• 2021
  • Spike in new cases calls for humility in fighting pandemic

Spike in new cases calls for humility in fighting pandemic

 Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
May 3, 2021


IT would not be too far off if one is to say that we are humbled by the coronavirus pandemic. The unprecedented number of deaths and those infected is enough to tell what the reality is. More current is the state of affairs in India, haunted by images of the flames coming from the mass cremations of victims of the raging pandemic.

Some crematoria are said to be short of firewood or even space to perform the sacred rites. So too the need for burial. Yet pictures of people queuing up along the streets leading to nearby hospitals are common, some anxiously waiting to be admitted at the next available space.

Reports have it that beds are being shared in some facilities as the situation gets more desperate. Many are dying in hospitals, including along the corridors, due to the scarcity of essentials. The situation is most humbling indeed.

But none can be more humbling than the scarcity of the very essential of life — oxygen! Something that we took for granted prior to the pandemic. We even "wasted" it by polluting the air that we breathe. Many more are dying on the roads or public spaces as the coronavirus becomes airborne. Meanwhile, airspace bordering other countries are being closed and flights are cancelled.

Oxygen is increasingly a rare commodity in exchange for one's life, which is hanging by a thread. How humbling can it get, when it is also traded on the black market, sold to the highest bidder — allegedly to those who are normally high on the traditional caste hierarchy.

As a result, India is looking for assistance for almost everything to prevent it from crumbling as the numbers of affected and dead continue to climb to a record high, day after day.

Compared with what we heard and read from the Davos-based World Economic Forum early in the year, India today seems like a totally alien place. We were told then that the country is well prepared for Covid-19, in comparison to the developed West undergoing the second wave.

Reportedly, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: "It was predicted that India would be the most affected country from corona all over the world. It was said that there would be a tsunami of corona infections in India, somebody said 700 to 800 million Indians would get infected while others said two million Indians would die.

"Friends, it would not be advisable to judge India's success with that of another country. In a country which is home to 18 per cent of the world's population, that country has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively."

Indeed, the first wave of Covid-19 that came to India quickly subsided last year. The government and its supporters were declared victorious. In addition, India was portrayed as a vaccine powerhouse with two manufacturers, the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, supplying two highly sought-after vaccines to the poorest parts of the world.

In fact, it planned to sell the vaccines to the private sector at a marked-up price, relative to the state governments, aimed at securing a lucrative margin for the vaccine companies, unlike most countries, including Malaysia, that provide free vaccination even to immigrants.

All this failed to materialise under the second wave as India runs short of vaccines for its own people. Especially those who cannot get access to paid vaccines due to their meagre income. Their families are on the verge of collapsing as the economy pushes hundreds of millions of people into abject poverty. Vaccines are competing with acquiring scarce food for starving family members.

What is more when experts predicted that the number of cases will grow perhaps exponentially to a more frightening figure by the day. The system is no longer sustainable if the pandemic cannot be contained any more.

Undeniably, this is a painful lesson for all, not only for the largest nation in the Asian subcontinent. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that it has no preference whatsoever — individually or collectively dictated by ideology, colour, caste or what have you.

Obviously, vaccines are necessary but they are not enough without a dose of humility (which is free of charge) to keep the deadly virus(es) at bay for the sake of human dignity!

The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector