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Friday, March 5, 2021

Letters: Covid-19: the last things we need – transparency and accountability

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Dear editor,

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The one thing Covid-19 should have taught us is humility. Imagine this tiny invisible-to-the-eye virus and the havoc it has wreaked on communities and countries across the planet since it first got noticed in December 2019. Three months later it got the world turned upside down, killing thousands, destroying economic and social gains that took decades to achieve. The world’s most powerful nations with the best scientific R-D infrastructure, men and women technocrats and successful entrepreneurs couldn’t stop it. Prominent persons and government officials have been downed by Covid-19, and humanity has lost doctors, nurses, and other professionals to the disease.

Mankind should feel humbled, repent and pray to Allah for forgiveness. Yet humility is not exactly the virtue displayed by some of our corrupt and daring Covid-19 committee members, especially the representatives of the Ministry of Health, who, in their foul desire, deliberately flouted their Minister’s authority simply to play mischief with public money. This is money that has been voted to mitigate the impact of Covid-19. It seems we are still on our “business as usual” behaviour, with of course exceptions. What is at stake in this crisis is our very way of life. The effects of the beating that the economy is taking are still felt mostly by people who have already lost their jobs or shut down their businesses. We will all feel it, eventually. The government might be forced to cut its work force or reduce regular pay and benefits as the revenue base dwindles. We are a revenue-based economy. People in government are seen as privileged. But the more people suffer and the more they continue to suffer, some of these privileges will have to go.

World Health Organisation members should remind WHO, at all levels, that it can walk the line between the need for cooperation and information-sharing from member states and the need to hold them accountable for mistakes. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, the WHO spokesman criticised China for its lack of transparency and preparation, which had allowed the virus to spread unchecked. Later on, China even later admitted to mistakes in handling the outbreak.

The invaluable lessons learned from the 2003 SARS pandemic prompted Taiwan to very quickly take preventive and proactive response measures against COVID-19, including treatment, tracking, quarantine and mitigation. Thus, Taiwan created a widely recognised Taiwan Model that the international should learn from. It is in humanity’s interest that WHO documents and shares Taiwan’s experience with the organisation.s membership so as to put an end tothe pandemic as quickly as possible.

No such critique has been forthcoming this time around, why? One study found out that China could have limited its own infections by up to 95 percent had the government acted in that early period when concerned doctors raised alarm. As usual, the Chinese Communist Party denied the extent of the problem. Since WHO has outstandingly failed to do its job properly, it must share in the blame for compounding the misinformation.

In a global pandemic of this sort, the last things we need are politics and racism. Yet, it seems the United States of America, China and the WHO are all too happy to play these cards as they try to shift the blame for the Covid-19 outbreak from themselves.

President Donald Trump, eager to avoid personal blame for the death of thousands of Americans that could have been prevented had he responded to early warnings instead of playing the new coronavirus down, has opened a racist can of worms by calling it, the “Chinese Virus” that has inflamed xenophobia and racist attacks on Asian-Americans.

China on the other has now imposed restrictions on the publication of academic research on the origins of Covid-19, requiring all academic papers on the virus to be subjected to extra vetting before being submitted for publication. Studies on the origins of the virus will receive extra scrutiny and must be approved by central government oficials. Furthermore, the Chinese are saying that the U.S. Army might have brought the virus to Wuhan.

The UN agency, the World Health Organisation that ought to be the global authority on the pandemic, has also let politics get in the way of doing its job. Taiwan, which has been successful in keeping its infection rates down, recently accused the WHO of failing to act on a warning that had been sent to them in December 2019 about the transmission of the coronavirus between humans. None of this gimmicks are particularly helpful in dealing with the deadly pandemic, in which the cost of straying from the truth is being counted in thousands of lives.

During the course of these challenging times, our relationship with our development partners must not only be transparent but data-driven and deliberate. Each decision we take, must be made with foresight. And while misinformation and corrupt practices are unacceptable at anytime, they are egregious during this exraordinary period. The lack of transparency breeds confusion and encoiages malicious minds to find ways to manipulate others, thus worsening the situation. Dishonesty weakens our ability to fight and fight well the good fight. Misinformation costs lives. May Allah (SWT) guide and protect us all the way; Ameen.

Ssuruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh

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