By Chid Amuta
The global hysteria around the corona virus emergency has birthed many untidy offspring. As the menace of the virus abates, its footprints are everywhere in evidence. Four things seem to be happening simultaneously. First, governments have appropriated and monopolized the fear factor and are perpetuating a permanent mindset of emergency around the virus. Second, majority of the world population have overcome the fear of the virus and broken loose from lockdowns to dare the outdoors, literally daring the virus.
As lockdowns have begun to ease, the fear in peoples minds is being replaced by the boldness to live life as it once was. Third, the Covid-19 emergency is fast and increasingly being cornered and put to other uses by crafty politicians and other tribes of ingenious entrepreneurs. Fourth, whichever way it ends, Covid-19 has opened new frontiers and challenges in humanity’s quest to control its destiny and remake the fate of nations and the plight of peoples.
Let us make no mistake about it, the Covid-19 crisis will be confronted nationally but resolved internationally. Individual nation states will own and dispose of their versions of the virus but the solutions that will endure and save humanity will be global -universal testing, vaccination and drug therapy. For now, governments are having a field day in tinkering with measures and policies informed mostly by ignorance and political opportunism. Only researchers and scientists are questing for the enduring solutions.
Rightfully, governments have a right to be afraid of anything that threatens their peoples and their own political security. The corona virus has threatened the things that give meaning to the idea of government. The obligation to protect their peoples is a primary threat. Health systems have been stretched and stressed to their limits. The executive coherence and responsiveness of governmental systems has also been called to question. Long standing healthcare templates, public transportation and education systems and the very social essence of group life have all been severely dented and altered. Death in droves and the possibility of infection in the normal order of the business of life and of business itself are sufficient grounds for governments to fret and stutter as we have seen in recent months.
By their nature, governments feel like governments mostly only when they do dramatic things that affect many people for good or for ill. Governments sometimes feel more important when their leaders can make sudden pronouncements to shut down borders, close airports, curtail immigration, limit the movements of peoples within and across state boundaries and generally invade private living rooms to hector people or tell them how to live their lives on television. Although democratic governments are elected to safeguard the freedom of the majority, there is something of the autocrat in the psychology of people of power and government which enervates them when they have to act out of necessity to deny or limit the freedom of many people or even invade their privacy. Fear creates an atmosphere in which these things become imperative. Government is a machinery for loud noises and foolish spending. Governments spend big money, buy huge things that do not necessarily make sense to ordinary people and pose for photographs with plastic smiles.
As it turns out, the most effective way to devise long term solutions to these threats and problems posed by the corona virus is for governments to sustain the mindset of fear. Conjuring up the perennial state of fear enables governments to reach for emergency funds to pay for medical supplies, to build and equip more hospitals, re-think their response strategies and take another look at their priorities. The US government initially thought death rates by corona virus will be automatically reduced by buying more ventilators. So they went shopping for ventilators wherever they could be found. They even got General Motors and Ford to shut down auto manufacturing lines to mass produce ventilators. No one knows what will happen to those millions of these machines as infection, hospitalization and death rates go south.
The conversion of fear into an instrument of policy has led to a number of panic measures. In places like Singapore and parts of Asia, panic led to a reintroduction of lockdowns and quarantines after an initial relaxation following the re-emergence of infections. The re-imposition of lockdowns remains a permanent threat even in societies that have relaxed them. In the United States, open demonstrations against continuing lockdowns by large populations have pitted people against state governments.
Chidi Amuta is a member of TheNewsGuru(TNG) editorial advisory board