreads faster, it does not have as many case fatalities per a given number of the population, as SARS or MERS.

But did we see the world paying one millionth of the attention paid to Covid to SARS or MERS? MERS essentially killed folk in the Middle East, and SARS in some East Asian countries. Covid by contrast spread among richer countries which of course — no prizes for guessing why — made it a global news concern of a hitherto unheard of magnitude.

Lockdowns, etc., followed everywhere, and economies all over caterwauled and would take years to recover, if they recover at all. Perusing the facts given above, the discerning would say that no matter who says what — no pun intended — Covid as a disease is essentially a rich man’s concern, which was of course made into a poor man’s concern with the passage of time.

Economic fallout

Indubitably, the devastating economic fallout of Covid — again no prizes for guessing why — has essentially become a poor man’s concern, which the rich of the world don’t give a tuppence about despite all their protestations that may indicate otherwise.

The faster these dynamics of the global contagion are grasped, the better it is for those who think Covid is the worst calamity to hit humankind for decades, or for ages. Well, if it is, it is because the media, driven by the richer and better-funded elements of the global community, made it so.

Covid the disease is by far nowhere near the worst calamity to hit humankind for ages. But the economic fallout from this relative non-disaster disease, is probably the worst disaster to hit humankind for ages. Sounds curious? Makes any sense? As they say, go figure.

The poor people of the world should not take ‘ownership’ of this disease just because they are compelled to take ownership of the economic calamities that have befallen them due to its presence as a global media phenomenon mostly, more than a global phenomenon per se. Inevitably, years from now the truth will dawn about what happened during the Covid pandemic and why. For the people all over the world who are suffering from the essentially needless economic effects of this calamity — the truth would be out decades too late for it to make any meaningful impact on their lives.  

Perhaps their children however may read about the peddled-by-rich pandemic and vast hordes of the poor that suffered in the early 2020s. As somebody said with some acute grasp of reality, very often many must cry, so that a few can laugh all the more louder. Do I have to repeat the words ‘go figure’?

Rajpal Abeynayake

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