Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 7 August 2020

Pandemic requires urgent action from world leaders

In some countries, authorities have been unable or unwilling to curb the spread of the coronavirus

Italy has strengthened up its quarantine rules, shutting all commercial activities except for pharmacies, food shops, gas stations, tobacco stores and news kiosks. Getty Images
Italy has strengthened up its quarantine rules, shutting all commercial activities except for pharmacies, food shops, gas stations, tobacco stores and news kiosks. Getty Images

On Wednesday, the ongoing spread of coronavirus, which results in the disease Covid 19, was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. The change in designation does not imply a change in the severity of the disease itself. It is, rather, an indication that it has become much more widespread, and of the urgency that must be attached to the world’s response.

By labelling the coronavirus a pandemic, the WHO aims to sound warning bells in the face of “alarming inaction”, in the words of its director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly” he said, urging governments to take stronger action. The virus is spreading rapidly. It has affected more than 118,000 people in 114 countries, and while over 62,000 have recovered, it has claimed at least 4,200 lives. Here in the UAE, action has been swift to meet the challenge. But some countries have been unwilling to mount a rigorous enough response.

The virus is spreading rapidly. It has affected more than 118,000 people in 114 countries, and while over 62,000 have recovered, it has claimed at least 4,200 lives. Some countries have been unable to contain the outbreak, or unwilling to mount a rigorous enough response.

Italy is facing Europe’s deadliest surge in cases, with more than 800 deaths and over 12,000 people infected. This week, authorities in Rome enacted restrictive measures nationwide to prevent it from spreading further.

Elsewhere in Europe, some leaders have shown little heed for Italy’s warning signs. For instance, in an appearance on British television earlier this week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that it may be best if everyone in the country contracted the virus “all in one go,” instead of implementing preventive action. This proposition is directly contrary to the advice of the WHO. Mr Johnson himself was not tested for possible infection even after he had met with the country’s health minister, Nadine Dorries, shortly after she herself tested positive. With cases in the UK rising daily, Mr Johnson is now reconsidering his government’s approach.

Closer to home, Iran is facing the worst outbreak in the Middle East and most cases that have emerged in the region are linked to the country. Tehran claims that 9,000 people have contracted the disease and 354 have died as a consequence.

The countries that have been hit worst by the pandemic, such as South Korea and China, have proved the virus can be suppressed if there is sufficient political will

But experts believe Iranian authorities are widely underreporting the number of cases, and that they have mishandled the situation from the start, putting the lives of their people at unnecessary risk.

A plethora of high-ranking officials have come out as affected by the virus, including Iran’s vice president Eshaq Jahangiri, and the country’s deputy health minister Iraj Haririchi. At least 24 members of Parliament have fallen ill, and two of them have died. The country’s flagging healthcare system now requires considerable international assistance. Yesterday, Tehran formally requested $5 billion in emergency assistance from the International Monetary Fund, and the WHO is endeavouring to supply Iran, along with several other countries, the necessary equipment to halt the virus in its tracks. But politicians and influential public figures have a responsibility to push for better policies and to inform the public about the best steps to take.

Mr Jahangiri has contracted the new coronavirus. AP
Mr Jahangiri has contracted the new coronavirus. AP

The countries that have been hit worst by the pandemic, such as South Korea and China, have proved that the virus can be suppressed if there is sufficient political will and concerted action. Gulf nations have also been praised by the WHO for taking all necessary precautions.

The WHO’s call to action must be heard, understood and adopted in earnest by all of the world’s leaders and citizens alike. Universal threats require a strong, universal response.

Updated: March 12, 2020 07:15 PM

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