GLOBAL RACE AGAINST TIME TO CONTAIN SPREAD OF COVID-19

 
 

As the Covid-19 pandemic continued to escalate throughout much of March, governments across the globe have also accelerated their efforts in hope that its spread will be stemmed in the coming months. While the pandemic was largely confined to China and several of its neighbours during the initial stages, the virus has found its way into Europe as well as the Americas and the rest of the world, threatening to cripple the healthcare system in some countries. In Europe, Italy has been among the hardest-hit country with cases numbered in thousands and highest daily death toll even surpassed that of China’s at its peak. Other continental Europe countries as well as the United Kingdom have also experienced spike in number of cases throughout March, prompting governments to escalate their responses in combating the virus.   

Europe becomes the centre of the Covid-19 pandemic in March amid rising cases in Italy, Spain and France (Source: Safeture)

 

Drastic measures have been taken around the world with closure of borders, cancellations of flights as well as declaration of state of emergencies in order to curtail the spread of the virus. In some instances, lockdowns or restricted movement measures have also been imposed by countries such as Italy, France, Belgium, Malaysia, the Philippines as well as many cities in the United States to “flatten the curve”, so that hospital infrastructures will not be overwhelmed by patients seeking treatment.

Efforts have been taken by governments worldwide to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 (Source: New York Times)

The public have also been encouraged to stay home or practise “social distancing” if they need to be out. With no available vaccines or treatment, it has been hoped that such methods that require collective action will slow and eventually stop the spread of the virus. It has been noted that these measures may go well beyond March into April as some countries have yet to see the infection rate reduced. Italy for instance has announced the country’s lockdown measure will be extended till 3 April from the original 25 March.

As the virus continues to spread elsewhere, there were some positive news emerging from  China, the country that was the hardest hit at the beginning of the pandemic. The outbreak situation there has shown signs of easing in which many believe could be a turning point in the fight against the virus. While the breakthrough could be partially attributed to series of tough measures imposed by Beijing including locking down entire province or city, they are also likely to exact a toll on its economy. Likewise, other countries that have adopted similar measures would also likely to experience various degree of slowdowns amidst the pandemic. With that in mind, a period of adjustments to the political, economic and social realms will also no doubt be a necessity during the post-pandemic stage. 

 
 

TURKEY AND RUSSIA HOLD THEIR BREATHE AMID IDLIB CEASEFIRE

 

Heavy fighting in Idlib province between the Syrian army and anti-government militants was finally halted on 6 March following a ceasefire inked between the main backers of the opposing forces, Russia and Turkey. Significant concessions were made by both sides. A Syrian government offensive launched in December 2019 to reclaim the last rebel strongholds in the region has been frozen indefinitely while militant forces were forced to concede strategic territory along the M4 highway, which connects Aleppo and Latakia cities. At the same time, Turkey has secured de facto control over parts of Idlib that were still under militant control as well as several other northern regions. While previous ceasefires have collapsed before, the latest truce may hold over the coming months as both proxy forces reach a point of exhaustion.

The latest escalation of hostilities has demonstrated how heavily reliant both Syrian government forces and pro-Turkish militants are on their respective patrons’ direct military backing. While government troops ultimately secured an edge with the recapture of Saraqib, just 15km from Idlib city, Turkey has clearly drawn a red line against further incursions by committing its military in full force. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Reccep Tayyip Erdogan have also pledged to continue with the Astana peace process that could turn Idlib and other northern regions into a safe haven for around four million Syrian refugees that Turkey currently hosts. A stretch of the M4 highway will now test this cooperation with several militant factions opposed to the deal already staging deadly attacks against joint Russian-Turkish security patrols.

 

SECURITY IMPLICATIONS OF COVID-19

 

The Covid-19 outbreak in the early months of 2020 has produced a dramatic impact not only on the daily life and on the global economy, but also on personal and international security. The scenario has moved very quickly, some implications are clear-cut while others may well emerge in the coming days and weeks. That said, it is wise at the moment to identify and anticipate the novel coronavirus possible consequences for security.

