İpek Cem Taha

Director, Columbia Global Centers, İstanbul

The World Health Organization has now declared New York as the new epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis with 40,000 cases. As of yesterday, the United States surpassed China and Italy in terms of the number of cases. (Photo: Gülnar Çelik)

Humankind and especially Homo Sapiens are an adaptable species, especially strong when it comes to survival skills. Especially over the past several thousand years, we have increasingly dominated the globe regardless of natural disasters, wild animals and even plagues.

The COVID-19 virus has been making the rounds globally since January of this year and has possibly eroded some of the self-confidence of humankind, who have for a while been given a free rein on the resources of the globe. Our egos aside, the coronavirus now increasingly threatens our health, our loved ones, our livelihoods, and our incomes. The contraction in the economy is so large that 3.3 million people filed for unemployment last week in the United States. According to Duvar columnist Bahadir Ozgur, the pandemic-driven economic crisis will very strongly impact 6 million people in Turkey and encompass about 15 million people in total when we take into consideration their families.

A Frightening Argument in the U.S.

Different countries have implemented different strategies to contain the spread of COVID-19. A good number of these strategies have also been radically changed over time. The U.K., the United States, and France are now approaching matters with the highest level of alarm. What is at stake now is larger than just the competence of the healthcare system or the organizational might or resources of governments. What is at stake is failing to meet transparency and decency criteria relating to decision making. In addition, leaders of countries are all being monitored by the public for their own report cards – in terms of how they cope with and manage this crisis.

Let us make some international comparisons and review several high profile examples: In the United States, there are competing elements of wild capitalism versus the right to survive and be cared for during such a pandemic. President Trump seems keen to open up the economy by Easter shocking many in his country and worldwide. On the other hand, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has said that older Americans are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the economy. 

The United States and especially New York has now become the geography with the peak number of cases. At the time of writing this article, the number of cases in New York stood at 37,258 while 385 people had lost their lives due to COVID-19. According to mathematical simulations, the number of cases in the city could reach to about 140,000. Even in one of the richest corners of the world, such as New York, there are not enough hospital beds, test kits, medication, and health workers to support such numbers. While the WHO has declared New York the new epicenter of the pandemic, there are also steep differences of opinion between New York governor Andrew Cuomo and the government of Donald Trump as to what policies will deliver the best results.

Europe’s success story: Germany

In addition to developing success stories from the Far East, including China, South Korea, and Taiwan, the success story of continental Europe is certainly Germany.  In some of the Far Eastern countries, we can point to the autocratic nature of systems and politics as a way of getting the health effort to a disciplined execution. However in Germany, a country with strong democratic traditions, we also should factor in the principled leadership of Angela Merkel. About ten days ago, she had already spoken to her public comparing the COVID-19 health crisis to World War II.  

As of this morning, the number of cases in Germany was 43,646, while the number of deaths remained at a much lower than the median level elsewhere – at 262 people. For comparative purposes, the total number of cases in France was 29,155, but the number of associated deaths was 1,696. Germany’s wide level of testing, the state of Germany’s healthcare system and the enforcement of social isolation have played a role.  At the same time, the number of qualified nurses at a rate of 13.2 nurses per 1000 people, as reported by CNN, is also an important variable.

Currently Virus 1- Humanity 0

The total number of cases globally has surpassed half a million and continuing to grow. As of yesterday evening, the United States has topped the COVID-19 charts with the largest number of cases. As of Friday afternoon Istanbul time, the number of U.S. cases is at 85,762. Approximately, half of the cases are concentrated in New York and New Jersey. With these cases in mind, the United States has surpassed both China and Italy in terms of the number of infections.  

The COVID-19 pandemic affects the young and old, the rich and poor: any one of us regardless of our nationality, ethnicity or religion. We are all in emergency mode. Of course, we are not giving up as human beings, but it is fair to say that the current score is Virus 1 – Humanity 0. 

If we define humanity as our ability to act humanely, then the equation might be slightly different. The pandemic continues to bring out both the best and the worst in humanity. 

Will we choose a sense of community, transparency, and collaboration or will we choose to remain selfish and think of one another as the enemy or competition… Only time will tell.