The world was already experiencing issues like the war on terror and climate change, the refugees’ crisis and general commotion, and 2020 has added yet another problem to the mix: a virus pandemic that brought the world to a standstill. The coronavirus case count today has exceeded 2.5 million, and more than 177,500 have died while the merciless pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe with no end in sight.
The U.S. runs the highest toll of fatalities, with its cases surpassing those of Spain and Italy – the worst-hit European countries. Certain experts believe that the reported death toll and cases may not reflect reality due to limited testing and deliberate underreporting of the death toll and COVID-19 cases. This is sad and shameful.
Born in midland China, the coronavirus keeps attacking the world with spine-chilling aggression and intensity, sparing no nation, big or small. Judging by the pandemic’s effects on the world, it is apparent that the coronavirus has caught the global health care sector unawares on how to combat it, not to mention to prevent its prevalence. It has also revealed an appalling shortage of doctors and paramedics, hospitals and life-saving equipment, not to mention medical materials and drugs.
The EU's inability to render immediate support to the countries in need downgrades the highly praised European solidarity, shared values and multiculturalism to the level of lip service and empty promises. In the meantime, the nation-states with strong executive power, like Turkey, Russia, Hungary and India, have shown a capacity to promptly mobilize the health care potential to efficiently react to the COVID-19 challenges.
The need to impose lockdowns first emerged in autumn but the virus did not receive adequate attention from the global health care community until February. None of the countries had a health care plan ready to combat the rapidly spreading COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO), which enjoys an indisputable authority in human health matters, was hopelessly late in sounding the alarm to warn the world to take measures.
Today countries long praised for their advanced health care systems and achievements in medical research, pharmacology and life-saving efforts are in a dire situation. Believed to be impeccable and rationalized to perfection, those countries’ health care sectors are now revealing a shameful absence of resilience when it is needed the most.
The wealthiest nation in the world, the U.S. is hurt the most and the number of infected exceeds 500,000 people while close to 20,000 have died. The government’s efforts are relentless: the U.S. Defense Department has allocated more than $11 billion to combat the coronavirus and its specialized agencies procured the medical equipment for more than $600 million. Yet, people continue to die and the death rate keeps mounting.
The state of New York alone has more than 150,000 cases and deaths exceeding 10,000. The city is hopelessly short on life-saving equipment while around a quarter of the admitted patients require ICU care and ventilator support. The city lacked 1,000 ICU ventilators, according to reports submitted by the city's administration in 2006. The situation has remained largely unchanged.
Furthermore, New York lacks the capacity to accommodate the infected and the city administration resorts to arranging makeshift hospital rooms at convention centers and other public venues while it strives to complete four more temporary hospitals within the next weeks, according to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. New York’s shortage of facilities and supplies when the coronavirus hit was similar to many places across the U.S.
In Europe, Spain is now the worst-hit country with the number of infected exceeding 200,000 and more than 21,000 dead. Italy was the first European nation to become the epicenter of the coronavirus.
With the number of infected nearing 184,000 and the death toll nearing 25,000 people, the Italian health care system is stretched to the point of collapse. Despite years of highly publicized health care optimization, Italy – like other EU countries – is facing a huge lack of medical doctors and paramedical personnel not to mention the shortage of hospital beds.
The brotherly EU member-countries appeared reluctant to come to Italy’s rescue regardless of its plea for help. Surprisingly, the awaited help came from Russia in the form of a convoy of 20 military trucks that arrived in pandemic-stricken Bergamo, northern Italy. They brought supplies, materials, and medical doctors and personnel urgently needed there. Certainly, the arrival of the Russian military in Italy must have created quite an embarrassment at the NATO headquarters.
Response or negligence?
Sooner or later, when the coronavirus pandemic is over, the reasons behind the outbreak will be assessed. Was it a natural response to the burdens placed on it by mankind or human negligence? The modern world is full of fundamental research and experiments in a combination of fields of medical science. We have created state-of-the-art medical equipment and instruments and trained an army of super-qualified virologists, epidemiologists, microbiologists and other professionals who seem to know everything about all the viruses and pandemics ever known to the humanity, and yet we find ourselves helpless and hopeless in the face of COVID-19.
What’s the reason, a ferocity of the virus attack or human incompetence and negligence akin to a crime? Very soon, when the pandemic is over, we will have to answer these questions.
"I don't know if these are the revenge of nature, but they are certainly nature's responses," Pope Francis mentioned in his online address on the eve of the Easter holiday, regarding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Climate changes and a worsening of the overall ecological situation globally do produce an increasingly harmful effect on the world's flora and fauna, instigating miscellaneous mutations of microorganisms to include viruses and bacteria. This instigates various theories about the emergence of COVID-19 origins while still producing no clarity.
Meanwhile, we are witnessing a moment of truth today and one is clear for sure: Selfishness and egocentrism prevail in the world, and the saviors are hard to find. On the European agenda, the countries’ internal problems and striving to save itself from the coronavirus run higher than EU solidarity, mutual assistance or even compassion. The EU bureaucracy and red tape are killing human touch and declaring cherished mutual values, solidarity with each other and shared responsibilities just empty promises devoid of meaning. Struck by the crisis, Czechia has confiscated medical supplies bound for Italy, Germany took Italian orders, and France grabbed the goods heading to Italy and Spain. Once inspired by ideals of humanitarian cooperation, apart from the economy and politics, the euro-integration has cracked under the pressure of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. In appreciation of the situation's gravity, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, penned a contribution to the Italian La Repubblica newspaper to apologize for the failure to help Italy.
The still-unfolding coronavirus crisis increasingly reveals that the world can only beat the virus by joining efforts. Being in the same boat and helping each other out would help tremendously. Mobilization of the national physical and administrative resources is no less important and the countries with strong executive power can produce a commendable result.
Combating the virus
The crisis' gravity motivates states to respond by expanding the power and authority of their central governments. Still, in its early stages, Russia reported about 20,000 cases of COVID-19 with the number increasing aggressively since last week. The authorities claim to be fully ready for the pandemic and expect the next two to three weeks to be crucial. The number of hospital beds has been increased to 95,000 countrywide, according to Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova, jointly with capacities for ICU ventilator production. “Pre-empting measures are crucial,” according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding, "To continue advancing them, a good professional forecast is a must to have.”
The coronavirus hit Turkey earlier than Russia and the pandemic is currently rising with the number of infected nearing 100,000 people. While fatalities have exceeded 2,000 people, Turkey still accounts for a relatively low death rate in comparison with Europe and the U.S., as well as certain regional neighbors.
The authorities are monitoring the situation closely while imposing some tight prevention measures, including quarantines, and boosting the medical centers' capacities to provide care for those in need. According to İbrahim Kalın, the country’s presidential spokesman, “Turkey is in a good position in terms of medical supplies, cybersecurity and food security, and will overcome the recovery process very quickly.”
Relentlessly battling the deadly coronavirus, Turkey is still helping the friendly states to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and has sent medical aid to Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Libya, among others.
* Freelance journalist living in Istanbul