COVID-19 Opinion

COVID-19: A crisis that knows no borders

Among the lessons I have learnt is that as individuals in a global crisis, the first responsibility we have is asking questions and educating oneself.

By Dhia Waddah Al Hanai

The advent of globalization is often discussed in a positive light, but it is a crisis like the novel coronavirus pandemic that shows how those same channels through which we trade and travel are also a point of weakness through which diseases spread with greater speed and reach, making them harder to contain. Cases in the UAE have fortunately been relatively steady, with famed Hollywood star Steve Harvey regarding it as the safest country in the world from the pandemic, but there is no escape from the effects of the crisis.

If one were to focus only on the statistics directly related to the virus, such as the number of cases, recoveries, and mortality rate, they would be forgiven for dismissing the measures taken to combat it as a gross overreaction. After all, the previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS, while having far fewer cases, had mortality rates of 10 and 34 percent, respectively, magnitudes greater than the current 3.4 percent of COVID-19. Unfortunately, statistics rarely paint the full picture, and with further reading the severity of the situation comes to light. Left to its own devices, the novel coronavirus spreads alarmingly quickly and would overwhelm the healthcare system of an entire country, as has been the case in Italy, for example. This not only makes the virus itself more difficult to combat, but also places a great strain on medical resources and infrastructure, reducing their ability to provide care for patients with other—sometimes more life-threatening—conditions.

Shockwaves from the pandemic have struck countless industries, with businesses deemed non-essential being forced to close down in many countries, particularly Italy, Spain, and the United States, which are currently dealing with some of the worst outbreaks. The film industry in particular has suffered, with production on movies being halted and major releases, including the next Bond film, pushed back several months, and theaters in numerous countries shut down. Forced to adapt and explore alternatives, as are many of these industries, companies such as Disney have begun releasing their movies on their streaming services on the same dates as their theatrical releases, a first for the film industry.

Not all industries have the same potential for adaptation, however. The automotive industry, for example does not have the same luxury, with vehicle sales falling 80 percent in China during February, and factories in the country have been closed, disrupting supply chains. Furthermore, declining gas prices have harmed the electric vehicle market, which was already contending with higher manufacturing costs and purchasing prices compared to gas-powered cars.

Yet, in the deluge of worrying headlines and figures, silver linings can be found. Images provided by NASA have shown a sharp decrease in nitrogen oxide pollution over China, and while pollution levels will almost certainly rebound once the lockdown in Hubei province is lifted, we can at least find solace in knowing that global warming and climate change are not insurmountable issues, requiring only the necessary efforts and cooperation by governments among themselves and their own peoples. Other silver linings include further experimentation and experience with working and studying from home, as the developed digital infrastructure can be used long after the crisis subsides, providing an opportunity to reduce congestion and vehicle pollution, all while boosting productivity by saving commute times. 

One might assume that dealing with the crisis starts at the level of governments and multi-billion dollar companies, but in reality the solution begins with the individual. Among the lessons I have learnt is that as individuals in a global crisis, the first responsibility we have is asking questions and educating oneself. It can be very easy to be complacent by reading surface-level statistics and mortality rates, while reading information from unofficial sources can invoke paranoia, as has taken effect in the panic buying observed in countries like the US, which has served to only create more issues while worsening the crisis.

The examples highlighted above are of interest to me as I take great interest in both entertainment and cars, and the disruptions in both industries are visible in the shutting down of cinemas, less frequent publications relating to the automotive industry, and an over-saturated used car market where car values have declined severely. While the UAE has fortunately been successful in combating the disease’s spread, this has not stopped the government from taking unprecedented measures to further insulate against its spread, closing down malls and beaches, grounding flights, and requiring people to work from home, which has had a direct effect on myself and the people surrounding me. Waking up in the morning and not having to commute to work, seeing my father’s new workstation that he hastily put together, hearing the call to prayer followed by an order to pray at home, and finding roads almost deserted all serve as constant reminders to the crisis we are facing, one that has brought light to the importance of cooperation in overcoming an issue that transcends borders and cultures.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

Dhia Waddah Al Hanai studies Enterprise Systems at Zayed University and is an aspiring Emirati author working on a four-part fiction series that he plans to start publishing within the next year.