A young man not wearing a face mask, walks beneath a mural with a Covid 19 awareness campaign Soweto, South Africa
A young man not wearing a face mask, walks beneath a mural with a Covid 19 awareness campaign Soweto, South Africa

Rethinking the Covid-19 pandemic

By Opinion Time of article published Jul 29, 2021

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Mammo Muchie

I. Background

The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly changed the world globally. There have been more than 193 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 so far, including more than 4 million deaths. On the African continent, more than 6.4 million confirmed cases were recorded, and more than 164 000 people died due to SARS-CoV-2 infection. The pandemic has also caused crucial economic challenges all over the world by creating job losses, increasing poverty, social dislocation, loss of life and social insecurity.

Countries are endlessly striving to battle and overcome this economic as well as social crisis. It has certainly obstructed the direction of the countries in accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030.

II. Accomplishment and achievements

Countries around the world have achieved tremendous accomplishments in controlling the spread of this virus after the outbreak in 2019 by doing surveillance, monitoring and tracking, virus sequencing and testing, with the development of different types of vaccines as well as the mass vaccination campaign all over the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has attached great importance to the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa, and provided systematic support to African countries by developing the preparation and response plan for this pandemic, improving the testing and surveillance capability and purchasing the Covid-19 vaccine via the COVAX initiative.

China, as a model country, has greatly contributed to the world in fighting this pandemic. Chinese scientists shared the sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 in the first place, and helped to develop the testing kits and pave the road to the development of different Covid-19 vaccines.

Chinese medical doctors have undertaken the epidemiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, treatments and prevention that can be shared, particularly in Africa, Latin America and Asia, and the rest of the world.

The Chinese government also donated thousands of millions of PPEs as well as Covid-19 vaccines to countries around the world, especially to African countries, helping to fight this pandemic.

III. Problems and challenges

The SARS-CoV-2 is a totally new virus to us and we know virtually nothing about it when the pandemic broke out, especially in respect of its origin, its characteristics and its transmission pathways. However, some countries have been bent on going down the road of politicisation, stigmatisation and ideological framing. Former US president Donald Trump claimed that the virus was deliberately created in a laboratory, but could not even justify it himself. The Wall Street Journal also published an exclusive report which quoted the so-called unclassified US intelligence report, to once again hype up the “lab leak” hypothesis. The purpose is self-evident. It is aimed at obstructing co-operation on the global origin-tracing, deflecting responsibility for its own poor Covid-19 response at home, and using this as an opportunity to defame and blame China.

Countries did not or were not willing to take the right action to control this pandemic. Some of them were inactive and failed to focus on fighting this pandemic, resulting in a wide spread of the SARS-CoV-2, both domestically and abroad. In South Africa, the earliest confirmed cases were all from European or American countries. Now most of them have acknowledged their previous mistakes and understood the necessity of isolation and social distancing to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Vaccine nationalism and competition is another problem. The richest countries have secured billions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, while developing economies are still struggling to access supplies. The huge imbalance in the access to Covid-19 vaccines is still there, especially between rich and poor countries. Until now the African continent has only administered about 21 million doses, while some countries are stockpiling millions of doses. No country in need of vaccines should be left behind, nor should any people waiting for the vaccine be forgotten. Otherwise the global anti-pandemic efforts will be derailed and the pandemic will never end.

IV. Suggestions

We should conduct sourcing-tracing of the virus in a scientific way, rather than in a political way. The virus sourcing-tracing is a matter of science. Scientists across the world should co-operate with each other to find the right origin of SARS-CoV-2. Early this year, the WHO released a report on the joint WHO-China study of SARS-CoV-2 originated, which analysed the four means of transmission, and has drawn clear conclusions, including acknowledging that “the lab leak is extremely unlikely”.

This is an important first step. Recently, the WHO has planned to conduct the phase 2 origin tracing study. This study is necessary, but should be conducted based on what we have known, and should continue to look for more possible early cases in a wider range around the globe and to further understand the role of cold chain and frozen food in virus transmission. Those with clear conclusions, such as the laboratory leakage hypothesis, are not necessary to waste more time by focusing on all the sources of the virus to find lasting solutions.

Countries should co-operate with each other and be more responsible to their citizens and to the world. We have seen a lot of evidence that countries suffered wave after wave of this pandemic due to negative attitudes and failure to take the right action in time. This caused the virus to quickly spread domestically as well as to the rest of the world. There must not be competition in handling this virus, as it has now spread globally. The outbreak of the pandemic is a natural disaster and nobody should be condemned due to the first detection of new viruses. What we should do is to upgrade the capacity of human beings to respond and reduce the impacts of the disaster to all humanity, as one societal community. There are several similar events in history, such as the outbreak of Ebola, HIV or other viruses. If we do want to blame someone or some countries for the losses during this pandemic, it should be those which did not care about their people and did not take the right action to contain the virus, rather than to blame the country where the virus is said to have originated first.

Covid-19 vaccine is a global public good. All countries need to work together to speed up the vaccine production and distribution to control the SARS-CoV-2 mayhem spreading across different parts of the world by closing the vaccination gaps between rich and poor countries. Let the world enter a virus-free era by removing the gravity burden of the Covid-19 virus, by creating with the relativity of the speed of light square a totally healthy and socially secure world for all, by sharing all the vaccinations equitably to all in the world, by appreciating all differences and celebrating our one, and only one, humanity.

Mammo Muchie is a DSI/NRF-Rated Research Professor in Innovation Studies at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, and Senior Research Associate at the Technology, Management, Development Centre (TMDC), Oxford University, UK.

The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL

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