British Asia News By Anay Sharma
London May 9 (BAN/AS) What fascinates you? For me, a sixth form student living in the UK, it is the world and the things that are in it, how they have started and how they have changed. Currently I am studying at The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School and I want study geography at university to further my interest in geopolitics and world affairs. I love writing about my passions and therefore created my blog/website (www.theworldisntboring.com) to share my thoughts with the world. -
Anay analysed current affairs, what has become a global pandemic - the invisible threat to the world.
The Coronation of the East
The coronavirus gets its name from having small crown-like features on its surface. As the world fights against this invisible threat, are we witnessing the reshuffling of the global international order; the dethroning of the West and the coronation of the East.
East-Asian countries have had experience with infectious diseases in the past, namely SARS and MERS. In 2013 the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic swept through Hong Kong and Singapore, costing the lives of 774 people and infecting over 8,000. At the time this was seen as a failure on the part of the government. The lack of transparency between the government and its citizens and their inability to contain the disease was considered as the main factor for this failure. Furthermore, in 2015 an outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) led to a health crisis in South Korea. Key information was withheld from citizens and low testing was blamed for the 38 deaths. Valuable lessons were learnt from these experiences, but much of the world did not take notice.
These encounters with contagious diseases left these countries well prepared to contain any future outbreaks. When coronavirus hit South Korea, the government began where they had failed in the past; indiscriminate testing with over 600,000 people already tested, and also large amendments to public health law. When coronavirus reached Hong Kong, the government asked people to exercise caution with regard to travel as early as February, and commencing a travel ban soon after. Moreover, the Singaporean government’s modern plans, gave the police force power to track down connections between cases and a ‘suppress and lift’ coronavirus strategy, for preparation against a pandemic.
While this was going on in the East, it was business as usual in the West. We ignored all the signs, failures and lessons and kept calm and carried on. Consumerism, liberalism and individualism made us oblivious to what was going on.
Nearly every year the media have reported an outbreak of a novel virus, such as Ebola and H1N1; nonetheless Western governments behaved as though these are third world problems and that they are untouchable. The UK are currently testing as low as 40,000 people per day showing that the government clearly did not heed the advice of the WHO to ‘test, test, test’ or learn from the experiences in East Asia. The goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April is looking implausible. Furthermore, the government’s failure to manufacture and import enough protective equipment (PPE) is making NHS staff more vulnerable by the minute, with 100 staff already dead in the UK. This catastrophe could have been prevented if the UK had spent crucial time preparing. In order to reduce the government’s budget deficit following the 2007 financial crises, the UK government implemented an austerity program which has left the NHS underfunded in the face of growing population pressure, shown as the ‘public health grant between 2019-20 [is] £850million lower than initial allocations in 2015-16’. This underfunding has left the NHS susceptible and close to breaking point, only two and a half months after the first case.
Apart from the years of NHS cuts, the British government has failed to respond effectively to this pandemic. 10 Downing Street has blindly focused only on the economy, and specifically market mechanisms and public-private partnerships. Free market liberalisation has led to a continual outsourcing and privatisation of NHS services; this can distinctly be seen by changes such as uniting commissioning care systems, NHS trusts and GPs in ‘integrated care systems’ and the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. Both of these are criticised as ‘dismantling the NHS’.
Social indicators such as health and life expectancy are what separate the West from prospective global superpowers. The NHS is a big part of this, privatisation of the NHS will inevitably lead to a reduction in quality of life. The coronavirus has tested health care systems from all over the world and it is Western healthcare systems which have buckled under the strain.
Across the pond, President Trump sets the perfect example of poor leadership. Apart from his numerous blunders during the White House Coronavirus briefings, it is his decisions which are risking American lives. Having not followed up on the Obama Administration’s plans to manufacture cheaper ventilators and 20 million face masks in 2017, Trump also ‘streamlined’ the National Security Council by closing its Pandemic Preparedness Office. Perhaps the most crucial error by the White House was the distribution of PPE and key medical equipment through external middlemen who were seeking a profit. This has provoked the auction of life-saving equipment to governors consequently increasing prices.
Additionally, Democrat states such as Michigan and Illinois are receiving a fraction of the vital supplies they were owed compared to Trump’s subservient Republican governors. The West’s divisive politics, such as those implemented by Trump, are polarising Western countries; this is further accentuated by the backward policy of isolationism, reducing the West’s influence over the world.
“Feichang Shiqi” (an extraordinary time), which requires extraordinary measures?
Perhaps the most problematic element of the Western strategy in dealing with the coronavirus is shown most clearly by the attitude of citizens to their government. Western liberalism and individualism have meant that, not only economic freedom but also individual freedom from the government is a huge element of Western society. Whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing, a lack of cultural and societal responsibility has left Western countries strained when dealing with this pandemic.
