The pandemic has arrived. The world is witnessing something only read about in books, narrated as stories and warned about as a threat. Yet we were underprepared, if not unprepared.
COVID-19 has transcended borders and has made the rules of free trade futile. Governments are scrambling for answers. There is panic and fear. Our lives have stopped with our homes becoming the boundary of the world for us. The race to prosper and conquer is now running backwards in order to slow down the inevitable.
The world has been somehow forced to come to terms with the realities of nature we’ve so callously been ignoring. Everything is being done to turn the inevitable into manageable pain and acceptable suffering. Those billions worth of shares, hedge funds, mutual funds and what not, which were to secure the future, have themselves turned into worthless pieces of paper in the wake of crisis. Those secured jets and yachts – symbols of prestige and ownership – are lying idle, with their owners demanding that the government protect them.
What irony. Capitalism, which promised a fortune for everyone, a life of security and a promised career if one “worked hard”, has failed us. The free market has left us waiting in the lines to die and the corporates who promised the sky and the moon are giving up and demanding government intervention.
Capitalism wanted life to be privatised, but it now wants death to be socialised.
Who thought that the ‘most powerful’, ‘richest’ and ‘the advanced economies’ would be looking towards the ‘poor’ and ‘rudimentary’ systems for ways of coping up? People and governments that advocated free market are talking about rationing of food, demanding that the government to take on the cost of health care. Rejected and demeaned ideas like nationalisation of healthcare and policies of accessibility and affordability will turn out to be the only solutions in a time of global crisis.
Cuba, which was marginalised and punished for advocating and practicing communism, is being asked to send its doctors for medical assistance. China, which was shunned and shamed for its model of economic progress, is being looked up at for battling and containing COVID-19. Only if our healthcare systems were universal and those trillions of dollars poured into buying arms, tanks and war ships that have turned useless to control the pandemic, were spent on health care.
We would have had ventilators, hospitals, medicines, doctors, nurses, para-medical staff and what not. We would have saved lives, dreams and the future. The soldier standing in Siachen is also fearing infection and is looking towards a doctor struggling to save lives with bare minimum infrastructure. Warships and military bases are turning into quarantine zones. The rich and poor are equally affected – but as always, it’s the latter who will be disproportionately impacted.
But how can we forget those countless hours of instilled ‘nationalism’, ‘greatness’ and ‘strength’ turning to paupers. The learnt lessons of military supremacy, trillions of bullets and guns, millions of soldiers and ‘secured borders’ are failing to contain COVID-19. We all feared a nuclear annihilation, but who thought the threat would emanate from a virus and not these much debated and spent upon issues of national and international security?
The world is realising a tough lesson, bullets can’t kill viruses, it is vaccines, medicines and doctors who can. We have been spending lavishly on futile aspects of science – those aimed at taking lives – while ignoring and overlooking the science aimed at saving lives.
The demand for more hospitals, medical care, healthcare professionals and a proper, accessible and affordable system of healthcare was designed for exactly what we are facing today. To save lives and prevent spread of pandemics like COVID-1. The doctors had been warning the government even when the crisis started, demanding that hospitals be built, ventilators be brought, masks be given.
We failed them as they are talking science and assuring us that medicine will save us. They are holding our governments accountable for the lack of infrastructure, medical staff, medical equipment, masks, salaries and are demanding solutions – not for them but so that they can give their best to save our lives.
The case of the US negotiating with a German company for exclusive rights for medicine was not only condemned, but is reframing the rights and duties of governments and societies. The privatisation of healthcare, which was celebrated as the epitome of development, is failing to stand up to cure, treat and save lives. Patents, royalties and ownership, which drove pharmaceuticals in 20th century, and is still commanding the 21st century, are being condemned and being demanded to ensure access and affordability for all.
Isn’t it amazing those trillions of dollars we spent on insurance for safety and protection has not only vanished but is advocating the most basic insurance: “WASH YOUR HANDS”?
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People are realising their survival is dependent on the health and hygiene of others. Suddenly, we are trying to think, act and live like a community. Walmarts are functioning like Public Distribution Systems, rationing food and essential items. Every available space is being converted into an isolation or a quarantine zone. At sermons, priests are asking their followers to listen to doctors.
Suddenly, science determines our collective survival.
Nature, which we tried to conquer and exploit, is asserting its rules. Science today is planning the morbidity and mortality. They are rationing and postponing the inevitable, so that we can digest and heal in the process. The young are expected to shoulder huge responsibility. We young are going to lose a lot our education, we still have continue to pay our student loan debt, suffer job losses, unemployment, disrupted careers and annihilated dreams.
COVID-19 is determining the rules of the game about death and life.
However, we young have to stand up to the occasion. With every challenge comes an opportunity to rewrite the future, save the present and prove the past wrong. We have to collectively demand a better future that’s inclusive, with healthcare and education accessible to everyone as a right. The battle for that future starts with fighting the present. Lets recognise the true warriors of today: doctors, nurses, health care and community professionals and every public servant who is standing up for the collective.
The youth have to remember the corporates that stepped back and gave up after gulping hundreds and thousands of trillions of dollars. The public sector, science and medicine stood up. We need science for the people, to the people and by the people. Only this science will give us a better future, for which we need healthcare and education for all, accessible and affordable, we need minimum basic income for families, social security for vulnerable and governments accountability to the people. This is what we young have to fight for.
Who thought that the world would be looking to the young? Our footsteps decide the future. Let’s slow down, introspect and live in solidarity with each other. Let’s stand up to the occasion, be compassionate, spread love and stand united.
Let’s demand free and accessible testing for all, universal and free treatment for everyone, universal basic income payment for the poor and marginalised (including students and the unemployed), tax reliefs for small and medium business, wage payments for informal sector and other policies that take care of the oppressed.
Let’s demand that the government listen to the oppressed and act for the oppressed.
Today, there is no external enemy to bomb. We have our own existing system to fight to ensure that we build an equitable and just world that is for all, and not just for the few.
Because united we are, defeated COVID-19 will be!
N. Sai Balaji is the national president of All India Students’ Association (AISA).
Featured image credit: Reuters