Viewpoint by Jayasri Priyalal *
SINGAPORE (IDN) — The new normal has become a famous phrase with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This new normal could become an eternal abnormality if lessons learned about inequality in the globalized world economy exposed by the COVID-19 are not recognized and acted upon.
Today, people feel frustrated about adjusting to the health crisis’s eternal uncertainties with looming confusions and contradictions between the normality of the past and not the usual present.
Controversies for the commoner on the street are to quarantine or not, for health professionals to test or not, symptomatic, or a-symptomatic. Finally, the policymakers grappling with lockdown are pushing all our lives into a new paradigm. But one thing is sure an eternal abnormality will remain as the new normal across the world for some time.
Even after one year, coronavirus remains infectious, mutating and spreading at its own pace unrestrained. WHO has now started a new vocabulary using the Latin alphabets a to d. COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis, a turning point in human civilization at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Whatever is said and done, the global science and health community are firmly united to restrain the pandemic.
Whatever the scientific advancement and progress homo sapiens have thus far gained remains secondary to the power of nature. The virus is two steps ahead of humankind. The novel coronavirus is measured to be 1/10,000th of a pinhead, but its impact grounded the manufacture of the largest passenger carrying Airbus 380 and sent Boeing 747 planes to the scrap yards.
Unfortunately, international politics are divided on advancing a common health policy and vaccine distribution, denying many marginalized communities getting the jabs expeditiously into economically weaker countries. No one is safe until everyone is safe; often reverberates on the lips yet not firmly get registered in the hearts of some politicians in the Global North. However, we need to commend the WHO’s COVAX program’s efforts to distribute the vaccines as a public good, collaborating with a coalition of the willing.
But the COVID-19 lockdowns and the associated focus on supply chains and technology have exposed a great socio-economic divide in the globalized world economy. Global corporation’s successes need to be measured in terms of capacities to invent affordable solutions to human problems. Such as developing vaccines to restrain coronavirus infection, global warming, and depletion of natural resources, and degrading the environment opting out to find renewable energy sources. Another area is accelerating food production to feed seven billion people without disturbing bio-diverse ecosystems.
Scientists are revisiting evolution theories and working hard to find affordable solutions to curb the coronavirus infection spread. The vaccines are the time-tested remedies to inoculate the communities until herd immunity is achieved. We need to commend those virologists coming up with novel vaccines such as mRNA, which enhances human immunity by producing spike proteins to capture the virus to neutralize the pathogen preventing its multiplications once it enters the body.
Similarly, the traditional vaccines made with subdued virus dosage to stimulate antibodies production once inoculated are also working hand in hand, increasing the level of immunity.
COVID-19 pandemic too shattered the monopolies of the giant pharmaceutical industries by allowing unfair patent rights on their medical inventions using taxpayer’s money for profit maximization. All developing countries can share the patented formulas to produce vaccines and make them available as a public good. If not for the crisis at hand, this was not possible.
But the Global North needs to cooperate with the Global South led by India and South Africa to lift all patents on vaccines to treat COVID-19. President Biden needs to show leadership—not just PR—in getting the countries that benefit from the Pharmaceutical Industry’s patent monopolies to let go of it in the interest of humanity.
The World Bank Group estimates a sum of US$ 50 billion needs to be invested in overcoming the pandemic triggered health crisis to stimulate growth in the world economy to secure US$ 9 trillion additional global output by 2025.
During the past year, the pandemic reinforced the importance of the public health system and the value of healthcare professionals as frontline heroes. Allowing tech giants and global corporations to hide their profits in tax havens and creating social hell in lockdown situations are now seen as unsustainable.
At the time of writing, the G7 leaders are preparing to meet in Cornwall, United Kingdom, to endorse a minimum global tax rate of 15%, which is a step in the right direction to source funds to restore the sagging economic activities’ resilience.
The global community’s reliance on the tech giants to communicate in the absence of person-to-person interactions has delivered enormous profits to a handful of global companies, who have even before the COVID-19 crisis have been draining financial resources out of local media and communication industries globally. G7 needs to ensure that any such regime would equally benefit the countries of the Global South as well.
The coronavirus reinstated the fact that people are living in societies and not in abstract markets. Social distancing is the currency that enables anyone to enter the neighbourhood wet market or a hypermarket. Neoliberal economics, which propagated maximum consumption to generate ultimate well-being in society, now needs remaking. The mythical belief in market efficiencies forced irrational producers and consumers to strip the natural resources and the habitable environment to the hilt, with greed to accumulate wealth at the expense of mother nature.
Coronavirus proved the priceless value of fresh air and freshwater vis-a-vis accrued profits. And many are yet to realize that going in search of accumulating economic value by destroying all social values is futile and not the way forward for sustainable development. Coronavirus has challenged conventional thinking and forced many of us to redesign our plans for shared prosperity.
The science was correct, forewarned the perils of exploitation of the natural resources, be it fossil fuels or minerals. We conveniently forgot that -only planet water- is an internal combustion engine to remain in the solar system with the centrifugal magnetic force at the core. There is no other planet in the solar system with water, and we spend trillions of dollars to find water and life on other planets such as Lunar and Mars. Yet, we name our planet Earth when two-third of mass is water.
Among all the volume of water around us, the freshwater supporting all living beings’ lives are less than 1%. Three percent of the earth’s water is fresh. 2.5% of the earth’s freshwater is unavailable: locked up in glaciers, polar ice caps, atmosphere, and soil; highly polluted, or lies too far under the earth’s surface to be extracted at an affordable cost. Only 0.5% of the earth’s water is available freshwater to support life on this planet. Henceforth, with the lessons for COVID-19, high time to rename our only habitat as planet water instead of planet earth.
Now we are chasing behind oxygen to save lives; next would be chasing behind precious freshwater for survival. Irrational human greed exploits and extracts all-natural resources at a pace.
We continue exploiting natural resources blindly, purely to accumulate economic value for short-term perceived prosperity. Mother nature felt enough, and a COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for socially and environmentally concerned citizenry to reinvent measuring indicators to assess performances and productivity in the economy other than the financialization of natural resources to earn exceptional returns on equity. [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 June 2021]
* Jayasri Priyalal is the Regional Director responsible for Finance Sector, Professional and Managerial Group, working with UNI Global Union Asia & Pacific Regional Organization in Singapore.
Photo: Now we are chasing behind oxygen to save lives; next would be chasing behind precious freshwater for survival. South America’s Amazon River. CC BY-SA 2.0
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