IFAIR’s Series in Times of Corona: Today from Cuba / Germany / Philippines / Italy
Cuba: Cuba and the new coronavirus
A few days before Cuba confirmed its first three cases of the new coronavirus, the government’s actions to prepare for this epidemic were already facing some criticism by civil society and private businesses. The delay in closing international points of entry and recommending social distancing measures, added to the public’s concerns about the ability of Cuba to handle a potential health crisis.
An aging population with a broad presence of preexisting conditions, the shortages of medicine in recent months and a lack of trust in the government’s official messages have conditioned the doubtful reaction within the island.
However, medical diplomacy became the official Cuban response at the international level. Cuba has extended medical assistance to 14 countries, including Italy, as a direct response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Interferon Alpha 2B, a medication used to boost the immune system, developed and manufactured locally, has been praised by the WHO and it’s been effectively used in China and other affected nations. Cuban authorities cooperated with the British government to secure the safe evacuation of a cruise ship with some confirmed cases of Covid-19, after it was denied entry to many ports in the region.
The new coronavirus has produced a mixed effect in Cuba: an initially slow domestic response versus a strong international presence. A battle between concerns to the possible damages of an already crumbling economy and the relevance of health care as an important foreign policy tool and an essential part of nation branding for Cuba.
About the author: Bryan Chester Campbell Romero holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Havana, Cuba. He’s particularly interested in the study and politics of existential risks and the increasingly important role of cities in the global governance landscape.
Germany: A Corona Diary
Day 1 at home: I decide to go shopping, because people are speculating that the shops could close at any time. While I stand in line and realise how long 2 meters are, an old lady places herself right in front of me. “I survived a war”, she says and buys medical tea against coughing. I am afraid.
Day 2: Shopping is not an option anymore. All stores, except of supermarkets and drug stores have to close.
Day 5: Oh, there she is: Angela Merkel on national TV. “Hard times”, she says and I agree. She does not declare a curfew. Could I be chancellor?
Day 6: Bavaria and some other German federal states impose curfews or contact limitations. In times of a pandemic federalism is confusing.
Day 11: Many German politicians come together. After the meeting, social contacts with more than two people are strictly forbidden due to contact limitations. Finally, we have one strict rule for the whole of Germany. Oh wait, some federal states have other, even stronger, regulations.
Day 13: One of my friends is coughing. She wants to get tested considering she is working in a hospital. “Have you been in a region at risk? Have you been in contact with an infected person?”, the doctor asks. She has not and therefore will not be tested. I feel like the pandemic could be much more under control if more people would be tested. The dark figure must be huge. Many experts share my concerns. Could I be chancellor?
Day 14: After doing nothing all day I start my well-deserved evening in front of the TV and I am shocked: First politicians worldwide are calling for the revival of the economy. The discussion is about whether we should safe the people or the economy. We need both. What a tough decision. I couldn’t be chancellor.
About the author: After experiencing the world climate conference 2017 in Bonn as a member of a youth project, Laureen decided the international stage is calling for her. Since October 2019 she studies International Relations and Communication Science in Erfurt.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the democratic space in the Philippines has already withered. The election of Duterte has impugned the core values and pillars that the Philippine society was erected on, and this has become more palpable as the country faces new challenges brought by this novel pathogen.
COVID-19 has become an apparatus for the government to suppress human rights under the guise of ‘emergency power’. Duterte, for instance, instructed security forces to shoot dead people who are not following quarantine orders. This has empowered the police force to abuse their power in various ways, including confining people to dog cages and coffins. Criticisms raised by Filipinos online about the negligence of the administration amidst the pandemic have been met with harassment. If they are not red-tagged as leftists, they are brushed off as fake news propagators. One example was the case of a campus journalist who was pressured to publicly apologise after officials in his hometown threatened to file a libel case against him over a Facebook post condemning the government’s response to the crisis.
The situation in the Philippines confirms that the hazards brought by this contagious disease are not only measured by how many individuals can one person infect (R-naught) or how good a person’s immune system is. It all boils down to good governance and rule of law. Filipinos should stand up against structural forces in the society that cheapen human rights, favour the elites and stifle political freedom. Let us not feed the monsters who are hungry for power
Abouth the author: Jean Dinco is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her current research is focused on natural language analysis of the Rohingya conflict in Myanmar. Jean tweets at imajeaned.
Italy, the first western country hit by the Coronavirus. It felt like the start of a war against an invisible enemy: hospitals collapsing, an ever-increasing number of deaths, lock-downs and the uncertainty about the future.
On the one hand, there is fear, sadness and frustration. Those are the feelings that many of us developed. Fear to lose someone we love or to not be able to bring home the bacon for our children. Sadness and frustration because we suddenly experienced the bitter taste of discrimination. Everyone of us could be a threat to other people. We Italians were the first ones in Europe that seemed to not be able to control the situation – the classical Italians never able to respect the rules. We were frustrated by seeing our country collapse and by the low solidarity from the EU.
On the other hand, I see a country united as never before, with a strong cohesion within the institutions. But the main strength is seen among the people: A country singing ‘Fratelli d’Italia’ from the windows every day at 6PM. People helping each other. North and South united, working together to restart. We became those Fratelli d’Italia that we are singing about every day. We received international aid from the rest of the world. We experienced humanity and solidarity, something we will not forget.
If we learn something from this experience it is that nobody can run alone. We do not know when we will be able to run again, but when the time comes it will be different and stronger. We will run faster, together.
Abouth the author: Sofia Zecchini / Nationality: Italian / Country of residence: Italy (currently in Poland as Erasmus student) / Age 23