How Have You Experienced The Pandemic?
Personal perspectives from the East and the West
A single planet.
One virus — but multiple mutations.
A global population of 7.8 billion people.
Everyone has a story to tell about what the COVID-19 pandemic has meant for them, their country, and how they view our planet’s response to this crisis.
This article shares two of those perspectives — one from India and one from the UK. Different views but a unifying challenge. These are our stories.
A view from India by Suneet Kaur
Do We Own Responsibility of Our Sufferings? Let us introspect the way we handled the era’s Pandemic?
How we handled Corona Virus is a question that would be a beginning of a new chapter in the historical annals, an unexpected crisis that gripped the whole world. The dark phase arrived without knocking. We were perplexed at the rates at which the pandemic infected human civilization. Many suffered, and many others lost their lives. Nations and nations were left locked with least or no human interaction.
How much our players broke records and bagged medals in the Tokyo Olympics, a few successes and failures of the respective governments in fencing the crisis would keep on hitting us like nails.
Lack of oxygen cylinders, insufficient beds in the hospitals, little medical facilities, and worst of all, especially mentioned notice boards of “NO SPACE” in the cremation grounds left us pondering.
We failed to comprehend the seriousness of the issue as this virus was new for us; still, the governments were doing their bit. Gripped in the social, economic, and political situations, the stake of the nations was high.
Last year, we were all locked confined in our respective homes, witnessing the empty roads and giving the wild animals ample space to roam freely. Still, the media was full of reports of the rise in cases — and it is still happening. This year after March, it was the worst.
How the East and West curtailed the spread of COVID-19?
The experience of East Asia and the Pacific with COVID-19 differs with a diverse range of boundaries, geographies, cultures, and political systems as a whole. As of 1 March 2021, reports cited more than 119 million confirmed cases of the virus and around 2.6 million deaths reported by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Amidst this was the compulsory imposition of the masking, social distancing, testing, and requisite quarantines, closing national and international borders, contact tracing, and public health communication. Respective state governments imposed stringent rules and measures like fines and penalties.
The deployment of information technology and strict compliance with public health measures permitted both the Eastern and Western nations to trap COVID-19 and emerge back from the crisis with the best footing.
The best example was that of China. Irrespective of the initial failure, culminating in so many cases, the country achieved success in effectively controlling COVID-19. It gave impetus to the economy, modest growth in contrast to the United States, Europe, and Japan.
COVID-19 Displayed Fragility — East Vs. West
COVID-19 mirrored our fragility in our international system, exposing vulnerabilities and long decaying systems. It showed an apathetic health system when we should have a high-tech medical infrastructure. It enables the coaxing of many countries to make many devastating ethical decisions.
Instead of formulating a global coalition, nations relied on isolationist policies, resulting in ineffective responses to their actions. The result was an uncontrolled spike in the cases across the world; the worst examples are the United States and India.
In 2020, Taiwan Model ensured successful efforts to control COVID-19. Taipei took early measures in managing the pandemic outbreak, like closing the borders of China and utilising digital technology to perform effective contract tracing and enforce mass quarantines. South-Eastern nations like Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand got success in controlling the previous outbreak due to stringent measures like closing the borders, imposing lockdowns, retaining social distancing, and enforcing other methods.
Indonesia and Myanmar continue to battle with low vaccination rates, little oxygen supplies, and overcrowded hospitals. With the lack of testing capacity and vaccination, the cases surged.
Thailand went under lockdown again as anger grew with the Thai officials. More than 1,000 protestors marched towards Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s office, seeking his resignation over the failure to control the pandemic.
Political upheavals and military crackdown interrupted access to healthcare facilities in Myanmar as the country faces an incremental increase in COVID-19.
The turmoil and anxiety in the United States pushed people to avoid information that would not go with their thoughts and ideologies. While in China, citizen collectivism got a big push and wired subjectively into the national mainstream. To undergo current hardship for a better future is accepted by the general people. Yet in China the ethos of cultivation was not built up, and it increased anger as people witnessed administrators as corrupt or lax.
