The Coronavirus Pandemic has now reached the point where it can easily be described as far more severe than what the world would have initially anticipated with more than 1.2 million getting infected and 64,000 people succumbing to the deadly virus at the time of writing this story.
What it has led to is countries falling seriously short in terms of medical supplies and other gear such as PPE (Personal Protection Equipment)- N 95 masks, hazmat suits, etc. Countries across the world are therefore adopting tactics such as stockpiling and questionable tactics while competing for procurement, even when it comes to countries that are usually considered long-time allies.
Take the case of the United States and France, for instance, two French officials have alleged that the US buyers turned up at the Shanghai airport and offered three times the money for a consignment of masks bound for France. The US though has denied any such allegations of surreptitiously buying any consignment of masks bound from China to France.
It must be noted that the United States is now the worst-hit country amidst the Coronavirus outbreak with more than 3,00,000 recorded Coronavirus cases and 8,400 deaths, while France too is bearing the scourge of Coronavirus with the number of positive cases touching almost 90,000 along with 7,500 deaths.
The United States is currently battling a severe strain on its medical infrastructure and health care system, with a hospital in the worst-hit US city of New York even getting compelled to put two patients on a single ventilator.
In fact, the US President Donald Trump has also requested Prime Minister Modi for hydroxychloroquine, which is promoted as a preventive and a therapy against the Coronavirus but is in short supply in the United States. Earlier, India imposed a blanket ban on the export of this anti-malaria drug after Donald Trump suggested that it could treat COVID-19.
It seems that the desperate situation in the United States has led to such questionable tactics being adopted against a NATO ally. But it is not only the United States and France who are going through a phase of palpable discomfort and uneasiness, the situation has deteriorated further between Turkey and Spain.
Spain has insinuated Ankara of seizing hundreds of ventilators and sanitary equipment bound for Spain amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic. This spells disaster for Spain which is currently the second-worst hit country in terms of the number of positive cases with more than 1,25,000 cases. But then Turkey itself is in a dire situation with the number of cases rising to almost 24,000 and killing more than 500.
However, the catch is that Spain has alleged that Turkey is holding back ventilators and other medical supplies for its own use despite many local governments in Spain paying millions from them. The indictments coming from Spain are rather serious, and could lead to a serious escalation if Madrid were to take offence.
Further, Turkey is accused of resorting to devious measures even in the case of other countries. It is alleged that Turkish made masks destined for other countries, and even already paid for, never reached them. In Italy, they reached only after two weeks and that too when the Italian Prime Minister called Turkish President Erdogan.
In the case of Belgium, the supplies have still not reached from Turkey despite a police complaint lodged by the Belgian Health Ministry.
Relations are also souring between the American neighbours- the United States and Canada, after the Trump administration ordered 3M, a Minnesota-based protective healthcare manufacturer to stop exporting masks to Canada and Latin America, in the face of Coronavirus Pandemic in the country- a move that has drawn flak from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau has given a veiled threat to the United States saying medical equipment “goes both ways across the border,” and added that thousands of nurses travel from Canada to work in Detroit on a daily basis.
Not just this, he seemed to have suggested considering retaliatory measures, when he said, “These are things that Americans rely on and it would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back and forth trade of essential goods and services, including medical goods, across our border.”
What the Coronavirus Pandemic has done is force two dozen countries, including India, into banning the exports of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies in order to stockpile medical gear in their own countries.
Critical supply chains across the globe are getting hurt not only due to export prohibitions, but also because of shipments of medical gear and other equipment going missing in transit. A shipment bound for Italy, for example, was seized in the Czech Republic under disputed circumstances.
Though the Czech government refuted all allegations of foul-play, it later sent 1,10,000 masks to Rome as compensation. In similar circumstances, a consignment bound for Germany mysteriously disappeared while passing through Kenya, but there is nothing to suggest that the Kenya government was involved.
What the Pandemic has done is create global insecurities and chasms even between traditional allies as government across the world resort to devious measures ranging from relatively less treacherous export bans to holding back sold medical supplies for domestic use as in the case of Turkey and in other cases even blocking shipments of medical necessaries in transit.
What this can lead to is a severe humanitarian crisis as snapped supply chains can further aggravate the shortages of medical supplies, and then the low-income countries like Ecuador where even morgues have fallen short of capacity forcing authorities to store victims in giant fridges would be the worst-hit.
Even worse, it could lead to animosity between supposed friends and allies across the world given how things have panned out between, say the United States and France, or the United States and Canada. As the Coronavirus Pandemic continues to rise way beyond what the world was initially anticipating, the consequences too are turning out to be much harsher. The way things are going, it seems that the Coronavirus Pandemic could easily slip the world into disputes, conflicts and even armed confrontations.