This is distinctly demonstrated in Italy where many are disregarding governmental decree in this lockdown. Over 40% of citizens in Lombardy’s residents are still travelling beyond a few hundred meters from their homes, and hundreds of thousands of Italians have been given a police citation for flouting the ban. Some, such as the Chinese Red Cross are appealing to the government to implement stricter measures (such as those in China and Taiwan). However, such laws will never be enforced due to, again, individualistic ideals such as independence and autonomy from the government. China is unique in the way that its ‘political system could gain public compliance with extreme measures’. This deep commitment to collective action by Chinese citizens perfectly exemplifies how Western society lacks accountability for the individual’s actions.
East Asian countries have a strong sense of civic duty and collectivism, putting the needs of the country ahead of each person’s individual desires. This is firstly demonstrated in South Korea, where people decided to embrace social distancing before the government instructed them to do so, shown when restaurants, shops and cinemas closed in Daegu (the coronavirus hotspot). Furthermore, this can be seen in Japan, where the government doesn’t even have the power to authorise a nation-wide lockdown, with some businesses including bars and hairdressers still open. Therefore, Japan has had to invoke their famous community spirit, which surfaces during times of emergency such as the 2011 Tsunami, to face the crisis together and reduce social interactions; this was highly effective, having stemmed the initial outbreak.
In some parts of Asia, governments have taken draconian measures to reduce the number of coronavirus cases. China, praised by the WHO, took aggressive measures in reigning in the outbreak by locking down cities and by implementing the use of new technology in order to track, contact and quarantine potential coronavirus carriers. Social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo were used to vigorously track people and inform on others who are sick; state authorities are even offering rewards for doing so. Also, facial recognition technology is being constructed to detect people with high temperatures in a crowd. This governmental intrusion is being explained to citizens with the words “feichang shiqi” (“an extraordinary time”) which requires extraordinary measures, which they duly accept.
What is the correct method to deal with the coronavirus? Presently there is no answer, but perhaps in the future we can reflect on the contrasting approaches that countries have adopted and evaluate their success (or failure). Currently the West has tried to implement moderately strict lockdown measures, however these seem futile without the unifying collective spirit that East Asian countries possess. Many news articles are reporting British sentiment against an authoritarian state, validating Western individualism and liberalism. Feichang shiqi.
This pandemic might be an indication of the world’s shifting centre of gravity, as East Asian countries' global influence surpasses the West. Western governments’ response to the coronavirus has been disorganised, incompetent and weak. East-Asian nations have managed to curb the initial influx of coronavirus cases, giving them vital time to prepare and flattening their curves much earlier.
Beaubien, J., 2020. How South Korea Reined In The Outbreak Without Shutting Everything Down. [Online] Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/03/26/821688981/how-south-korea-reigned-in-the-outbreak-without-shutting-everything-down?t=1587055418556
Fisher, D., 2020. Why Singapore’s coronavirus response worked – and what we can all learn. [Online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/why-singapores-coronavirus-response-worked-and-what-we-can-all-learn-134024
Furse, J., 2019. The NHS Dismantled. [Online] Available at: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n21/john-furse/the-nhs-dismantled
Jo, E. A., 2020. A Democratic Response to Coronavirus: Lessons From South Korea. [Online] Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/a-democratic-response-to-coronavirus-lessons-from-south-korea/
Kai Kupferschmidt, J. C., 2020. China’s aggressive measures have slowed the coronavirus. They may not work in other countries. [Online] Available at: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/china-s-aggressive-measures-have-slowed-coronavirus-they-may-not-work-other-countries
Kuo, L., 2020. How did China get to grips with its coronavirus outbreak?. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/09/how-did-china-get-grips-with-coronavirus-outbreak
Marsi, F., 2020. Why Italy’s coronavirus death toll continues to spike despite lockdown – and what the UK can learn. [Online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/italy-coronavirus-death-toll-lockdown-uk-self-isolation-social-distancing-a9414581.html
Normile, D., 2020. ‘Suppress and lift’: Hong Kong and Singapore say they have a coronavirus strategy that works. [Online] Available at: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/suppress-and-lift-hong-kong-and-singapore-say-they-have-coronavirus-strategy-works
Perraudin, F., 2020. UK government’s coronavirus response beset by mixed messages and U-turns. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/14/uk-governments-coronavirus-response-beset-by-mixed-messages-and-u-turns
Picheta, R., 2020. UK coronavirus response criticized as people are filmed by drones and stopped while shopping. [Online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/31/uk/uk-police-coronavirus-tactics-gbr-intl-scli/index.html
Reynolds, E., 2020. People in the West are ignoring advice to stay home. That's because it's too confusing, one expert says. [Online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/23/europe/coronavirus-lockdown-flouted-italy-uk-intl-gbr/index.html
Science, 2020. The United States leads in coronavirus cases, but not pandemic response. [Online] Available at: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/united-states-leads-coronavirus-cases-not-pandemic-response#
The Economist, 2020. Bigger than Trump, The White House v covid-19. [Online] Available at: https://www.economist.com/united-states/2020/04/11/the-white-house-v-covid-19
The Guardian, 2020. A public inquiry into the UK's coronavirus response would find a litany of failures. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/01/public-inquiry-coronavirus-mass-testing-pandemic
 (Normile, 2020)
 (The Guardian, 2020)
 (Furse, 2019)
 (Kai Kupferschmidt, 2020)
 (Picheta, 2020)