How the US had to taste the waves of COVID-19?
The United States witnessed the worst scenario, with more than 29 million cases and around 530,000 deaths. No one can imagine the scale at which the virus emerged, leaving the experts in a quandary. As the US raced to react to this new scourge, mistakes were committed, costing thousands of lives. Yet efforts of the health care workers, along with the vaccination drive, saved countless other people.
During the pandemic’s early days, then-president Donald Trump took the pandemic lightly, considering it merely like the flu, which would be over by Easter. But this behaviour of the government led to many serious repercussions. Many mistakes happened, like Trump himself becoming the main instrument for COVID-19 updates controlling what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was supposed to do.
The stifling and lack of communication between the CDC and the government’s health experts made it difficult for the authorities to communicate and offer scientific information to the public.
However, later, President Joe Biden made the government’s science agencies and health officials independent.
Though CDC started its testing process, it was slow and delayed, and the agency was not empowered, as it neither created nor conducted the tests required to spot the infections as the disease slowly started spreading. The approval of the tests by the Food and Drug Administration was also slow, resulting in the situation deteriorating.
WHO repeatedly stressed the importance of time-critical activities in combating infectious diseases through testing sick people, tracing contacts, isolating, and quarantining who was found positive or exposed. These methods got approved in Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, and South Korea. But the United States lacked in its efforts to follow these measures.
The government left the situation in the hands of local heads. There was no proper national strategy except for a few schemes, which lacked systematic planning. It caused a spurt in the infections in the local areas, causing an extensive strain on the health care management.
The decentralisation became the root cause of the crisis
On a positive note, the production of vaccines started on a massive scale and appeared in record time. In less than a year, two vaccines, one made by Pfizer and BioNTech and another created by the company Moderna, started appearing in the markets. These vaccines were 95% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 66% effective in preventing moderate-to-severe diseases and 85% in preventing illness.
India’s Handling of COVID
The Indian battle with COVID-19 and at the unprecedented rate at which it exploded thwarted even the Gods. Even organising Kumbh Mela, the biggest ever religious gathering, became a contentious issue. It showed how our government downplayed the severity of the pandemic by holding this festival and organising political rallies in West Bengal.
Reports stated 2020 was better handled, with the least number of cases, but in 2021 COVID-19 spiraled. There was no proper centralised policy except for enforced restricted lockdowns, social distancing, masking, and washing hands. Lack of oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, and life-saving medicines left thousands breathless on the roads, recording more than 4 lakh cases each day.
As per OECD reports, the expenditure of total Indian healthcare is only 3.6% of GDP, which is far less in contrast to the other countries. France has 11.3%, South Africa 8.3%, the United Kingdom is 10%, and Brazil 9.5%. Approximately half of total Indian healthcare comes from the government, with the rest from the people who can afford it.
COVID-19 is a warning for the respective governments to invest heavily in medical infrastructure
During the first wave of COVID-19, Narendra Modi and his ministry were quick to impose a complete lockdown, as it happened in many parts of the world. The reason was there was no facility to control the disease if it spiraled. There was a lack of masks, vaccines, and PPE kits for the frontline workers, lack of beds; instead, the central government initiative with the vaccination programs was picked.
Soon the COVID-19 crisis subsided, and people opened their locked doors to set themselves towards freedom. The central government ministry was also tight-lipped over the chance of the pandemic returning, but the crisis was to come. During the second wave, reins went into the hands of the state governments to wipe out COVID-19 in their respective states. Their first strategy was restricted lockdowns, as they did not want the marginalised labour class left in the lurch. The economy and health had to go side by side.
The result was the war with the centre over basic facilities, such as an adequate need for oxygen cylinders, life-saving drugs, vaccines, and hospital beds. Many samaritans, local bodies, and NGOs became the life-saving agents, organising the cylinders from wherever they could. Frontline workers had to deal with the mayhem.
But with restrictive measures and a controlled environment, India could beat the second wave. India also imported vaccines and other medical equipment from America and other nations. The result was India could not meet the vaccination needs of its own population.
