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Opinion 24-Mar-2020

The virus of oblivion

Grigory-Matyunin
Grigory Matyunin
Columnist

There is nothing like a major crisis to unmask a society for what it is. As workers are laid off without compensation, panic-buyers hoard food and antiseptic is stolen from hospitals to be sold online at inflated prices, the façade of civility has been swept away to reveal a world where the dog eats the dog.

The covid-19 epidemic will have touched all of our lives by now. Some of us have lost loved ones. Others face a period of unprecedented financial instability. With the death toll surpassing 15,000, stock markets plummeting and most of the Western world locked inside, it has supplanted all other matters. Examining most mainstream newspapers, I struggle to find a single entry concerning anything else.

Yet even as the future looks uncertain and fearful, we cannot turn a blind eye to what our governments are doing on our behalf throughout the world.

Since 2015, Western governments have supported the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. Invoking a largely fictional existential proxy war with Iran and a perversion of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, they have provided arms as well as sharing military intelligence and refuelling Saudi war planes.

Largely hidden from public scrutiny, the war has claimed tens of thousands of lives and precipitated the largest cholera epidemic in modern history. The intervention has been accompanied by a blockade of utmost cruelty which, by conservative estimates, has led to the deaths of 85,000 children from starvation.

The war has also destroyed the country’s healthcare system. Hospitals have been destroyed by Saudi bombing raids and the country is deprived of elementary medical resources. When covid-19 reaches Yemen, how will its doctors and nurses cope with a crisis which is overwhelming their Western European counterparts?

Last week covid-19 was detected in the Gaza Strip. Unlike food and medical supplies, the virus has penetrated the Israeli siege with little hindrance.

This siege, imposed since Hamas was lawfully elected to power and subsequently dared to foil a US-Israeli attempted putsch, has kept the population in a state of perpetual terror and impoverishment. A mere four percent of the available water is fit for human consumption and nearly half of essential medicines are reportedly unavailable at Gaza’s Central Drug Store. Permits to receive medical treatment in Israel remain notoriously hard to obtain. The population density is among the highest in the world and unemployment stands at 40 percent.

It requires little imagination to envisage what might ensue in this concentration camp already deemed ‘unlivable’ by the United Nations now that covid-19 has entered the territory.

Finally, Iran has been subject to the cruellest and most cynical forms of economic warfare since the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It bears restating that Iran was in full compliance with the deal and none of the pretexts for withdrawal voiced by American diplomats can be taken seriously.

Today Iran is among the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic. The death toll, according to some estimates, may reach eventually 3.5 million eclipsing that of the US-supported invasion by Iraq in the 1980s. Thousands of Iranians still suffer the consequences of Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare and are more likely to die if infected with coronavirus.

Not only has the US refused to ease Iran’s economic burden, last week he announced yet another round of draconian sanctions and held provocative military exercises with the United Arab Emirates. As well as impeding the purchase of medical equipment, the sanctions cause serious hardships for ordinary people making quarantine harder to enforce.

American policy towards Iran is not only cruel, it is also myopic. The disease will spread throughout the Middle East. Moreover, the country will be forced ever closer into the arms of China – a strong advocate for the suspension of US sanctions – provoking geopolitical shifts away from the West in the Middle East.

Those of us who live in Western countries are understandably worried about ourselves and our own families. I write as the son of a nurse who is in frontline working tirelessly to help patients battling the virus in endlessly overflowing hospitals.

Yet it is vital that we preserve our humanity and remember the needs of others. Just as we should stop hoarding food and help the vulnerable members of our own communities, we must not let our governments worsen the hardships of other countries. Let us not be oblivious to the needs of those who live far away yet suffer at the hands of our leaders and armed forces.

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