The two words above indicate two areas of human activity where negative or deficient effects are generated. The meaning of the two words could be more impactful when opposites are proposed.
Complacency < Alertness, diffidence, self-doubt, and demureness;
Unpreparedness < masterfulness, professionalism, competence, proficiency or expertness could be tabled here.
The first signs of this strange virus were identified as a mutation of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which originated in the Guangdong province in South China, transmitted from animal to human, and affected 29 countries between 2002-2004. The total number of fatalities was 810 in toto as per World Health Organisation (WHO) in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Africa, France, and Canada. SARS contained itself basically within the region except South Africa, France with just one death in each, but exceptionally with 43 fatalities in Canada, but confined to Toronto area. Almost 15 years later the new Corona virus appeared at the end 2019 also in China.
The early manifestation of New Corona Virus and its activities might have been from mid-November leading to the end of December 2019 in Wuhan even though the peak of the pandemic reached within Wuhan and further afield in China through January to February 2020. Hence, the name Corona Virus Disease 2019 (Covid 19) made sense in the common parlance. However, some of the more politically agitated corners of the world preferred to name it as Wuhan Virus, a city with over a population of 11 million which is more than half of the population of Australia. Complacency and Unpreparedness seem to be the common and combined denominator for the crude assault of the virus on the countries and regions Those regions and nations that adhered to the advice of the health professionals as front liners rather than the petty advice of the political leadership indeed displayed skills of management and coping the volume of positive cases. Obviously, in such a health calamity, it is in a process of intelligent decision making that can arrest the situation and not indeed a time to show off power and prestige whoever the individual or the institution managing the crisis. Handling the crisis well is part of the skill in the management of a people and their institutions, food and its supply chain, storing them well and other essentials properly rolling to the people, especially to the most vulnerable of a nation.
Theories not Helpful
There is theory after theory. Some of it is ‘conspiracy theories’ as to what caused this virus to be built into such a magnitude. The health crisis has had moved from the East to the West hitting Iran and Italy almost at the same time, but engulfing the Gulf region, Central and Southern Europe as well as the Nordic countries and with a severe assault on the UK. The epicenter of the crisis from Wuhan to Lombardi and across the Atlantic into New York has shocked the medical world, economists, and financial institutes and powerful governments now willing to inject financial stimulus into their local economies to face this crisis of this proportion since the World War II.
The West was full of new hope culminating with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as it was symbolic of the end of the Cold War. Designing the ‘new world order’ in the thinking of the Western hemisphere, with ideas of individuals like Francis Fukuyama’s end of history theory and Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations formula. The balkanization of Soviet Russia was as if a ‘salvation to the world’ has finally dawned. The political observers of the era speculated ‘a trinity’ (Ronald Regan, Margret Thatcher with an unholy alliance with John Paul II of Vatican) for the collapse of the ‘ most feared enemy of the West – Communism’. A long-awaited dream come true. When Thatcher met Mikhail Gorbachev once in a close-door meeting in European capitol and answering a question by a journalist, she bluntly responded ‘we can do business with him’. Of course, she had read enough of Gorbachev’s slogan, glasnost (societal openness) and perestroika ( political democratization and restructuring). The new world order was usurped with some Christian churches actually were even praying for decades for the ‘conversion of Russia.’ In fact, one is not sure ‘from what to what the conversion took place’ to this day – because Russians were and are largely Russian Orthodox Christians anyway. The displacement of the Soviet Union made headway for the former Soviet satellites to become nation-states which was West’s preference, the old cold war ended. The old pro-American and pro-Russian camps gave in to a new world order.
All this seems like a bubble or a utopia currently, because the world cannot go back to the ‘former formal normal’, so returning to normalcy is yet to be known, it has to be a ‘new normal’. Not a single state, country, or region that has faced this health crisis with this staggering psychological impact and devastatingly colossal economic shocks and unprecedented levels of unemployment bound to be vulnerable to the challenges to that creation of normalcy or the ‘new normal’. There are no theories for the return to the ‘former times’ because the ‘former’ does not exist. All people can hope for is that there is an ‘a future’ for them and that it is possible to create ‘the new’ with which they could walk into ‘that future’. Such alone is doable and not what the so-called vociferous political leaders theorize in press conferences and briefings across the Capitals. However, it is understandable that this health crisis de facto has political ramifications globally to be resolved and such must be done as part of the crisis management by reasonable people and their institutions. The Progress bubble was burst without much warning.
Wuhan to the West
It is a fact that SARS, as well as Covid 19, originated in China. The assumption was that as much as China contained SARS within its own compound and the region would be repeated for the Covid 19. Even though the rest of the world saw the Wuhan’s health crisis, yet carried on complacent and unprepared with their ‘normal’ patterns of life and living. China was going to celebrate its new year, Japan was heading for the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo, the US was heading for its primaries and the Trump administration was seeking a second term with a new mandate to ‘to make America even greater’. The UK according to some informed pro-European Brits in their conversation with me in February 2020, quite candidly said that Britain was basically wasting energy and money on Brexit. We from the outside world felt that this once upon a time an Empire was planning as if to create a fortress UK now. Some moderate Brits told me that it is a mockery to the British way of life, some described it as Disunited Small Britain (DSB) and no longer Great Britain. 2020 for the world was to be the flourishing final year of the second decade of the third millennium. China was to activate its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) well planned ‘pearl chain’ connecting South China and the ports covering the entire Indian Ocean into the Gulf, then into the Mediterranean and of course Europe, en route covering a trading capacity of over a billion people. Wuhan to the West was not the plan but the real was Beijing to Barcelona, Covid 19 change the direction of the entire global community.
All the attention was on to the third and decisive decade, then come November December 2019 in the Hubei province and its capital city Wuhan which becomes infected with a virus that was yet to be known. Within weeks it spreads and declared as new Corona to differentiate from SARS as the pathogen was different. Most neighboring townships of Wuhan have had early signs of its first presence.
Quite complacent and unprepared, but once it hit outside mainland China, South Korea, Japan became conscious even though Japan was even confident about the originally scheduled Olympics, but later had to postpone. Vietnam way back in early January was on alert and prepared for the virus to arrive and remains one of the best examples of arresting the virus and not allowing it to grow into a pandemic status within.
Quite alarmingly Iran was caught unaware. Their complacency and unpreparedness can be understood because of the geographical location, however, Iran’s contact with the virus is yet to be made public. In Sri Lanka even though the first corona patient was a Chinese woman visiting Colombo, she regained her health and travel back to China. The tourists, the constant worker-returnees from both Italy and South Korea are now ascertained to be the route of the virus to the local population. Being an Island nation, yet unpreparedness and lack of right knowledge on the mutative nature of the virus at the initial stage were visible. However, Sri Lanka rose from complacency to full alertness and aggressively engaged with the virus, making the health professionals (knowledge base) and the tri forces and the police (operational base) as frontline operatives to combat the ‘Silent Enemy’.
At the time of writing this piece, there are over 600 affected individuals, hundreds being quarantined in 32 centres across the country, 134 recoveries with 7 deaths. Sri Lanka learned very quickly, especially learning from the sad situations of Italy, Spain, France, and now the US as the epicenter of Covid 19. No single country can be victorious in this global health crisis as it has attacked the very core of what the nations thought as significant in terms of development, progress, technological supremacy, and scientific experimentation and enjoyment of life. All that is displaced currently by a virus that even humans cannot see with their naked eyes because it has the capacity to make humans very sick.
It is very clear that complacency and unpreparedness had been key to the uncontrollable spread of the virus. Lessons are bitter to the nations and how they have to be prepared not so much with missiles and rocket launchers but with simple but sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) which led certain hospital staff to great personal dangers with the virus arriving in their own workplaces.
Complacency and Unpreparedness were major factors for the early rapid spread of the virus to the most vulnerable populations whose general health situation more particularly whose immune system has been compromised due to other individual health conditions. Covid 19 mutation patterns have been also observed as complex and ever-shifting. Hence, it’s not just the above group that has been the only victim. There are statistics that at least a population of about 700+ who have been under 50 years’ age succumbed to the deadly virus and the latest indications are that children may also be liable to the virus whose immune system is at low ebb or compromised with different congenital health reasons. Breaking news at the time of the final revision of this paper is that a pet dog has been infected in California which is alarming because the virus then may be transferable from human to animal as well if proven.
The health professionals whose views are not manipulated by politics and personal prestige have publicly declared that the lifestyle management and types of food intakes are fundamental to face the challenges of the pathogen of this mutative virus. Humans have made mistakes big time, but they can also correct them wisely in history if willing to learn lessons, though bitter, however, can be productive in resolving the issues in real situations. Some of them have displayed this rare wisdom in this crisis. No country should be blamable too for this complacency and unpreparedness, but it is paramount to benchmark such administrative deficits in the systems so that the nations will be alert and prepared meticulously.
The US particularly Washington State and California managed their affairs without much debate between the federal responsibility and the state responsibility. While the state of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio both publicly argued on several matters each contradicting scientific issues giving into what might be their power ego for an outside reader. This clearly indicated that political leadership might be in authority by their mandate, but in this health crisis, it’s the epidemiologists and other health experts who have the right knowledge and the capability to handle matters in their field. The same scenario was a repeat telecast in DC’s Oval office when the president in most ‘idiotic way’ said that disinfectant is injected to prevent infection as well as to expose one’s hands to the sun and heat so that the virus can be kept at bay. This is no time for humor when the citizens are under attack.
The world remembers how post 9/11 war strategy was deployed in Iraq and in Afghanistan to ‘protect American Interest’, and what about the American interest now when over 60,000 citizens have succumbed to the deadly virus. The US did not this time provide the right political leadership to the crisis, neither did it in the post 9/11 under Bush Jr. And this time it could well to go down in history that the presidency of the Republican regime of Donald Trump and the State leadership of Cuomo and the Mayoral term of De Blasio, that they could not protect their citizens because they were complacent, unprepared and their personal ego bulged over the state or the national requirement. These three individuals must remember in all respect to the forefathers of the United States and the revered constitution they created was for a nation of invention, not domination. It’s the migrants who built NYC, the Irish, the Italians, and others who landed on the Ellis island crossing the atrociously unkind Atlantic Ocean to build this grand city on a marsh which de facto is still being built. It indicates some sort of a creedal nationalism of the United States (disunited right now) that exists since the civil war between the federal government and states. It must be held steadfastly if they wish to be ‘United States’, the fractures are looming, and will be balkanized unless handled carefully as they should understand that governance and democracy is not a dictatorship of a business tycoon or the artificial ‘Apprentice’ showcase of megalomania. The US was not created on domineering credentials or obstinacy but against tyranny, self-invention, and accomplishment of civic responsibility, a move from the Wild West to civility.
The exit from the lockdown and the virus per se may not be an easy route, but as nations they must find a way out and begin to rebuild the economies, and people themselves to regain self-hood and dignity, begin to trust one another once again. Reactivate exports and imports, work and travel but not indeed business as usual, because that ‘usual’ will never be the same. There is no more the pre corona world any longer. The world will neither trust the United States nor China until they change their behavior towards each other, and with the rest of the world. Neither can they afford to be a global power nor should be allowed in the post-Covid 19 world, because they did not prove that they are capable in this health crisis. Enough of this battle for supremacy. Let them also exit from flawed supremacist politics and petty international relations for a world of interdependence than over-dependence on a particular power block.
People can decide on a greener world, change food habits, eat healthily, grow their own food however little, buy what they need not all that they want, embrace a sustainable lifestyle, live simply even if one is rich. People must begin to share knowledge and be prepared and not complacent, not aspire to have more but be more, and by being more one can be more to oneself and to others too. Exit it to rise like the phoenix with alternatives that each region can devise and each country could pursue their limitations and boundaries. By then we would have made the virus to exit us, never to return. One can be only hopeful which is what makes us innovative, creative, and imaginatively human.
Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi, 01 May 2020