Coronavirus: Covid-19


Having battled several epidemics post-World War II, the world at large scarcely imagined getting hit by a Covid-19 like pandemic that would revive memories of the 1918 plague and the economic depression of 1929.

The first of the Covid-19 cases having been reported from Wuhan in China, the emergence of Covid-19 in Wuhan has seen a propaganda battle ensue between the US and China with President Trump labelling the virus as Chinese or Wuhan virus. On 16 Mar 20, US efforts at the virtual meeting of the G7, which it presently heads, to have its draft joint statement naming the virus as such, however failed causing serious divisions among the grouping’s members with several of them issuing their own statements. In a counter, China has been accusing the US troops of having brought the virus to China during World Military Games held in Wuhan in Oct 19.

Even as the exact source remains shrouded in mystery, presently it appears highly unlikely that the virus was developed as a bio-weapon in a laboratory and released accidently or deliberately. Through genetic sequencing the virus has been identified as a bat corona virus. Several theories including an accidental release from Wuhan branch of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology, which had been collecting bat corona viruses from around China, for study to prevent future illness are doing the rounds.

What is more significant is its outbreak with the epicenter being Wuhan. Despite a widely shared perception among G20 member countries that China deliberately played down and even concealed the real nature and magnitude of the disease in the initial stages leading to the current global catastrophe, none including the US chose to question China. It is heartening that G20 leaders expressed solidarity to meet the medical and economic challenges presented by Covid-19.

Earlier India took the lead by holding a SAARC nations virtual meet on 15 Mar 20. As part of the joint strategy, India proposed contributing $10 million into a Covid-19 emergency fund besides offering to train medical response teams and make available India’s Rapid response medical teams.

Covid-19 has recognized neither any borders, nor any super powers nor royalty. It is the developed world which has been the hardest hit with its advanced healthcare systems collapsing under its rapid contagion. The US has close to four lakh cases and over 10,000 fatalities with numbers expected to soar in coming weeks. Compounding the problem is shortage of PPE that is putting the medical staff at grave risk, ventilators and no known cure as yet.

Despite a strong hit on the economy, countries have been left with little choice but to enforce prolonged lockdowns to control the spiraling spread of the disease. Large segments of population in developing countries like India that have a large informal work force have been hit hard. Even in US 10 million have filed for unemployment insurance. All countries have announced stimulus packages. G20 has promised to infuse $5trillion in to the global economy.

Environmentally, lower pollution levels and cleaner rivers are a grim reminder of mankind abusing resources of mother earth.

Covid-19 has put the leadership of nations across the world to a stiff test presenting them with very hard choices and challenges. It has also put the social capital of countries to test. The challenges are greater for democracies especially one of the size of India. As a nation we can justifiably feel proud to have responded with maturity, responsibility and generosity.

The world is passing through a crucial phase of Covid-19 presently and it is not yet time to hazard a guess when the mitigation phase will kick in. But for sure it will be a slow return to ‘business as before’.

Author: Lt Gen SN Handa
The Author has fought the Indo-Pak War 1971 in the Kargil Sector. An alumnus of National Defence College, is a seasoned Infantry officer with vast experience in mountain and desert warfare, low intensity conflict operations and internal security. He retired as Director General Infantry in 2011.

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