Virus against humans (Part II)
Many military strategists may quietly admire the coronavirus. In the first wave, it took advantage of human beings’ unpreparedness, striking rich countries with brute force and sparing much of the poor world. Looking back, that makes perfect sense.
After humans hit back with vaccines, the virus turned from the wealthy nations and zoomed in on the developing ones. India, lauded initially, bore the brunt. Many other countries including Thailand also have seen big jumps in infections and deaths. A major reason why was because the reeling rich nations were so afraid and traumatic they hoarded the drugs, leaving the poor exposed.
The “vaccine apartheid” gave the coronavirus enough time to mutate. It now had variants that could hopefully cope with vaccination that was its survival’s greatest threat. Hoarding was not only the key factor, though. Political competitions _ between the United States and China at the highest level and among rival politicians in smaller countries down the line _ gave the virus plenty of room to zigzag its way around the globe.
As politicians and vaccine makers discredited one another, preventing what should have been a unified and spirited fight in the process, the coronavirus variants joined hands. The virus has returned to England, which just a few weeks ago thought it was safe. The United States, the hotbed of the first wave and home to “reliable” vaccines, is experiencing new alarms, too.
This situation created by the coronavirus can feed on itself. New alarms in rich countries could mean the return of vaccine hoarding, which may not be as blatant as previously but could allow for further mutations. And new mutations could cause yet more alarms resulting in more stockpiling.
The race between human beings and the coronavirus is entering the most critical juncture yet. The World Health Organisation, whose credibility is now a subject of debate between pro-America and pro-China camps, has issued a spot-on warning no matter how the agency is viewed politically. No human is safe until all humans are safe, the WHO virtually said.
Thais are deeply worried about the government’s plan to reopen the country and resume normal business operations by October, as daily infections and deaths rise again amid a bumpy vaccine rollout. Recent opinion polls suggest most Thais disagree with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s vow to lift all travel restrictions in 120 days, fearing this will fuel new COVID-19 outbreaks.
Vaccine hoarding is not just bad morally; it’s also unwise strategically. Since all vaccines primarily train the body to know, and thus protect itself against the virus, the last thing humans want is for the coronavirus to be able to disguise itself so well that nothing recognizes it. Allowing the variants to fly perfectly under the radar in big numbers is called a schoolboy error, but that does not mean it won’t be happening.
Sci-fi movies about non-human threats often feature a concerted human campaign in which usual rivalriesare put aside. Real life, however, does not imitate artat the moment. In “Independence Day”, unified humans outsmart extraterrestrials throughcamouflaging and evading their radar. In “Edge of Tomorrow”, a united world took advantage of certain characteristics of unworldly enemies and hence won the war.
What is happening with the coronavirus is the exact opposite.
There is an “innocent” human disadvantage as well. The so-called “pandemic fatigue” is spreading fast through many ordinary people whose economic life has been shattered, and entrepreneurs who could not care less now. No matter how scary the situations are, fewer people are willing to keep the guards extremely up. Some people who matter in Singapore have even proposed doing away with daily counting completely to “ease the stress.”
But, thinking about it, what caused the fatigue? Lockdowns caused it, of course, but what caused the lockdowns? To win a war or a contest, one strategy is to lure the opponent into a false sense of security or feeling of resignation. In sports, the feeling of despair can tempt one team to pour forward in search of an equalizer, leaving the defense wide open.
The coronavirus has lost some battles, but the entire war is still up for grabs.
By Tulsathit Taptim
(Part I of Virus against humans is here)