A Tale of Two Cities – Wuhan and New York

CNN news headlined: “Thousands packed the streets to celebrate New Year's Eve in Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, as other cities worldwide were deserted”.

This is the modern story of “A Tale of Two Cities”, the historical novel by Charles Dickens which I studied in the literature class when I was Form IV in Batu Pahat High School in 1958.

Dickens’ famous opening sentence is particularly relevant to the opening of the year 2021:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

The latest data of the Covid-19 pandemic globally is over 85 million Covid-19 infections and over 1.85 million fatalities. When Joe Biden is sworn in as 46th President of the United States on Inauguration Day on January 20, the global cumulative total is likely to exceed 100 million Covid-19 cases and over 2 million Covid-19 fatalities.

That is the magnitude of the global disaster that is the Covid-19 pandemic. When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 as a pandemic on March 11, there were only 118,000 Covid-19 cases in the world. Now, it has increased 720 times in less than 10 months and is surging to new heights in daily increase of new Covid-19 infections.

The sharp contrast between Wuhan and New York on the 2021 New Year’s Eve is an eloquent testimony of the difference between the two countries – with thousands packing the streets of Wuhan, which was ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic which reported the first Covid-19 cluster a year ago, to celebrate New Year’s Eve in style while New York, like many cities worldwide, were deserted as emergency public-health measures banished the usual crowds to welcome in the New Year.

It mirrors the difference between the East and West, where greater social discipline in the former enabled Covid SOPs like wearing masks, social distancing and hand sanitisation to be universally adopted to fight the pandemic in contrast to the latter.

Even India with over 10 million Covid-19 cases making it the second top country in the world after the United States (over 21 million cases) with most cumulative total of Covid-19 cases, is different from the countries in the West – as it is the only top country in the world with a descending curve for daily increase of new Covid-19 infections – falling from the peak of 97,859 daily increase of new cases on Sept. 16, 2020 to a daily increase of 21,222 new cases yesterday.

In contrast, the United States has still to reach the peak of daily increase of new cases, having reached 236,387 daily increase of new cases yesterday – slightly below the peak of a daily increase of 255,809 new cases on Dec. 18 last year.

United States has been reduced from a superpower to a third-world nation by the Covid-19 pandemic with the ridiculous situation where the question whether people should wear masks in public or not is still a leading polarising issue in America almost one year after the Covid-19 pandemic!

When Malaysia first imposed the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18, Malaysia had 790 cumulative total of Covid-19 cases and two fatalities, China 80,928 cases and 3,245 fatalities, and the United States 10,101 cases and 170 deaths.

Now, Malaysia has a cumulative total of 119,077 Covid-19 cases and 494 fatalities, China 87,117 cases and 4,634 fatalities and the United States 21,081,796 cases and 360,033 fatalities.

At one time, Malaysia was some 50 positions behind China, the country where the pandemic first started and which had 40 times the population of Malaysia. Now, we are 10 positions ahead of China – Malaysia 119,077 cases vs China’s 87,117 cases.

If Malaysia cannot be a China in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, let us not be a United States of America on the Covid-19 issue.

The much-hyped arrival of Covid-19 vaccines are not a panacea to the pandemic, and there is now vaccine chaos in the United States.

The media has reported that at least 123,639 people were in hospital in the United States with coronavirus on Saturday, marking 32 consecutive days that the number of hospitalizations has exceeded 100,000.

Cases skyrocketed after the Thanksgiving holiday, and impacts from Christmas and New Year's celebrations are still unfolding.

Health experts worry what will happen to those numbers if infections continue to spread as they fear a total collapse of the health care system in the United States if there is another spike of Covid-19 cases.

In the December 2020 Bloomberg Covid Resilience Ranking released on December 21, 2020, we are behind 9 countries in Asia (namely Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand and Bangladesh) and only ahead of four Asian countries (namely Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines and India).

Can we do better in the January 2021 Bloomberg Covid Resilience Ranking?

Is the Covid-19 pandemic on the priority agenda in the first Cabinet meeting in 2021 as the first quarter of the year looks quite grim for Malaysians.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri