16. COVID-19: Health War

My dear learning community,

The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest battle in the War on Germs. For centuries, humans and germs have been in a dance with each other, sometimes humans are leading in this dance, and sometimes the germs are leading. When the germs are leading, no quarter is given; we take no prisoners and our mindset becomes “kill the germs before they kill us!” 

 

This letter will be about COVID-19: Health War

 

When a pandemic happens, we also start using a lot of war terminology to describe our tactics to defeat this enemy. The current COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. We speak of going into battle with proper armor to protect ourselves (“PPE, or personal protective equipment”). Experts command us to wash our hands, vigorously, to annihilate the virus; almost like the Keralite warriors battle cry, “Adi Kollu!”, which translates as “Strike and Kill!” -- with each handwashing we strike and kill this virus. We have also implemented several blockades (planes, trains, and automobiles), and police-enforced lockdowns of cities and states. We have the daily tally of injured (“confirmed cases”) and the body count (“dead”) that COVID-19 has claimed. 

 

The truth is that we need germs in our world. They provide many beneficial aspects that go unnoticed, including nutrient breakdown, chemical manufacturing and fermentation, and we need to strike a balance and live in harmony with them. But sometimes this delicate harmony becomes out of balance, and we again declare War on Germs, calling them evil; they are to be “killed on contact.”

 

Our War on COVID-19 has now become a global Health War, with nations united in a state of armed conflict against a common enemy. Each day, we see laws suspended and constitutional rights limited, all bending towards the battle against COVID-19 and winning the Health War. In this Health War, surrender on our part is not a possibility; total defeat of COVID-19 is the only desired outcome. And we will go to any extreme measure to ensure victory, including surveillance and monitoring of citizens. In fact, COVID-19 has unlocked the door to a new era of state surveillance. 

 

China

China is the prime example of state surveillance. China has recently implemented a new anti-pandemic software system called Health Code in more than 200 cities, which allows for close observation of citizens. Through Ant Financial’s Alipay wallet app, citizens answer questions about their identity and address, amount of time spent in areas with COVID-19, exposure to confirmed cases, and travel history. Health Code issues an ID to each person, and assigns a color code based on risk profile (greenyellowred). A green health code means the citizen is symptom-free and low-risk. A yellow health code means the citizen is a possible risk because of contact with an infected person or outbreak hotspot, and should be at home in self-isolation. A red health code indicates a citizen is confirmed to have COVID-19, or had symptoms and awaiting diagnosis, and should not be in public.

 

This color code is used by state officials at checkpoints to allow access to certain highways, public transport, office buildings, hotels, shopping malls and banks. Citizens can also check each other’s health code color to make decisions about whether to be around each other. Violating any COVID-19 protection measures can result in three years in prison.

 

Israel

Israel has followed China. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency over COVID-19, and said Israel would use “technological means” previously developed to “fight against terrorism.” He has authorized the Israeli internal security service, Shin Bet, to implement monitoring of confirmed cases and surveillance of citizens to ensure compliance with anti-pandemic measures. These measures include advanced digital surveillance techniques, such as monitoring the cellular phones of COVID-19 confirmed cases and enforcing quarantines. A new app, called Hamagen (“the shield” in Hebrew) alerts users if they have crossed paths with a confirmed case, and then giving them the option of reporting it to the Health Ministry.

 

The Health War sets up two dichotomies, namely virus vs humans and state vs citizens. Victory in the Health War is not a zero-sum game; instead, it is détente, and about restoring balance. COVID-19 and humans must find a balance to co-exist, and the state and citizens must find a balance of protecting the public while respecting individual rights and privacy. The new battle cry in a Health War should reflect this vision of what we are fighting for. World of Warcraft, the popular online role-playing game, provides the perfect battle cry, “andu-falah-dor,” in translation, “let balance be restored!” 

 

Let’s hope balance is restored soon, so we can go back to work and school. Stay home until then.

 

Always, with best regards, stay safe, Semper Gumby

 

Dawn Dekle, PhD

AUN President (Vice-Chancellor)

 

Teaser: stay tuned for the next letter from the desk of the AUN President, on the topic “COVID-19: The Covidiots”