Those who have called Covid-19 “a little flu” were perhaps being ironic, as in the great flood was after all just a bit of water. It is only a little over a month since the virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), yet if anyone had suggested what is happening now, they would have been dismissed as a deranged Cassandra. But humans adopt very quickly, and we may be getting used to the unusual as the new normal.
Around a third of humanity, more than two billion people are now under some form of lockdown. Just as Covid-19 made its way from the animal kingdom to wreak havoc in the human population, the word lockdown itself, could have jumped from the world of fiction films, featuring a prison riot perhaps, into our reality.
Two and a half million people have now been infected with the virus, which has claimed more than 170,000 lives.
Only two or three months ago, China, first to be hit by the virus, made a valiant effort in calling for the world to unite against a common enemy. It would be difficult to argue that it is a call the world has heard.
“If a predatory enemy to our species can’t unite everyone on Earth to fight it, I’m left wondering what hope remains for civilisation” tweeted the celebrated American Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. But nothing should surprise us now, and the world may yet come together.
Who would have guessed for instance, that for the first time in history, US oil prices would fall so low that crude oil would be sold (if one can call it selling) at a loss. With buyers paying $40 a barrel, it has meant producers giving it away at a lower price than it cost to produce it. They have had little choice. A sharp fall in demand has left them with so much oil that they quickly ran out of storage capacity, and were forced to get rid of it at a loss.
But, just in case you are feeling a twinge of guilt at the thought of sensing some advantage from Covid-19, rest assured. Producers will soon decrease the amount of oil being pumped out of the ground, and wait for the market to recover. Nor should you expect to pay less at the petrol station. Petrol and diesel prices will certainly fall, but this fall will not necessarily be reflected in the price of the stuff you put in your vehicle. The price at your petrol station includes government taxes, and the sellers’ profit margin.
The oil market is expected to pick up, as soon as lockdowns end, and transportation across the world kicks into gear again. And it is only the American oil which has had to be sold below cost price. Brent crude, as the International benchmark oil price is known, has fallen, but has continued to trade at a profit.
And apparently unconnected events may in fact come together to bring about change. In the UK, where the death rate from Covid-19 has now risen to more than 17,000, the health ministry has announced that human trials for a vaccine will start on Thursday.
This however does not mean that a vaccine is likely to come on the market any time soon. China too has been testing out a vaccine on volunteers, but they do not envisage developing a usable vaccine until sometime next year. Given the complexity in developing vaccines, and the time it is usually expected to take, a vaccine in a year would be regarded as especially quick.
Until then, prevention remains the only cure, and lockdown measures have brought a glimmer of hope to Italy, where more than 24,000 have died. For the first time since they went into lockdown, the number of people being infected has fallen.
It is a message much of the world is heeding. Annual festivals are being cancelled. In Spain, one of the worst affected European countries, after Italy, the annual Pamplona bull run, a spectacle which brings thrill seekers into a narrow street, to be chased by angry bulls, will be cancelled this year.
Not everyone is willing to continue with the lockdown measures. In America, considered to be the new epicentre for Covid-19, the United States Attorney-General William Barr, is considering joining a law suit against some state governors, for their lockdown measures.
On the African continent, Rwanda, which in every other year would be holding commemorative events to remember the over a million men, women and children murdered during the 1994 genocide against Batutsi, is observing lockdown, and hopes a repeat of Monday 20th April. The daily Covid-19 update read, tested: 1,299, new cases: 0, recovered: 4, to join the 80, already home under observation.