According to the CDC the United States has registered nearly 750,000 cases and over 39,000 deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the world. The state of Emergency issued by the US President sent millions of Americans into their homes to shelter in place until the virus had run its course. Even while the pathology is inconclusive, China’s Hubei province offers clues as to how to contain and treat the virus. However, many Western countries are at a disadvantage when it comes to containing the virus for many sociopolitical and cultural reasons.
During the days of China’s tumultuous battle, when COVID-19 infected 82,000 and claimed the lives of over 4600 people, China was able to fully lockdown Wuhan and Hubei to halt the spread. After 3-4 months of lockdown, Wuhan slowly began to recover. The US and many Western countries have been unable to follow the same protocol, posting critically high infection numbers. Whether this is due to internal sociopolitical discord on pandemic management or the stubborn will of citizens unwilling social distance and shelter in place; the vulnerabilities endemic in these systems have begun to appear.
While many are rightfully anxious to get back to their normal lives, the pandemic reveals how easy it is to hamstring the once greatest superpower in the world. Protests in a number of U.S. States regarding the shutdown may reveal how Westernized populations lack the collective discipline to weather a true onslaught. A massive service economy, with a weak manufacturing base that survives primarily on the mechanations of numeric values in the stock market (values which don’t actually reflect the socioeconomic health of it populace), is ripe for a calamity of any kind. The pandemic has only revealed the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” in such a scenario.
It seems the characteristic extreme greed in Western industrial societies that precipitated the 2008 financial crises is now preventing small businesses, entrepreneurs and contractors from benefiting from the billion dollar U.S. Paycheck Protection Program. It seems mega restaurant chains, publicly traded companies and the hospitality industry have voraciously consumed the lions share of the funds. To give that context, the U.S. Has nearly 6 million firms, of which nearly 99 percent of those are small businesses with less than 500 employees. It seems the good greed has gone bad, and the US sits ripe for the next disaster. It appears that many are unable to temper individual corporate gain from the possibility of undermining long term recovery. It will be curious to see how employment numbers for US marginalized urban communities and international states under austerity measures like Italy and Spain will rebound.
What is even more disturbing is the possibility of reinfection or backwash from infected states/cities adversely affecting cleared states and localities. Even China has been keen to target imported cases in cleared locations, often using draconian and sometimes xenophobic measures that have strained the diplomatic ties it has with African states. The necessity to create socially humane and mutually acceptable measures to contain further spread remains an imperative that will require international leadership, negotiation and internal integrity.
The nation prepared to seize that leadership role on the world stage will be able to demonstrate cooler heads, strategic coalitions and effective measures. And unfortunately it seems U.S. has determined to abdicate that position as it turns inward. Now there is an open door for a new world leader to emerge. In mid April, the U.S. Further solidified its retreat by freezing major funding for the World Health Organization in April. Even as the world watches the US grapple with the realities of a massive pandemic, the soft penetrable underbelly of an ageing society is being revealed. Americans of all ages, stations and races wait with bated breath–watching the economy, the leaders and their own personal recovery to see if the American dream can be reclaimed from the roving COVID nightmare.