The ongoing outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 or Covid-19, which originated in China over two months ago and has been spreading around the world has claimed at least 2,100 human lives with another 70,000 laboratory-confirmed cases -- mostly in China.
The virus has been designated medically as novel -- which means it is a previously unidentified human strain -- that belongs to the coronavirus family of viruses. These viruses usually tend to affect animals, however, they can also cross-infect into humans causing symptoms ranging from fever and cough to breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death can occur. Viruses are microscopic particles and can be compared to parasites since they need to invade a living cell and alter the metabolic machinery of the host cells to keep themselves alive and replicate.
Perhaps partly due to its novel nature, Covid-19 has already created significant pandemonium leading to dramatic changes in human interactions and behaviour. Various forms of quarantine restrictions have been imposed in many localities, especially in China, and there has been widespread reporting regarding the shortage of medical supplies, including face masks and hand sanitisers and even other essential daily goods and products, which has led to rationing measures being imposed.
The heightened levels of fear, panic and various phobias -- some bordering on the irrational -- have further depressed the already ongoing economic slowdown thanks to the severe curtailment of travel and other normal human socio-economic activities.
Moreover, wearing a face mask has now become the norm rather than the exception and frequent hand washing and personal cleanliness is back in vogue. The consequences include factories being shut down and the production of goods and services being halted or seriously affected as many businesses come to a standstill.
In short, Covid-19 has already created global havoc in terms of physical, psychological, economic as well as social disruptions, in a matter of a few weeks. Yet, the death toll and the number of infections is expected to increase for the foreseeable future which will further exacerbate the doom and gloom.
Recently, the South Korean movie Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, won four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director at the 92nd Academy Awards in early February. It was indeed a novel occasion where a non-English language film took the limelight at the global film industry's most prestigious event.
How did this Korean film manage to "infect" Hollywood like a virus and create history for the first time by heralding East Asia's rise in what used to be a Western-dominated sphere of influence? Perhaps it has to do with the movie's interesting plot of exposing the great disparity in Korean society between the haves and have-nots. The plot touches on the fact that if one is not wealthy, then engaging in a parasitic and sinister manner to infiltrate more well-off families is one way to survive and climb the social ladder -- similar to what a virus does. However, the consequences that follow in both real, as well as fictional situations, can be devastating.
It is interesting that the confluence of these two seemingly independent events within the same time interval has, on the one hand, created widespread agony and even hate in the case of the Chinese-originated virus but great joy and ecstasy on the part of Korea's stamp on the global film industry.
Another aspect worth noting is that inequality or abnormality in the world can potentially be a threat everywhere and the spread of Covid-19 has clearly shown that there is an urgent need to nip such developments in the bud as quickly as possible. Poor hygiene coupled with lax precautionary measures at the epicentre of the outbreak have revealed that some pockets of underdevelopment were the likely cause of the spread of the disease which was further exacerbated by air travel by millions of Chinese citizens just before the Lunar New Year festivities.
So, what are some lessons that could perhaps be drawn from these two ground-shaking developments? East Asia can now be considered at both the "best…and worst of times" as the British author Charles Dickens wrote in the introductory paragraph to his novel A Tale of Two Cities.
The movie Parasite became successful at the Oscars in a novel path-breaking way while the novel Covid-19 disease was introduced in an equally, if not more ground-breaking manner. As the English scholar John Donne once remarked on the inter-connectedness of human beings and global sympathy: "No man is an island, entire of itself… any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee".
The American writer, Ernest Hemingway, also wrote a novel entitled For Whom the Bell Tolls which revolved around the Spanish civil war of the 1930s. Hollywood subsequently turned the book into a movie with the same title. Or as the Indian independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi, put it more succinctly, "The rich must live more simply so that the poor may simply live".
All these literary references including the movie Parasite and the emergence of Covid-19 point to the duality of human existence, living in vastly different worlds or multi-tier societies, but which should be inhabiting one equal world sharing the resources available on the planet.
This is at the heart of what it really means to achieve the United Nations' sustainable and inclusive development agenda of "leaving no one behind" that the global community has promised to attain by the year 2030, hopefully in a peaceful and harmonious fashion.
Apichai Sunchindah is an independent development specialist with an interest in Southeast Asia.