Migrant workers queue outside the Anand Vihar bus terminal in New Delhi on March 28 to leave for their villages after India's government-imposed a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus. (Photo: AFP)
The deadly spell of the novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in country after country. It has turned upside down every aspect of social, economic, political and religious life, forcing upon us lengthy lockdowns and social distancing to save lives.
Some religious clerics and moralists have termed the pandemic and its fallout as “the revenge of nature” against “ecological sins” committed by mankind for years.
Sinners we are because we have nurtured viruses in the form of vices within us, individually and institutionally, for too long. These viruses are deadlier than Covid-19 and are even at play in such a crisis when the world is gasping for life.
The only difference between our viruses and coronavirus is that Covid-19 is very inclusive in selecting prey — both rich and poor, powerful and powerless people and nations.
As we lock ourselves into our homes fearing for our lives, we should reflect that we have put wild animals and birds in cages for our pleasure for ages. Let us look back at our sins that triggered the wrath of nature.
China’s moral bankruptcy
For decades, communist China has been very efficient in its utter disregard for human rights and religions, curtailing free speech and crushing dissent and any sign of democracy on the mainland and in special regions such as Hong Kong.
Thanks to China’s extraordinary economic growth in recent decades, world powers have done little to stop Beijing’s ruthless policies against its own people, remaining more concerned about doing business with the country.
It was predicted that despite all the wrongdoings at home, the 21st century was going to be the Chinese century. China, however, failed spectacularly to control Covid-19. Its initial attempt to stop spreading news about the virus, and even reprimanding the doctor who first spotted it, were proof that China can no longer be trusted.
Vices within the Chinese Communist Party regime created the perfect conditions for an international disaster. Now China is facing a barrage of criticism and can expect lawsuits in international courts. China is too ethically bankrupt to become a global superpower in the true sense.
Nero fiddles while Rome burns
Massive Covid-19 infections and deaths in some of the richest nations in North America and Europe provide another lesson.
Countries such as Italy, Spain, the UK and the United States were highly complacent about their scientifically and medically advanced positions, so they ignored warnings about a looming humanitarian disaster.
The US government led by President Donald Trump is responsible for the highest number of infections and deaths due to its catastrophic behavior.
Trump and his cronies have been under fire for their disastrous response to battle the deadly virus. Instead of making amends, Trump has attacked the World Health Organization (WHO) for "severely mismanaging and covering up" the Covid-19 pandemic and claiming that "so much death has been caused by their mistakes." He has suspended US funding to the WHO at such a crucial time.
This is shocking but not surprising from a person who believes climate change is a conspiracy theory put forth by China.
European countries often claim to be promoters of equality, but they are far from being egalitarian societies or free from all forms of discrimination. The rise of right-wing and populist politics in Europe has seen anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies getting the upper hand on the continent.
This outlook was no help when the pandemic struck. People died in droves despite having the best healthcare systems. If such a pandemic and the loss of so many lives cannot change the hearts of stubborn politicians, nothing will.
Ignorance, discrimination and corruption
The common vices — ignorance, discrimination and corruption — have been on show as the virus has swept through relatively underdeveloped nations such as India and Bangladesh.
On March 24, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide coronavirus lockdown with just four hours’ notice, showing almost no regard for the plight of millions of poor people, especially migrant workers. Some helpless people had to walk hundreds of kilometers without food and water to get home.
Indian media reported that a group of judges in Assam donated money to a Covid-19 fund by signing off that it cannot be given to Muslims, triggering a public outcry.
The pandemic has highlighted once again India’s relentless march toward becoming an illiberal, discriminatory, anti-poor and anti-minority state under Modi’s pro-Hindu regime.
Bangladeshi authorities were largely ignorant and sloppy in their response to the pandemic, perhaps thinking that the virus would not invade the country.
Warnings from home and abroad that the overpopulated and impoverished South Asian country with many expatriate workers was extremely vulnerable went unheeded. An emergency appeal from the Health Department in early February for medical equipment fell on deaf ears.
While people continued to become infected and die in China and other nations, everything ran as usual in Bangladesh, including inbound and outbound flights, even to and from China. Students continued to go to school, businesses operated, religious places conducted worship and streets were filled with crowds.
Ignorant people said the virus was a curse on Chinese people as they eat filthy wild animals, so pious people in Muslim-majority Bangladesh were safe.
Everything has changed since Bangladesh detected its first three Covid-19 cases on March 8 and, most significantly, when people started dying in their thousands in Europe and America. A nationwide shutdown and a ban on public transport and gatherings were enforced, but it was too late.
The virus has spread to various parts of Bangladesh, infecting 1,572 people. More people have died (60) than have recovered (49). The country has only been able to test 17,003 people, which explains why the number of infections is relatively low.
Many Bangladeshis continue to ignore the ban on movements and gatherings, forcing the government to deploy the military to help police. Patients with Covid-19 symptoms have even fled homes and hospitals.
The government has sorted out a program to help about five million needy and poor people through cash and food relief. But corruption has started to rear its ugly head as usual. Dozens of ruling party leaders and local officials were accused of stealing over 200 tonnes of rice for the poor.
At a time when great sympathy is expected, landlords in Bangladesh and India have ordered the eviction of doctors and health workers from buildings for fear of virus infection.
In an article for the Financial Times, India’s Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen expressed hope that a better society can emerge from this health crisis, as happened after World War II.
Whether the world can become a better place will depend much on whether we want to get rid of the many ills and vices we carried before the pandemic struck us.
Rock Ronald Rozario is bureau chief for UCA News in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.