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Coronavirus diary – Part 25

By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
23 September 2020   |   3:39 am
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, December 2019, a world used to mundane things, in other words, things of the world, felt hampered by a deadly virus over which there is yet no definitive cure.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, December 2019, a world used to mundane things, in other words, things of the world, felt hampered by a deadly virus over which there is yet no definitive cure. What is true is the scramble for vaccines that are at various levels of clinical trials despite the Kremlins’ claim of a curative vaccine. We all desire to be free again. Despite the frightening New York parade of the dead, in the global headquarters of Capitalism, there was the urgent need for capital to begin its endless quest for realisation. The President of the United States of America echoed their sentiments: “This is a big moment in our history…we are opening up our country. People want our country to open up”. The beaches of Florida and California were thrown open, and the consequence was a spike in the number of the infected. Since then, the numbers have not flattened apart from situational variation. We no longer see the mourning looks of Governor Andrew Cuomo in his daily press briefings.

In Europe, the siege of Italy and Spain has been cautiously lifted. COVID-19 has not gone away, there is the wave impression, and first and second waves are being talked about. In democratisation study, we political scientists are used to the wave discourse. Samuel Huntington popularized the wave discourse in his 1991 Book entitled the Third Wave in which he traced the motion democracy across three successive waves. He locates The First wave in the American and the French revolution of 1776 and 1789 respectively. The Second Wave took off in the context of World War II which paved way for allied forces to inaugurate democratic institutions in occupied territories and the Third Wave began precisely in 1974 with the overthrow of the authoritarian regime in Portugal and its replacement with a democratic regime.

This trend traversed not only Europe but Asia and Latin American. Alvin Toffler added a nuance to the wave discourse in his 1980 book, Third Wave, a somewhat envisionment of the postmodern world in which democratic governance could migrate to the technosphere. With the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, we are already in Toffler’s Third Wave (For an understanding of the global debate on waves of democratisation, read my polemic, “The Third Wave Democracy Discourse: Is there a Fourth or Fifth Wave”, published by the Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, 2010, available online).

A compulsive argument on this has come from Melissa Hawkins, an epidemiologist and Public Health Expert who wrote about the COVID-19 wave with a particular focus on the trends in America in The Conversation. She argues that there is no such thing as the second wave because the first wave never ended. According to her, “A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn’t a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends”. She further argues that a notion of a second wave becomes meaningless. According to her, “First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations”. Although this could be true of countries in Europe and Asia, the case of the United States is different. As she puts it “In the U.S., cases spiked in March and April and then trended downward due to social distancing guidance and implementation. However, the U.S. never reduced spread to low numbers that were sustained over time. Through May and early June, numbers plateaued at approximately 25,000 new cases daily”. 

Hawkins concedes that other countries, especially in Europe and Asia genuinely brought down the infection rate and the resurgence could therefore be regarded as the second wave, over which Boris Johnson, British PM cautioned. So, for this instalment, let us take the second wave as the world-wide resurgence of the coronavirus cases irrespective of the ebbs and flows. To eschew the rigorous conceptual contestation of the social sciences, and in the context of prevailing realities, it is safe to talk of the mixed wave. Most African countries are in the first wave, with no resurgence cases though on an upward trend in some countries like Nigeria and South Africa. The Nigerian figures keep rising on daily basis without improvement in testing and some states are triumphantly closing isolation centres. In South Africa, the worst is not over. Will there be an African second wave? Turkey speaks of being “in the second peak of the first wave.” Are the elemental forces aligning as predicted by those who could look into the crystal ball, and the consequent petering out of COVID-19 happening? 

Nevertheless, the spike in Europe and America is too cold for comfort. In the US, the statistics raised alarm. In Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools, hundreds of employees either tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus. About 260 employees were “excluded from work” due to coronavirus exposure. This beside incidents at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, 9 students, staff test positive for COVID-19 and The Cherokee County school system where about 250 students with potential exposure were sent home to quarantine for two weeks.

Europe presents a record of a resurgence across the board. In Britain, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his officials are considering a second national COVID-19 lockdown due to an increase in the outbreak. According to reports, new COVID-19 cases have risen to about 6,000 per day in Britain, according to week-old data, hospital admissions are doubling every eight days and the testing system is buckling. Indeed, Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer points to the government’s concern when he noted that “We are looking at the data to see how to manage the spread of the virus ahead of a very challenging winter period.” CNN (London) adds an urgent note to the situation in Europe.

According to the popular information organ, “After successfully tamping down the first surge of infection and death, Europe is now in the middle of a second coronavirus wave as it moves into winter — raising questions over what went so wrong” quoting European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) sources, it noted that everyday case numbers in the European Union and the United Kingdom at some reached 45,000 on a 14-day notification rate. European states such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta, Romania, and Spain have witnessed an increase in death rate. The Spanish Health Ministry reported a record of 12,183 daily cases on September 11, and new restrictions have been introduced in Madrid. France also recorded 13,215 in one day with pressure on its ICU. According to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, There is a dramatic increase in the Netherlands, and new restrictions may be imposed on restaurants, cafes, and bars. The Czech Republic has also recorded 3,130 in a day. Italy recorded a new daily tally of about 1,907, and Poland 1,002. These are being explained away as the outcome of summer vacation and relaxation of measures and relapse to pre-COVID-19 life mode. Italian authorities affirmed that about 50 percent of new infections had been contracted during summer vacations. 

However, the prospect of a murky winter looms large in Europe and America, and WHO is sounding the alarm bell. As Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian (London) rightly notes, “The first wave of coronavirus swept through a world unprepared. Authorities struggled to test for the disease, and didn’t know how to slow the spread of COVID-19”. The second wave will perhaps not catch many unaware.  
Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.

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