The World Health Organisation (WHO) has characterised the Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic in a media briefing on Wednesday 19 March, 2020. The latest data indicates that there have now been more than 118 cases of infection in 114 countries, and 4,291 deaths – a 13 fold increase outside of China in the past two weeks, and a three fold rise in the number of affected countries.
Speaking at the briefing Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO said:
“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction…We have therefore made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterized as a pandemic”
Dr. Tedros went on to applaud the efforts of a number of nations- including Italy and South Korea – to slow the transmission of the virus, adding:
“We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China…All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic & social disruption & respecting human rights”
In light of the recent reclassification of Covid-19 as a pandemic, the International Observatory of Human Rights has looked at what impact the virus is having around the world.
China has been accused of censorship in silencing people’s voices and rights in light of the outbreak of coronavirus in the country. The country already has stringent rules regarding social media, and many popular platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are banned. However, even with what little access is allowed, government censors have been quick to delete any posts describing virus related events and the government’s response.
Many chinese citizens would never say anything in the first place, for fear of the brutal repercussions that come with expressing criticism of the government – including lengthy prison sentences.
Despite this censorship, some stories have still emerged: A boy with cerebral palsy died because no one took care of him after his father was taken to be quarantined. A mother desperately pleaded to the police to let her leukemia-stricken daughter through a checkpoint at a bridge to get chemotherapy and at least 10 people died after a hotel being used as a quarantine facility collapsed.
Whilst countries are being urged to take decisive action to halt the transmission of Covid-19, this must be balanced against a protection of human rights and individual liberty.
The Global Economy
On Monday 9 March, 2020 trading on Wall Street was suspended as coronavirus sent the Dow Jones industrial index plummeting by 2,033 points. The drop from 25,864 points to 24,031 is equivalent to 7.11% of the index’s total value.
The main stock indexes in Britain and Germany were down by almost 7%. Japan’s benchmark closed down 5.1% while Australia’s lost 7.3% and the Shanghai market in China was off 3%.
In an emergency move on Wednesday 11 March, 2020, the Bank of England announced a cut in interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25% to shore up the economy amid the outbreak.
On Thursday 12 March, 2020 Omar Hassan, a journalist for the Independent wrote that the economic danger of the virus is “exponentially greater than its health risks to the public. If the virus does directly affect your life, it is most likely to be through stopping you going to work, forcing your employer to make you redundant, or bankrupting your business.“
Mr. Hassan surmised that:
“We may look back on coronavirus as the moment when the threads that hold the global economy together came unstuck; and startups and growing businesses like mine could end up paying the price.”
Educators and students around the world are feeling the ripple effect of the novel coronavirus, as schools shut down amid the pandemic.
There are currently school closures of some kind in 22 countries on three continents with hundreds of millions of students around the world. In 13 countries – including Ireland – schools have been shut down nationwide.
The United Nations has warned of the unparalleled scale and speed of the educational disruption being caused by coronavirus.
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO said:
“We are working with countries to assure the continuity of learning for all, especially disadvantaged children and youth who tend to be the hardest hit by school closures,”
The current pandemic is impacting the day to day lives of citizens across the globe, not just those who are directly suffering from the virus.
The added strain on health services caused by the virus will limit all citizens access to healthcare as hospitals become overwhelmed.
Latest figures show NHS intensive care units were running at around 80 per cent capacity at the start of March. Overall the NHS has one of the lowest ratios of hospital beds per head of population in Europe. Any added strains placed on the NHS could have drastic repercussions.
An anonymous doctor, writing for the Independent said:
“If we follow the same trajectory as Italy, with 10% of coronavirus patients needing ICU treatment, we will need 200 beds next week, 1,000 the week after. That’s already the entire ICU capacity. Every two days after that, we will need twice the number of beds again.”
The picture mirrors the current situation in Italy, with Luca Lorini, Director of Anesthesia Intensive Care Unit of Papa Giovanni Hospital in Bergamo saying: “We have 88 beds in the intensive care department, 60 of them are filled by 60 patients affected by Covid-19”.
Margherita Cargasacchi, Italian national and journalist for the International Observatory of Human Rights added:
“From what I’ve been hearing from family and friends who are now in Venice, the virus has a terrible impact on the hospitals, as intensive care departments are running out of beds and respiratory aids”
The Social Impact
The social impact of the virus is also being felt as sporting events and large social events are being cancelled across the globe. The NBA, the basketball league in America, has seen all games cancelled, whilst all sporting events in Italy have been postponed until April. Many football matches are either being postponed or played behind closed doors across the continent. The Melbourne Grand Prix, the inaugural race of the Formula 1 season has also been cancelled.
Scotland has recommended cancelling all events involving 500 people or more.
Citizens are also losing out of the opportunity to engage in civic activities, with political rallies scheduled having to be cancelled in the U.S. Democratic Presidential candidacy race. The Electoral Commission has recommended that the UK government should postpone upcoming local elections. These events show how the virus can negatively impact citizens’ abilities to engage in the democratic process.