The other day, for the first time in a year and a quarter, I walked into a movie theater. It was admittedly for a special screening (to see a film my daughter had been involved in making). The seating was limited and, like me, everyone allowed in had been vaccinated. Still, it felt like a different planet than the one I had been living on at least since March 2020 and that, I have to admit, was a thrill.
Unfortunately, as TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon reminds us today, if you were to truly take in the world as a whole, you would know that it simply wasn't true or rather that the planet I was on was indeed "special" in all sorts of grim ways. If I had been living in, say, India or Brazil, both still with unmasked, Trumpian leaders, or so many other countries that simply don't have the wealth and power of the United States, the odds that I would have been vaccinated were next to nil and I might well have been gasping out my last breath in a bed at home (hospitals being so overwhelmed that I wouldn't have even had access to one) or, for that matter, on the street.
With almost four million people on Planet Earth officially already dead from Covid-19 (and that number undoubtedly a significant undercount) and the toll on the poorer parts of the planet rising fast, the saddest story of all is the tale of vaccine nationalism that Menon tells in a world in which neither the words "fair" nor "share" seem much in fashion, but "profits" and "patents" certainly are. And sadly enough, it could have been different. Tom
The Pandemic Is Us (But Now Mostly Them)
Power, Wealth, and Justice in the Time of Covid-19
By Rajan Menon
Fifteen months ago, the SARS-CoV-2 virus unleashed Covid-19. Since then, it's killed more than 3.8 million people worldwide (and possibly many more). Finally, a return to normalcy seems likely for a distinct minority of the world's people, those living mainly in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and China. That's not surprising. The concentration of wealth and power globally has enabled rich countries to all but monopolize available vaccine doses. For the citizens of low-income and poor countries to have long-term pandemic security, especially the 46% of the world's population who survive on less than $5.50 a day, this inequity must end, rapidly but don't hold your breath.
The Global North: Normalcy Returns
In the United States new daily infections, which peaked in early January, had plummeted 96% by June 16th. The daily death toll also dropped by 92% and the consequences were apparent. Big-city streets were bustling again, as shops and restaurants became ever busier. Americans were shedding their reluctance to travel by plane or train, as schools and universities prepared to resume "live instruction" in the fall. Zoom catch-ups were yielding to socializing the old-fashioned way.
By that June day, new infections and deaths had fallen substantially below their peaks in other wealthy parts of the world as well. In Canada, cases had dropped by 89% and deaths by 94%; in Europe by 87% and 87%; and in the United Kingdom by 84% and 99%.
Yes, European governments were warier than the U.S. about giving people the green light to resume their pre-pandemic lifestyles and have yet to fully abolish curbs on congregating and traveling. Perhaps recalling Britain's previous winter surge, thanks to the B.1.1.7 mutation (initially discovered there) and the recent appearance of two other virulent strains of Covid-19, B.1.167 and B.1.617.2 (both first detected in India), Downing Street has retained restrictions on social gatherings. It's even put off a full reopening on June 21st, as previously planned. And that couldn't have been more understandable. After all, on June 17th, the new case count had reached 10,809, the highest since late March. Still, new daily infections there are less than a tenth what they were in early January. So, like the U.S., Britain and the rest of Europe are returning to some semblance of normalcy.
The Global South: A Long Road Ahead
Lately, the place that's been hit the hardest by Covid-19 is the global south where countries are particularly ill-prepared.
Consider social distancing. People with jobs that can be done by "working from home" constitute a far smaller proportion of the labor force than in wealthy nations with far higher levels of education, mechanization, and automation, along with far greater access to computers and the Internet. An estimated 40% of workers in rich countries can work remotely. In lower- and middle-income lands perhaps 10% can do so and the numbers are even worse in the poorest of them.
During the pandemic, millions of Canadians, Europeans, and Americans lost their jobs and struggled to pay food and housing bills. Still, the economic impact has been far worse in other parts of the world, particularly the poorest African and Asian nations. There, some 100 million people have fallen back into extreme poverty.
Such places lack the basics to prevent infections and care for Covid-19 patients. Running water, soap, and hand sanitizer are often not readily available. In the developing world, 785 million or more people lack "basic water services," as do a quarter of health clinics and hospitals there, which have also faced crippling shortages of standard protective gear, never mind oxygen and ventilators.
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