Is 2020 going to be the year of the COVID?

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 —previously known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19. Credit: NIAID-RML

It has been only 2 and a half months into 2020 and the world is already in turmoil. The new year started literally with a bonfire that ravaged through large swathes of Australia in January. Just before fresh images of singed cute koalas fade from our minds, Malaysia’s barely 24-months old liberal government was toppled by a rebellion within their own ranks. And before the cursed Sheraton Move fade from the people’s minds, the most consequential once-in-a-generation global pandemic broke out in March.

Suddenly, everyone who is not from China just woke up to the fact that a deadly novel coronavirus has been spreading within their borders and infecting large numbers of their population. Now, I have a lot to say about all of these events. But it is the last one that just boils my blood.

Having been to China in December 2019 with Cheryl and the kids, we were (unknowingly at that time) in a nation that was about to go into a draconian lockdown weeks later. The disease, now named as COVID-19, was first reported in the news in early January as a new form of localised mysterious pneumonia that plagued some people in Wuhan. At that time, it was believed that the sickness was caused by a new (novel) coronavirus that probably jumped from animal to humans but there was little evidence to suggest that human-to-human transmission was possible.

The news didn’t go away as more and more reports started emerging that the number of sufferers increased exponentially on a daily basis. When a doctor reported that the coronavirus was spreading from human-to-human through suspended droplets in the air, the news grew more alarming. When the deaths came and the infected kept piling up, China went into overdrive to contained it.

News around the western world was almost schadenfreude in their reporting: “It’s a Chinese virus caused by people eating bats”, “Dystopian authoritarian regime trying to suppress freedom through brutal lockdown”, “Coverup causes delays in responding to the issue” and so on. The US and pretty soon, the rest of the world blocked them off by imposing travel restrictions.

But viruses don’t adhere by our political border restrictions and they definitely don’t need passports to travel. Pretty soon, the virus came to our shores and made its way around the world. Malaysia was vigilant but not China-level vigilant. And soon, our nation will be locked down beginning 18th of March 2020.

Meanwhile, the world had plenty of time to react to their own relatively low daily infections that was happening in their localised community. But they are not seizing the opportunity to prepare adequately. The US politicizes the virus. Europe decides that it’s okay to party. South America thinks that it’s localised to other countries. India and Indonesia with its huge population is just lost on what to do.

I do not know how fast we can get though this but the world is definitely not going to be same again.

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