Our planet is incredible, fantastic, staggeringly beautiful, but it is a dangerous place, with numerous contagious diseases, some of which are more debilitating or cause higher mortality rates than COVID-19, the latest virus to attack human beings. Fortunately, there are vaccines for a number of these terrible diseases, and so their capacity to wreak havoc in the world has been greatly diminished.
What makes COVID-19 such a frightening threat is that it is very contagious, and persons can have it in their bodies but not fall ill — they have no symptoms and show no signs of having the virus. They, like silent carriers of typhoid and HIV, pass the virus on to others who will fall gravely ill. At this time the best defense against the disease calls for major personal and national sacrifice. If the disease isn’t contained, it is believed that its toll on lives will increase exponentially, until a vaccine is found or people develop some immunity to it.
Scientists have identified two strains of the virus, and they say they have seen no evidence that that is changing. Scientists believe that COVID-19 won’t mutate nearly as quickly as the seasonal influenza viruses, so when a vaccine is found it should be long-lasting.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a top adviser to the Director-General of the WHO, told Time magazine that most people believe that it is very unlikely that the disease will disappear completely because it “transmits too easily in the human population.” Aylward said that if countries test every case and do rapid isolation, they should be able to keep cases low; however, if countries implement big shutdown measures without finding every case, every time they “take the brakes off, it could come back in waves.”
We’ve learned a lot about this new enemy in the past few months, and the path forward our local authorities have chosen at this time includes testing of persons who exhibit signs of the disease, a gradual tightening of the controls at points of entry into the country, promoting social distancing and improved hygiene, a gradual removal of civil liberties, self-isolation, and rapid tracking and testing of anyone who has had contact with someone who contracted the disease.
Many Belizeans believe our authorities should take more draconian measures: they recommend a complete lockdown for a few weeks, as has been done in Wuhan, China, where the disease was first reported. What makes that argument strong is that the disease is persistent, and stealthy. It’s hard to see how self-isolation in a home with others can stem the transmission of the virus, because it can survive on surfaces for days.
One argument that weakens the call for locking down the country is that not all of us have the reserves to quit working for too long. Some would argue that the measures being taken right now are nearly as painful as a complete lockdown, so why not do it and derive the full benefits, which is having a society that is certified free of the disease at this time.
In his commentary on the 2020/21 budget estimates, the Leader of the Opposition (PUP), Hon. John Briceño, remarked on the great disparity between the bank accounts of 95% of Belizeans and those of the richest 5% of us. That difference is enormous, and when you look at all the facts, it gets even worse. More than 30,000 Belizeans don’t even own a bank account. One lockdown for two or three weeks would be a tremendous strain. What happens if we need to do a second lockdown?
Of the big three — the US, China, and Russia – the US is not the best able to defend itself against COVID-19, and that’s because of its economic system. The economies of socialist countries are better equipped to get through the pandemic because the resources of those nations are more equally divided.
The USA, the wealthiest country in the world, is capitalist, and so most of their wealth is concentrated in a few hands. They have invested a lot of money into finding a cure, and while they wait for that, they have implemented a few measures which include countrywide social distancing and a limited lockdown in areas that have been hard hit. Those measures are hitting their economy hard.
It is no idle talk coming from some political leaders in the USA that they would be better off if they unleashed the virus and let it take its toll on the most vulnerable groups. We say “no idle talk,” because these political leaders are serious about their opinion. This was precisely the initial reaction coming from a high-ranking source in the United Kingdom, and a coronavirus crisis soon debunked that initial reaction in England. All the experts in the medical field say they would be in for some very rough times if they relaxed the measures to contain the virus, in a gamble that after the storm they would be in the clear.
Unleashing the virus can’t be the fix for Belize. At this juncture, while we hold on for medical science to improve our chances against the virus, Belizeans want our authorities to do everything in their power to protect lives.
The pandemic has brought our economy to its knees, and some of the measures to safeguard our health are putting added financial strain on persons who can least afford it. We are not a socialist country, but Belizeans insist that every mouth be fed during this crisis. The authorities have responded with some initiatives that will provide a thin cushion for the thousands of Belizeans who are short of resources.
Belizeans have been clamoring for decades for our leaders to implement a system that ensures a more equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth so that there is less of a gap between the incomes of Belizeans, and in the throes of this pandemic that clamor for equity will reach a crescendo. We would have been in a better position to defend ourselves if such a system had been in place.
The authorities must make the necessary adjustments to our system. It is inevitable that the greed at the top will slow down in Belize, but if the authorities do the right thing, the rich and well-off will still end up with some of their pie. If the authorities don’t do the right thing, our present economic system could fall, completely.