India used three vaccines in its fight against COVID-19. Two are India-made vaccines — Serum Institute of India, Covishield, and Bharat Biotech Covaxin, which supplied 7.92 crore vaccine doses in May 2021. The third is Russian Sputnik V, which got approval from the Drugs Controller General of India for its restricted use only during an emergency.
Yes, we are now out of it, with a few cases confined to South India and the North East. The central government of India is now coming up with a massive vaccination program. Nine oxygen plants have been set up in Gujarat, as reported in the Indian Express. The other states also gave impetus to the health sector, increasing pediatric COVID-19 beds and procuring more ventilators, monitors, and other medicines. India set upon the target of manufacturing more than 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines by December, enough to inoculate the whole population.
Society’s perception about the handling of the pandemic
India is diverse, a nation of 1.39 billion people, and covering the whole population with the vaccination drive takes time. Diversity in culture, religion, political conflicts, and divisions made tasks of the authorities more difficult. Social media also went berserk with the side effects of the vaccination programs and the apathetic condition of the hospitals. There was scepticism about the effectiveness of the vaccines. But with the help of media and digital platforms, the government was able to initiate its vaccination drive.
Amid the crisis, agitating farmers who are protesting against three agricultural laws were adamant in their cause and did not leave their agitation sites. It meant if the pandemic spread among the sites, this would have risked thousands of lives, but instead this allegation was only made about the political rallies by the central government.
COVID-19 came like a storm and receded like a storm but left us all wailing over the deaths of our near and dear ones, leaving several question marks on how scientifically advanced we are, and highlighting the extent of the political will and of social attitudes.
A view from the UK by Miles Etherton
It won’t happen here! Were we just complacent?
Back in January 2020, I made a comment about the growing crisis in Wuhan in China that still haunts me today.
I had been to a meeting and was waiting at Leeds-Bradford airport to get home — only for the flight to be cancelled. Rather than trying to find accommodation nearby, or sleep in the airport, a group of us hired a car to drive back South. On the journey home, I was talking to one of my fellow passengers who asked me what I thought about the “coronavirus” outbreak in Wuhan. Should she worry was the question that sticks with me — asked because I shared details that my “day job” is in health research.
This does not make me an expert in global viruses, but the optimist in me said with confidence that global governments would have plans in place to contain and manage the situation. There wasn’t any reason for us in the UK to worry.
That prediction was not my finest moment.
But why is this important and why am I telling you this? Perhaps my complacency mirrors that of our government and the wider global society and that we were all under-prepared for what was to come.
I have written before about how I view the UK government’s handling of the pandemic and the belief they were both unprepared and more focused on opening the economy to appease wealthy donors whose businesses were being affected. This also touches on the approaches of other governments.
You can read my article here for the background to this belief.
You can’t argue with the data
Whether you agree with my assessment, I want you to consider the following statistics.
Let’s put this into context for the UK. Our population is 68.28 million out of a global total of 7.8 billion. As a percentage, the UK makes up 0.87% of the people of our planet; yet our pandemic death toll accounts for 3% of the total number. This suggests to me many serious failings in our preparation for this crisis and in its handling once it began.
While my experience of the pandemic’s impact has been a very personal one, I will just remind you of a few facts.
- The opposition Labour Party highlighted delays in bringing in national lockdowns in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and in September and December when fresh waves emerged — contrary to the scientific advice.
- The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee condemned the effectiveness of the much-touted “Track and Trace” system for identifying carriers of the virus.
- The provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to frontline workers in hospitals, care homes, prisons and local authorities came under scrutiny and criticism with accusations of poor management.
- Critics of the UK government point to “cronyism” following many pandemic-related contracts being awarded to companies with connections to the Conservative Party and the bypassing of normal tendering processes.
Some light in the darkness
Vaccines development and their effective rollout to the UK’s population have been one bright light amongst the gloom of our death rate, numbers of cases and views on the government’s management.
The organisation I work for has been at the forefront of vaccine development and that has been inspiring to be part of. My wife and I have had both of our jabs along with almost 60% of the UK population.
