Global leaderships are being tested by an unseen enemy. Decisions affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions are being made based on flimsy expert projections as to the behaviour of a virus that so far remains unknowable.
Almost all of the world’s wealthiest nations have chosen to lock down populations to one degree or another, suffocating their own economies in the process.
Social distancing, twinned with mammoth stimulus packages, is meant to protect the most vulnerable, whether it’s individuals existing from pay cheque to pay cheque or small businesses but it also risks a worldwide recession unseen since the Great Depression of 1929 that rendered a quarter of the world’s population unemployed.
Trump's suggestion that sufferers might be cured by physically invasive light and heat or injections of disinfectant eliciting a social media hilarity storm is indicative of a man under pressure worried that his reelection hopes are in the balance
As the weeks drag on without a viable cure or vaccine in sight at least for the foreseeable future, many in positions of power are being forced into the unenviable position of having to choose between public health and economic stability.
Caught between the clamour from the scientific community warning that opening up too early could be disastrous and business leaders furloughing employees as they struggle to ward off bankruptcy, there are no easy solutions open to those leaderships in countries where COVID-19 has tightened its vice-like tentacles.
It’s no secret that US President Donald Trump is so consumed with getting the economy back on track that he would happily set his people free from restrictions if not for the brakes imposed by scientists within his own COVID-19 task force.
His suggestion that sufferers might be cured by physically invasive light and heat or injections of disinfectant eliciting a social media hilarity storm is indicative of a man under pressure worried that his reelection hopes are in the balance.
Approval rates plunge
Trump’s approval ratings are diving almost daily. Public dissatisfaction is growing.
The MAGA hat brigades are out in force on the streets of US cities protesting lockdowns hoisting banners with messages running from “I need a haircut" to “Even pharaoh freed slaves during a plague”.
All eyes are on Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp, who has gained notoriety for his flouting of White House guidelines with an order permitting the opening of hair salons, nail bars, massage parlours and gyms. To the chagrin of the state’s mayors, Georgia has emerged as the canary in the coal mine, a voluntary test case.
The sight of lengthening queues outside food banks in the world’s wealthiest nation is not reassuring. Hungry people unable to feed their children spend their nights waiting in line for a carton of chicken and vegetables.
Elsewhere on the planet, particularly in developing nations, the situation is becoming dire. UN World Food Program (WFP) chief David Beasley predicts the virus could thrust “about three dozen countries” into famine and push 130 million on top of the 30 million people currently relying on the WFP to stay alive “to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020.”
Fear of the unknown is causing anxiety in people under stay-at-home orders.
Loneliness, boredom and separation from loved ones are exacerbating mental health issues and alcoholism while India, France and the UK are among countries reporting a surge in domestic abuse.
London’s Metropolitan Police have made 4,000 arrests relating to domestic violence over the last six weeks.
There is no doubt that leaders everywhere are carrying the heaviest of burdens on their shoulders, unimagined just a few short months ago. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Britain’s newly-recuperated Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be met with an unpalatable decision when he resumes work at Number Ten on Monday. His cabinet is split between five hawks, two doves and five fence-sitters on the question of when to end the lockdown.
Unlock the cell doors
Against a backdrop of headlines reading “Britain’s economy sinks into deep freeze as output plummets” and “Coronavirus lockdown tips UK economy into biggest slump on record” it is little wonder that some members of the government are impatient to unlock the cell doors. But on the other hand there are no signs that the virus is abating.
On Sunday, the death toll made grim reading; it has surpassed 20,000 with the addition of 813 new deaths in a single day — besides those who passed away in care facilities or at home.
How Johnson can justify a partial or full return to normality in light of such damning statistics coupled with news that Japan and Singapore that were formerly praised for their handling of the crisis are experiencing a second wave of infections may be a challenge too great.
Now is not the time for the blame game. There is no playbook or successful historical precedent to follow. Everyone on Earth wants their lives back and every government is working towards that aim in the best way they can.
This is no time for forensics so until that promised light at the end of the tunnel emerges how about we give those weighted down with life and death decisions a break!
— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.