Panic is justified
It seems as if we are witnessing the end of the world. Stadiums, markets, theaters and cinemas are empty. Movement at airports and land border crossings has decreased, as has tourism. Conferences and celebrations have been canceled, and places of worship of all religions have been closed.
Nevertheless, not a day passes without new deaths and infections from coronavirus. The number of infected people worldwide has exceeded 100,000, and the figure could soon reach 1 million. Although six weeks ago only one country was infected, about 90 have since announced that the virus has reached their populations.
The rapid spread of the virus today, and the uncertainty of the future, have prompted the world to panic and take action unprecedented in modern history. Is the panic justified? Do we blame social media, conspiracy theories or politicians?
The fact is that the situation is grave, and what is coming is perhaps even more serious. Medical estimates agree that there will be no vaccines or treatments available perhaps before the end of the year. The risk is in rapid and increasing infections. Therefore, governments must go as far as possible to reduce the spread of the virus until the end of the year, in the hope that there will be an antidote or ways to stop the spread by then.
Governments must cooperate because there is no other option, whatever the hostilities between them. That is why Riyadh has urged Iranian authorities to inform them of Saudis who have entered or left the country. Iran does not stamp passports of Saudi visitors because going there is forbidden due to the absence of political ties between the two countries. But it is not the Kingdom’s desire to hold these Saudis accountable, as the situation is more dangerous with the possibility of transmitting the virus.
The fact is that the situation is grave, and what is coming is perhaps even more serious.
So Riyadh announced that it is waiving any penalties for those who declare immediately that they were in Iran or are still there, because violating travel laws is less of a crime than transferring the virus from a country where it is widespread to Saudi Arabia. Those who return may unknowingly carry the virus, which would threaten an entire community. Hopefully Iran will cooperate in this regard and leave political differences aside.
We have to understand that those responsible for managing the difficult crisis are in trouble. On the one hand, they want to accelerate prevention operations, which may eventually reach the stage of a global quarantine of people in their cities and neighborhoods if the number of deaths rises to hundreds of thousands or possibly millions.
On the other hand, these officials do not want to raise people’s fears so as to avoid panic. Chaos may spread, and streets and cities may turn into battlefields, with looting, crime and similar things that are caused by chaos and collective fear.
There is an interesting model worthy of appreciation. Despite the sharp differences between the two parties competing in the US elections, they have cooperated to tackle the virus.
President Donald Trump raised an urgent request for $2.5 billion from Congress to support research and treatments for coronavirus.
The Democratic Party’s members of Congress supported the request and agreed to raise the amount to $8.5 billion. This cooperation reflects a sense of danger and responsibility at the same time. Certainly, the world needs to cooperate to stop this imminent danger.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed