Written by: Hannah Flores
It is true that when challenging situations present themselves, people tend to show their true colours. Nonetheless, in a time where Covid-19 is enveloping countries around the globe, this pandemic has exposed our lack of organization, morality and empathy. We are more so our own worst enemy than any single-celled virus could ever be.
To gain a better understanding of our current situation, we need to look back to the beginning. For me, the very beginning. I was born in March of 2003 during the height of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak. I spent the first three months of my life in isolation with family, following preventative measures. Canada’s strategy of contact tracing — or monitoring people in close contact with those who contracted it — was highly effective with SARS. We acted quickly to weaken its potential lethality.
Fast forward to my eleventh birthday in March of 2014, when the Ebola virus crisis emerged from Guinea and caught global health officials by surprise. In Chad, one of the poorest countries in Africa, there were only three physicians for every 100,000 people during Ebola’s debut. International efforts began to pour in, with aid funds totalling over US$459 million. While Africa allocated the funding towards relief efforts, we cannot let the governments of these West African countries off the hook. Ebola exposed institutional leadership gaps in health sectors in countries such as Sierra Leone. Corruption and political patronage did not help. African states did not invest in disease-specific priorities, but rather internationally-set health targets. This mirrors the negative societal trends we see in our current problem.
Now, I am a seventeen-year-old high school student practicing social distancing, where the walls of my house are the barriers between myself and the dangers that lie outside. I am back at square one. As someone interested in pursuing a global health career, I have been trying to process the evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is not sitting well with me.
International public health organizations were slow to implement preventative measures in the early stages of the outbreak. Take a look just south of the US-Canada border (which is now temporarily closed). Temperamentally, president Trump did not believe that pandemic preparedness was an important topic; that it didn't deserve the high level coordination efforts that the agencies involved had advocated for. Only a few weeks after did he hop onto the bandwagon in agreement that this is a problem beyond anything we have seen in our time. US officials have failed to maintain accurate records of citizens who have been tested and the number of positive results. It is this robbery of necessary information from Canadian and American citizens and that has bubbled to the surface, only making this viral situation escalate out of proportion. How can people be certain that we are receiving the most accurate information?
Canada has seen a great shortage in medical masks and latex gloves, vital to our medical staff working around the clock on the front lines with patients. It takes too much time to get suppliers from outside of Canada to deliver the masks and gloves. The SARS outbreak served as fair warning for us to manufacture these supplies within our own borders, making them readily available in case of emergencies.
With this panic comes panic buying; our own “Tragedy of the Commons.” Canadians are leaving stores with grocery carts overflowing with 28 different kinds of pasta and a six-month supply of toilet paper. Those who are so privileged to stockpile are not purchasing only necessities, leaving empty shelves for the economically disadvantaged. People are selfishly rebelling against suggestions of isolation, going out in public with flu-like symptoms and putting others at risk. Self-isolating is the small price everyone must pay that could save many lives.
Eventually, we got a handle on SARS and Ebola. Now is the time to do the same with Covid-19, but we cannot do this without taking a long look at ourselves in the mirror first. Call your neighbour and ask if they need something from the store. Check on your loved ones and most vulnerable peers to keep them informed and accompanied. Our strength in community and empathy for others are instrumental in our fight against Covid-19. This is our call to action, and we must pick up the phone.