With the World Health Organization predicting that the coronavirus will not dissipate anytime soon, we are left to grapple with the stark reality of living with a highly contagious, still largely unknown virus with no known cure as of yet.
The COVID-19 pandemic has infected nearly 2.6 million people and killed more than 180,000 people around the world since the first case of the acute respiratory illness was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.
The pandemic has forced nearly half of the world population into a lockdown, sent the global economy into a tailspin and turned our lives upside down.
The elderly in care facilities are particularly vulnerable to the disease and are left alone to die a painful, lonely death with no loved ones to hold their hands and bid farewell as they make their final journey. As is the case in many disasters, the less privileged are the most vulnerable, their very livelihoods threatened and their health at great risk. Businesses are laying off workers and canceling hiring plans, dimming the future for young people. It goes without saying that the younger generation feel as if they have been robbed of their future at a time when they should be excited by all the possibilities that lie ahead.
We have all been robbed of one thing or another by the invisible, silent enemy that is the coronavirus. Since making the jump from a wild animal to humans, the new coronavirus has infected people in all corners of the world, crossing borders, indiscriminate in its attacks.
It is the unknown that cause perhaps the greatest fear in people. Once you can see the enemy, once you gain some knowledge of it, you are able to take action to defend yourself. You can even go on the offensive, attacking the enemy with the knowledge of its weaknesses, its strengths.
Meanwhile, this fear caused by not knowing breeds distrust. Who do you trust not to infect you, possibly killing you? On what do you base that trust?
In the absence of effective vaccines or treatment for COVID-19, who can guarantee that there will be no prejudice against those people who are seen as posing risks? We already see this happening, with Asians in some Western countries being physically attacked and becoming victims of racial prejudice. Africans in China have become targets of xenophobia as well.
It is not difficult to imagine a bleak dystopian future, a world where you need to produce proof that you are “clean” in order to do anything. Perhaps we will be required to carry a certificate stating that we do not pose infection risks? Perhaps to expedite identification, we may have barcodes on our arms or foreheads that would be scanned each time we entered a building or used public transportation.
We might be asked to submit this proof as part of job applications. Joining a dating app might require such proof. Perhaps a marriage certificate will not be issued without a certificate of “cleanness.” Those without such “clean” certification may well become second class citizens, left to fend for themselves out in the wild.
Prevalence of distrust is anathema to a society and more broadly to humankind. Fear and distrust, feeding on each other, can have destructive consequences, driving mankind into madness, plummeting the world into a dark abyss, perhaps bringing an end to civilization as we know it.
The light out of this dark tunnel may be science. When we have the facts, we can take appropriate actions to fight the virus. In the meantime, all the politicking and fake news and fearmongering should be kept at bay.
By Kim Hoo-ran (firstname.lastname@example.org
-- The writer is the Culture Desk editor at The Korea Herald. -- Ed.