A woman at an Australian supermarket allegedly pulls a knife on a man in a confrontation over toilet paper. A Singaporean student of Chinese ethnicity is beaten up on the streets of London and left with a fractured face. Protesters on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion welcome cruise passengers by hurling abuse and rocks at them.
The coronavirus risks bringing out the worst in humanity.
Never mind that Australia’s toilet paper supply is plentiful, that the Singaporean has no links to the virus and that not a single passenger on the Princess cruise ship that docked in Reunion was infected.
Irrational and selfish incidents like these are likely the exception, not the rule, but an everyone-for-themselves mentality – or each family, even each country – appears to be growing, putting into question the world’s ability to unite and slow the coronavirus’ spread.
Leaders of affected nations are scrambling to seize some control of the situation. They impose restrictive measures in their countries, inject money into their economies, and promise their health systems will somehow find the extra beds, doctors and nurses they will inevitably need.
Yet there seems to be little coordination between countries to address what is by nature a global challenge.
Face masks around the world are running out, as people who don’t need them hoard them. The US is stockpiling them, while South Korea, Germany and Russia, among others, have banned their export, to ensure their own people have enough.
India, which makes 20% of the world’s medicinal drugs by volume, has halted certain medicines from being exported. Yes, it is unable to source enough ingredients from China and can’t make its usual output, but it is also likely keeping them for its own people.
Populists point the finger
This pandemic has now claimed more than 5,000 lives, infected over 150,000 people and touched every continent, save for Antarctica, as it crosses geographical borders that have politically closed.
European leaders have met several times and it was only on Tuesday that they finally announced some coordinated action. It was aimed primarily at economic stimulus, rather than devising a much-needed gameplan to slow the virus’ spread across the region.
There is serious doubt that the usual economic tools will even work. During a health crisis, injecting money into economies doesn’t necessarily get people spending. Consumers travel and shop less, and on the supply side, factories and businesses are closing in countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Italy.
Italy, the worst-affected country outside China, complained the EU had been too slow to help, as it desperately needed more surgical masks and ventilators for patients, which it is now relying on China to provide.