[This is an excerpt from an article in the current edition of The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs. Opinion pieces do not reflect the editorial position of the Round Table.]
Several months of preparation and support from the Guyanese Consulate in Manila meant that I was ready to fly to Georgetown. I was confident that Southeast Asian companies can pour foreign direct investments into the new petro-state.
Deciding to take a less stressful journey, I flew to Canada earlier to spend time with family just before the three-week-long trip to Guyana in March. Apparently, the virus had its own schedule. I am now a ‘virus refugee’ in Canada. A few days after the World Health Organisation’s delayed pandemic declaration, the Canadian government announced an C$82b financial response package. With businesses closed and employees losing jobs, this was a welcome message.
Sadly, the threatening problems of Canada’s next-door neighbour also meant an impact on the otherwise stable eco-system of the two countries. This further crippled the trade exchange in an already delicate supply line. As of this writing, most of Canada has been on a lock down for almost a month. Ontario province has just extended its state of emergency for another month. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is at the brink of a food shortage due to the hit on their transport chain. The Chief Public Health Officer revealed that nursing and retirement homes account for half of the virus deaths across Canada.
The number of cases is still increasing. This bad dream continues. Like other countries, the Canadian government has been merely reacting to all this. Many now wish they had acted on the pandemic as early as January or even December. It’s good that they are writing better rules as the days go by but that may not be enough. It may be a relief that Canada is doing better compared to its neighbour but it is nowhere close to what other nations have done.
The signs are very clear. The countries that have been flattening the curve against this pandemic are the ones that have used bold and innovative tactics. How can a densely populated country such as Singapore win battles against the war on this deadly virus? The name of the game is proactive and not reactive. Vigilant monitoring and an early intervention approach are the keys to win this war.
We worry that South Africa and other African states may be ill-equipped to fight this virus. We forget that given their experience with other outbreaks, they may be more prepared for this global pandemic than the rest of us. With today’s advances in medical technology, I have no doubt in my mind that we will have a vaccine for this virus. Thankfully, we will not see a repeat of the population decrease as in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, this grim experience will still teach us hard lessons. We know for a fact that history does repeat itself. It was our failure to realise that it was never a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ it happens.
Matthew Pajares Yngson is the Representative Councillor of the Caribbean ASEAN Council.