In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Charles Dickens wrote about exceptional times in his novel. We are living exceptional times. There is no doubt that the novel coronavirus has turned our life upside down. One can honestly say there is life before the virus and life after it. The virus is a threat to all of us. No one is immune and the virus is unlike anything humanity had to deal with since the flu pandemic, often misnamed the Spanish flu.
Nothing brings the reality of the fragility of life like the loss of a dear friend. I lost a very dear friend to the virus. When this happens, the challenge becomes real. It’s not only statistics that one reads about or hears about. Stuff is real.
COVID-19 is a nondiscriminatory enemy. It recognizes no race, no faith, no age, and no gender. It does not stop at city, state or national borders. The virus is not Chinese just like the flu virus was not Spanish. It is just a virus and viruses are a biological reality. This reality mandates that we deal with the novel coronavirus as a challenge to all humanity and not as a political football. The outbreak of a pandemic is not the time to play politics. We are facing a global public health issue.
I am sometimes told that we talk about human rights, but the reality is nation states, borders and citizen rights. Some cynically say that human rights are merely aspirational- idealistic talk not connected to the reality of world politics. But human rights are about what makes us human and the UN Human Rights Charter was not imposed on humanity, nation states agreed to it. There are challenges we face that cross borders: climate change, for example. No nation can deal with climate change by itself. It is a global challenge. The novel coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that humanity is in the same boat. We are facing a challenge as human beings being attacked, sickened and sometimes killed by the virus. This is a challenge that unites all humanity.
Winning this war is a human responsibility. It begins with each one us by following public health instructions meant to make us and our loved ones safe from the virus. Ignoring these instructions sickens people, burdens medical facilities and results in preventable deaths.
The COVID-19 time is a time for reflection, collaboration and unity- to focus on what is really important. It’s time to be strong and refuse to surrender to a virus that wants to take over human beings and make them virus making machines that infect others and at the end kill millions. This is a struggle for our survival. We are dealing with a nasty virus.
A health publication concluded its article on the coronavirus by stating: “Over the past 50 years the emergence of many different coronaviruses that cause a wide variety of human and veterinary diseases has occurred. It is likely that these viruses will continue to emerge and to evolve and cause both human and veterinary outbreaks owing to their ability to recombine, mutate, and infect multiple species and cell types.” This is a crystal clear call to collective action.
Not only ethics and morality require it- science too.
Imad Hamad, AHRC ExecutiveDirector
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