By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: In May 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases globally has touched five million, and that happened over a six month period. At the rate in which the number of COVID-19 afflicted is doubling, it could cross a billion cases in a year, by when the world hopes to find a vaccine.
There is a globally raging debate if COVID-19 is an artificially developed virus. There are speculations that the virus originated in China’s Wuhan laboratory. But without any conclusive proof, the story of its origins has remained what it is: an enigma.
Obviously, no serious nation in the world wants to take this enigma lightly. The reasons for this are pretty clear. What if the COVID-19 was really a bio-weapon unleashed intentionally or unintentionally by a rogue state to bring world economic powers to their knees?
As has been seen in the last six months, some of the worst affected nations of the pandemic have been those economic giants that have boasted of better lifestyles and standards of living for its citizens. The COVID-19 bolt was truly from the blue for every nation, be it from South Asia and South East Asia that are neighbours to China, or those from West Asia, or from distant Africa, Europe, and the Americas. All because the world is now a global village. And globalisation is in practice localisation.
Air connectivity and the shrinking of distances between places have caused havoc, as the virus has been spread globally by travellers, be they for pleasure or business. The disease has also been a leveller. It has hit the poorest of the global poor, the richest of the rich and the powerful of the most powerful persons, including government heads such as the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson or ministers in the Iranian government. Some of the worst affected nations have been those economically closest to China – such as Italy.
Just as a health crisis, are nations really prepared to tackle the outbreak? The six-month experience has shown that the World Health Organisation is just a hand-maiden of powers that can get its Director-General appointed. Then, this world body – created to help member-states to contain and handle global pandemics and epidemics – can abdicate its responsibility to pander to the whims and geopolitical machinations of world powers.
Even nation-states such as the United States of America, which currently is the undisputed leader of a uni-polar world, are unable to contain and manage the health crisis that is sweeping that nation. Its healthcare facilities have broken down and have had seizures – the pun intended – at the increasing number of COVID-19 cases being rushed to hospitals for attention.
There are rigorous efforts at this point in time to find a vaccine for the COVID-19. That effort is being led by pharmaceutical companies and Bio-safety Level 3 or Level 4 laboratories in nations such as the United States of America or India. Global experts think it will be India that will finally and quickly succeed in find the remedy for COVID-19. Can this be true?
Nations like India (which boasts of nearly one-seventh of the world population) have gone into a lock-down at the slightest indication of the virus hitting it hard, and it has helped only to a limited extent of slowing down the spread. The lock-down – adopted as a means to ensure physical distancing of citizens and to keep them home instead of crowding business houses, offices, shopping malls, and other similar public and private places – will soon globally ring the death-knell of small and large economies alike, as no business transactions, services or manufacturing activities happen.
Even if COVID-19 was not a bio-weapon, as being suspected, what if such bio-agents are weaponised by a nation that wants to unleash terror against its geopolitical opponents? Doesn’t that pose a threat against humanity itself, about which the world needs to wake up right now and act? If indeed COVID-19 is a bio-weapon, then we can easily assume that the United Nations Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention is as good as dead, unless the nations with common interest or acting in consonance and unitedly in their own national interest – pull up their socks, show some grit, and investigate the origins of the bio-weapon and strictly enforce some punitive action against the rogue nation or organisations that enabled the virus to fester.
Though highly unlikely, the threat of a weaponised bio-agent falling in the hands of a non-state actor who is trigger-happy and doesn’t hesitate to try his/her hands at bio-terrorism needs consideration. The bio-terrorism threat can’t be dismissed as a figment of imagination of a fertile mind and needs assessment and counter moves by the peace-loving, law-abiding global community.
The raging advance of Covid-19, the desperate search for a vaccine, clueless politicians, economic crisis and widespread panic could also teach us how to respond to bio-terror attacks. Is India and the world ready?
(The author is the Chairman of Law and Society Alliance, New Delhi)