The tireless work of our National Health Service (NHS) to treat patients suffering the effects of the pandemic, as well as keeping normal services going, has been an inspiration and continues to be recognized, and will for many years to come. That is one prediction I am confident of!
Yes, it’s personal!
But let’s not forget the personal cost, trauma and legacy that COVID has given us. Yes, vaccinations are still taking place and lockdown restrictions eased in July — but there is a sting in the tail. Government-funded research estimates two million people may have had — or still have — “long COVID”.
Amongst this number, is my wife who went down with COVID-19 in March 2020. Eighteen months on, she still has chronic fatigue, an over-active immune system and a wide range of food intolerances, among other issues. Two million “long COVID” sufferers with comparable symptoms equate to 1 in 34 of the UK population. Chances are you will know someone in this position.
It worries me that too many of our population believe that a COVID-19 vaccination makes them immune from the virus. While the risk of serious complications or death is lower, this is not a bulletproof vest you’re wearing.
I am sympathetic to the argument that society has to open up again and we need to learn to live with the virus. People’s businesses and livelihood depend on this. My employer expects us to return to the office in September, although as for many, this will be on a “hybrid” basis split between home and our normal working premises.
What I struggle to reconcile is that 40% of the UK population remains unvaccinated, and according to Our World in Data, only 15.5% of the global population is fully vaccinated. The pandemic is not over, yet as a society, this is how large swathes are behaving.
Only recently, there were reports that the UK “is on course to ‘hoard’ up to 210m spare coronavirus vaccines by the end of the year”. But they are not alone. An Amnesty International report earlier this year noted that:
“The richest countries have effected a near-monopoly of the world’s supply of vaccines, leaving countries with the fewest resources to face the worst health and human rights outcomes.”
Add to this that last year The People’s Vaccine Alliance warned that “nearly 70 lower-income countries will only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people,” thanks to this practice of hoarding, or “vaccine nationalism” as some are calling it. The demand for “free vaccines for everyone” continues to be made, but there is little sign of this yet.
Let’s put in very simple terms why this is so important with an example we can all relate to. Who doesn’t enjoy going on holiday, going somewhere new, soaking up the sun, or exploring a hidden treasure you’ve always wanted to visit? I know I do.
You might have your “vaccine passport” proving you’ve been lucky enough to get vaccinated. But what about the 6.6 billion people not yet in that position? Do you think you’ll avoid all of them? You may not die or experience serious illness from this encounter, but you could bring it back with you.
For the two million “long COVID” sufferers in the UK, this is a nightmare scenario — the chance of getting a new mutation of the virus and prolonging their illness.
The battle with the virus is being won slowly, but it’s not over yet for the vast majority of the global population — vaccinated or not. All I’m asking for is that we don’t forget this.
Two countries — one virus — a common cause
Your experience of the coronavirus pandemic — something we must hope is a once in many lifetimes event — may have felt like these stories. They might have been very different, and you were lucky that its impact was quite small for you.
In contrast, you might know or have been close to some of the 4.3 million people to have lost their lives at the hands of COVID-19. We are learning to live with the pandemic, but as the virus evolves as it will into new mutations we must never lose sight of the fact that whether you live in India, the UK or any other part of our planet, that this is the only world we have.
Petty vaccine nationalism, isolationist policies, political in-fighting or preferential treatment for the richest countries is not the way we need to tackle a crisis of this magnitude should one visit us again. We are different countries with alternative perspectives — but this is the only planet we have.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that there is more that unites us than divides us. That is how we need to respond to future crises such as climate change or weapons of mass destruction. We should never lose sight of that.
This article was a joint endeavour between Suneet Kaur and Miles Etherton.
About Suneet Kaur
I love calling myself a half-baked but supercharged writer with the ability to use the words that can grasp the readers into my thoughts and ideas that I would want to project.
I am a writer, a content writer, a blogger, and above all, a human being with a passion for getting into the gist of human feelings. I believe in extending hands of friendship with like-minded ones across the world. I love reading and travelling.
I welcome you all to connect with me on Netzlers.
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