The new epidemic has offered an opportunity for perpetrators to take advantage of the high demand for personal protection and hygiene products, sparking a new trend in counterfeit medical items such as miraculous facemasks, substandard hand sanitizers and unauthorized antiviral medication. In the same direction, criminals are also playing on Covid-19 fears to carry out online attacks – malware, phishing messages and nation-state campaigns (some of these messages appear to have come from the World Health Organization exploiting people’s demand for additional information about the disease). Also, as individuals are more and more required to reduce social contact and shelter in place, a large number of employees have become remote almost overnight, and many corporate IT and security departments are still developing the right defense tools.

The civil service of many countries is also being affected by Covid-19 infections, staff absences and distance working, which may result in debilitated operating. Moreover, as the outbreak continues, significant meetings on both technical and political matters have been cancelled or disrupted, including the United Nations convention plans around the world, which restricts negotiation among international actors.

Covid-19 may also increase existing tensions, especially in countries in conflict or at risk of conflict, such as Syria. The focused attention on the pandemic represents less attention to other issues, for instance, the consolidation of a peace agreement in Afghanistan, and could create favourable conditions for malicious actors to press forward.

While the current crisis is far from over, initial awareness of international security threats can be identified and taken care of, as, looking to the future, it will be important to address how it has changed the security framework and what can be done from this experience to enlarge policies towards a safer world in all aspects.

 
 

ON THE RADAR

Legislative elections to test South Korea Moon’s popularity amid Covid-19 outbreak

 

Legislative elections are set to take place in South Korea on 15 April as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc across the country since February. With President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating already taking a hit due to a battered economy, the spread of the virus coupled with stagnated inter-Korean relations are likely to result in lesser support for his party during the elections. There will also be questions if the elections can be held as scheduled and even if they were to proceed as planned, they are likely to be subdued affairs as the fears of Covid-19 persist.

Muslims to mark the beginning of Ramadan on 24 April

 

Muslims across the globe will mark the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan on 24 April during which fasting, prayers and reflection among others will be observed. The fasting period will last from sunrise to sunset in which mass prayer ceremonies at mosques, madrasahs and suraus are expected. Working hours are also subject to changes in some countries such as Oman and Brunei while entertainment outlets could also be closed as a sign of respect. Additionally, crowds will also be thronging evening bazaars or food markets cities or towns in which heightened security measures are likely to prevent untoward incidents.

 

Keeping tab on other diseases amid Covid-19 pandemic

 

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm and dominated the news coverage and healthcare systems, there are other diseases, that have the potential to be harmful if not addressed correctly. Here are some of them:

  • Lassa Fever: A viral haemorrhagicillness, persistently present in West Africa. Recent outbreaks have been reported in Nigeria, where almost 200 people died in the first few months of 2020.
  • Dengue Fever: Spread by Aedes Aegypti mosquito bites, dengue has a high incidence in tropical areas. New outbreaks have been reportedly recently in South America – Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru and in Southeast Asia- Malaysia and Singapore.
  • Bird Flu (H5N6/H5N8): Subtypes of Influenza A, the virus has been detected in farms in Philippines and Germany respectively in March. No human cases have been reported yet.
 

APRIL TIMELINE

What to look out for this month:

 

12 Easter celebration in western hemisphere

15  Legislative election in South Korea

24  Beginning of Ramadan

25  Parliamentary election in Sri Lanka

25  Freedom Day in South Africa

 

Contributors

Adam Yusoff
Analyst Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Chan Cheong
Senior Analyst and Office Manager Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Deborah Sheps
Analyst Sao Paolo, Brazil

Patrícia Baruffi
Analyst, based in Lisbon, Portugal

Johan Emilsson
Senior Analyst Lund, Sweden

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