Last week, we started our two-part series on the novel virus, named SARS-Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). For some, a kind of apathy has set in after hearing some much about this virus for over a year now. For some others, a hint of unbelief has set in. But COVID-19 is very much here and active. Unfortunately for mankind, this virus did not stop at infecting just one particular set of people who would then have had to be separated from the rest of the world. If that were so, we would have isolated the entire population of Wuhan Province or China as a whole in order to save the rest of humanity. But in what is seen as a testament that all human beings are equal or the same, and that the world is truly a global village, the coronavirus quickly spread to all other parts of the globe.
The worldwide occurrence of COVID-19 has shown that, in spite of hard evidence, the air transmission factor must have a significant hold on the theory of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. This is compelling when we look at the same disease affecting people with no history of travels as well as lack of contact with those who had travelled in recent times. But such evidence could also point to the fact that the factors that brought about the first wave of infections are still prevalent in the communities or, worse still, such communities are having their Wuhan moments.
A lot of experts have argued that different nations may have been able to control or mitigate the spread of the virus to other parts of the world if only they locked down early and for prolonged periods. But when the virus was in the air and moving with such supersonic speed, from China to Italy, Italy to New York, New York to the rest of America and then Europe, we were powerless in intercepting it. However, far more important was the scepticism over the presence of COVID-19 shown by some world leaders, notably in the Americas. With such lukewarm attitudes, it became almost impossible to establish and maintain adequate lockdowns, contact tracing, disease management, and social education of public health culture. This disjointed response doomed a 21st century world that had become leaderless since 2017 when President Donald Trump came to power and made it clear that his preoccupation was “America First,” which in action was purely “America First and Only.”
In the midst of this confusion and global sickness, the scientific community rose up in a quest to combat this pandemic scourge the best way they knew: through the development of vaccines and therapeutics. I must applaud science for coming up with vaccines within 12 months. Such supernatural speed was made possible by grants from governments, institutions and philanthropists. I cannot resist pointing out that, in order to appropriate everything for the USA, President Trump attempted buying up all rights to the vaccines showing most promise, and actually pulled the USA out of the World Health Organisation just so that they might not share their drugs with the rest of the world. Such wickedness.
Nearer home in Nigeria, we had our own sceptics in our political leaders, religious leaders and citizens. It was a battle containing all these shades of opinions. Besides, poverty rendered any effective lockdown for any prolonged period unrealistic; people simply had to search for their daily bread any which way. As I pointed out above, we have now learned that the first wave of this pandemic was so much worse than we were told. There is nothing to indicate now that the second wave will not be any different. And so we can extrapolate to the next phase. But the question can also be asked: “Do we really have any distinct phase? Are we going to be ever able to eradicate or control COVID-19 in this country? Or will it remain an endemic disease in this country that will require international actions like those against polio, TB, and small pox?”
The production of vaccines against COVID-19 is a work in progress, so are researches into the disease and its characteristics. I can only wonder how individuals who take the vaccine in Nigeria would react to it. We are in a country where a lot of people are not conversant with their own medical history and so do not know what they can tolerate. There are also doubts in the minds of people based on religious misgivings and conspiracy theories about the vaccines, their harmlessness or efficacy. All these must be addressed by the right and credible disciples.
Some 30 to 40 years ago, I knew that something was in the air, and that something bad was going to happen. I knew then that nature was going to fight back with vengeance, but I never thought it would be this devastating. For decades, we neglected nature; we abused nature and in some cases tried to replace nature with artificial things. We also mismanaged nature by taking out so much from her without replenishing. Nature was upset but still remained very patient with us. Not anymore.
Equally true is that my other half believes in the world of epidemiology and evolution. Organisms evolve and of all things created in this world, we know only but a fraction. There will be other pandemics in future. Micro-organisms are in a fight for their own lives. To survive, they need their host bodies, which, unfortunately, they destroy or take over in the process of staying alive. Our own obligation is to thrive in the world and, if we must do that, we have to defeat the invaders whose mission is to destroy us. We, therefore, kid ourselves when we allow others to come to our aid all the time; the rescuers we are expecting need to save themselves first.
Our scientific community cannot relax or become complacent. Any responsible government must encourage and fund its scientific brains. We cannot all be consumers while shouting that the country lacks foreign exchange. Our government officials have mastered this art of making the citizens feel guilty for their abject failures and incompetence. Yet, when the citizens take the fight to them in peace, they cry subversion and kill us in a hail of bullets. Shame to those in power. And shame to the security agents who remain the tools of the selfish and cold-blooded killers as leaders in government.
It is not too late to change. This Earth will last for many more centuries. But if we continue this way, we and our children will all have a hard time here. If we do the right things and contribute to goodness and good governance, life will become meaningful. Even with several warnings from some of us, the world for a long time looked the other way.
Albert Gore, former Vice-President of the USA gave us “The Inconvenient Truth” to confront environmental crisis and future predictions, if the causes of crises were not addressed. Sir David Attenborough, a world-renowned environmentalist, had severally hammered on the devastations in our environment. Both of these men were dedicated to the discourse about a sustainable Earth, a discourse the majority of the world chose to ignore, some out of ignorance and others out of pride in admitting that humanity had failed woefully at its simple job of taking care of the Earth for posterity.
After 30 years of failures, the world, under then United States President Barack Obama, signed the Paris Accord that gave us a road map to combating the menace of climate change. Less than four years later, with his executive order and pen, his successor and progenitor of “America First and Only” sent us back to almost point zero. At the same time, Trump dismantled the American Pandemic Monitoring facilities in China and the White House in a superfluous effort at fiscal conservation but whose hidden objective was vendetta-driven.
I will argue that it was at this stage that nature decided to give us a wakeup call. Global average temperature rose, bringing with it the melting of polar ice as well as forest fires, which ravaged lands, destroying ecosystems, leaving in their wake barren landscapes. Sea levels started to rise alarmingly, followed by floods, and mudslides. Meanwhile, desertification in Africa and China was worsening as more ferocious tornadoes, hurricanes and cyclones battered other places, including America. And then the pandemic was unleashed. This scenario could make it into biblical records, if the times would allow it.
Amid all this, it feels like the Earth is a stomach and we are like viruses, a bunch of discomforting particles in it that it wants to throw out. So, permit me to say that the Earth might actually be well off without us humans. We forget that caring for it is of benefit to both the Earth and us. We forget that there is a connection that we are part of: our actions and inactions are destroying it.
That environmental sustainability, which is beyond planting trees and posing for cameras for the sake of media promotion, must be obvious even to the blind. It is beyond picking waste from the sides of roads or signing agreements that are never eventually followed. It is about living it.