More must be done to safeguard health

THE coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic rocking the globe has forced countries to take drastic measures in a desperate bid to tackle the respiratory infection.
Highlighting the devastating impact of the disease, the International Monetary Fund yesterday described it as “a human tragedy unfolding across the world”. Covid-19 has heightened uncertainty in every part of the planet, laying bare mankind’s serious vulnerabilities.

Although the full impact of Covid-19 is not yet on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis, it has nevertheless thrown the markets into turmoil. Banks appear more resilient this time.

But even then, every country must pay close attention to the effects of this disease outbreak. Already, there are reports that some airlines are in financial trouble as a direct consequence of this epidemic. The global travel and tourism industry are feeling the heat, with airlines grounded and many resorts shut.
Cathay Pacific, Asia’s largest airline, forced to ground two-thirds of its 238-strong fleet, has seen its daily bookings drop from 90 000 to 11 000. This will have a damaging impact on profitability in an industry already struggling to stay afloat.

The world’s biggest economy, the United States, has shut its borders. President Donald Trump has made a shock announcement barring the entry into the US of travellers from the 26-member European Union. Only visitors from the United Kingdom — which has traditionally enjoyed a “special relationship” with Washington — will be allowed into the North American country. The US government’s decision to close the borders has stunned pretty much everyone, although the jury is still out as to whether such a drastic move has any scientific basis.

Also questionable is the stance taken by some political leaders in the US — including Trump himself — who are in the habit of describing Covid-19 as “a foreign virus” or “the Wuhan virus”. This labelling is not useful at all and can only make it more difficult for the world to marshal a united effort in fighting the disease.

In Zimbabwe, there is widespread apprehension that the government’s lack of preparedness could plunge the country into peril, should Covid-19 hit home. So far, there have been close shaves—most notably the Thai national who, according to government officials, “absconded” from Harare’s Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital. He later tested negative to the infectious virus, but the saga would have turned into a national nightmare had he tested positive.

Then there was the incident involving the Chinese woman from Mutare who was reported dead on arrival at Wilkins Hospital. For reasons best known to the Zimbabwean authorities, officials appeared reluctant to specifically identify the lady as a Chinese national. Playing politics with people’s lives is not a good idea.

The tourism industry in Zimbabwe is yet to count the full cost of Covid-19, but we can expect huge losses. China has emerged in recent years as a major source market for tourists who visit this country.

The Global Fund should be commended for channeling US$500 million to Zimbabwe. Of this amount, US$25 million will be spent on enhancing the country’s preparedness in the fight on the coronavirus.