Why can’t we tackle Covid and climate heating? Nationalism and stupidity | Nick Cohen
The rich world promises much but delivers nothing. How crass and self-defeating
where only the richer can protect themselves”. Every leader in the west has said much the same. Notwithstanding their fine sentiments, less than 2% of the population of low-income countries has received even one dose.Everyone suspects that rich countries are paying for sweetheart deals with vaccine manufacturers. Officials at the WHO-led Gavi alliance, which is trying to buy vaccines for poor countries, tell me manufacturers won’t say where their orders are in the queue or whether they would consider giving them priority.
For all the cooing and kind words, promises from Biden and his counterparts cannot be believed. As the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, said last week, the triumph of science in producing vaccines had been undone by “lack of political will, selfishness and mistrust
”.What he called the “obscenity” of rich world indifference comes in two parts. First, promised deliveries of vaccines to the poor world have never arrived. Oxford University data analysts found the UK had delivered less than 7% of the vaccines it has promised developing countries. Overall, of the 554m doses promised by the richest nations, only headtopics.com
90.8m, or 16%,had reached their destination. Those that did came in dribs and drabs, making planning vaccination campaigns impossible.Arguments about whether it is right for rich countries to engage in medically dubious initiatives to vaccinate teenagers or give booster jabs to the vulnerable are almost beside the point. By February 2022, 15bn doses will have been produced: more than enough to vaccinate the world. Governments, however, have allowed neurotic nationalism to turn them into misers who hoard more vaccines than they could possibly need.
The second obscenity lies in the fate of their hidden treasure. Airfinity, a science analytics company,, G7 countries may throw away 241m vaccines that have passed their expiry date. Brown describes their destruction as “unconscionable” and says he will send the projections to Biden, Johnson and EU leaders.
The know-nothing spirit that animated the Trump and Brexit movements has survived into the pandemicIt is a cliche of western responses to see the poor world as filled with corrupt and failed states. Imagine what African and Asian news teams could now say about us. Camera crews might film vaccines being crushed into landfill sites, as the reporters intoned that, though it was harsh to admit it, the truth was that childish and irresponsible westerners were so prone to wastefulness they could not be trusted to govern themselves.
Rational self-interest is the best form of selfishness and it is clearly absent today. More common is an embittered parochialism, which begins by not wanting to think about the rest of humanity and ends by hating them. God knows but I had my disagreements with Brown when he was in government. But there is no greater sign of the triumph of stupid nationalism than the replacement of Brown and politicians who could rise to a crisis with the babbling, play-acting, post-Brexit caricatures. They took power by saying that foreigners were trying to swindle honest Brits and cannot now show generosity to the rest of the world. headtopics.com
The knowledge that we will not be safe until everyone is safe has aroused a determination among the worst of nationalists not to be driven by science or bow before multinational institutions. The know-nothing spirit that animated the Trump and Brexit movements has survived into the pandemic. The Trump administration withdrew from the
World Health Organization. The Johnson government cut the foreign aid budget in the middle of an emergency when poor countries needed help most and the UK needed the epidemiological protection and economic stimulus that a global effort to contain Covid would bring.
It did so safe in the knowledge that the majority of the public would not care. Since the start of the pandemic, news bulletins have repeated the number of Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths. When the regulators approved vaccines, the numbers of those who had received one and then two jabs were added. But at no point do we hear how many vaccines are going to countries that cannot afford to buy them. Until that changes, there will be no hope of tackling Covid, let alone the catastrophic climate crisis that is rushing towards us like an unstoppable storm.
Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist Read more: The Guardian »
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