Coronavirus: From Start to Now
By Juhoon Lee Senior Staff Reporter
No other crisis has been as big, broad, and long: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) ground the globe to a halt in just four months, since the initial cases. The disease is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and can lead to respiratory complications or even death for the immuno-compromised. Proving to be highly infectious, it has permeated at least 174 countries with around 540,000 confirmed cases and 24,000 deaths as of March 27. There is no known cure or vaccine as of yet. How did the virus wreak such havoc in such a short time?
The very first case (“patient zero”) has been traced to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, Hubei, China, notorious for trading wildlife in unhygienic conditions. The first report detailed a man displaying symptoms as early as November 17, which was later confirmed to be a novel coronavirus on December 31 after more cases emerged. Soon after, Hubei Province became ground zero for an epidemic. From early to mid-February — coinciding with the Chinese New Year migration — cases in China rose exponentially to more than 70,000. The Chinese government placed a complete lockdown on Wuhan.
Until early February, China faced the brunt of the crisis and criticism, while only a few dozen cases were reported elsewhere in approximately 30 other countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a Public Health Emergency of National Concern on January 31, while warning that the virus could well grow to be a pandemic and to be vigilant.
The second epicenter was South Korea. The outbreak began with severity in Daegu on February 18 due to the disregard of self-isolation advice by a religious cult member known as Patient #31. Cases in Korea rose by hundreds every day until early-March. Around the same time, Italy and Iran saw their own outbreaks start to spiral out of control. However, with massive testing rollouts and case tracking, Korea managed to contain the virus. Similarly, China is seeing two-digit numbers each day.
Conversely, the start of March marked D-day for Europe and the US. Italy suffered heavily with the highest fatality and infection rates seen at the time despite extreme lockdown measures imposed, and the country continues to battle thousands of new cases every day. From there, the disease took over Europe entirely, with Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the UK greatly affected. Finally, on March 11, WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
The US is now the new epicenter; starting from March 10, US case figures went from 1,000 to 86,000 in two weeks, seeing unprecedented spread. With major global powers shutting down operation, the economy tanked. Millions have lost jobs and suffer supply shortages around the world. Critical resources, such as masks and medical equipment, are dwindling.
In turn, events of all sizes and types have been canceled or delayed. Even the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, which kept to its original plans until March 23, announced a postponement to 2021, only the fourth disruption to Olympic schedule in modern history, and the first outside war time. Annual cultural events like the Cannes Film Festival and the Met Gala, in addition to academic conferences and conventions, have been placed on hold until further notice.
The disease continues. For months to come, it will strain infrastructures around the world to near breaking point. In this month’s Feature, we delve into its effects on all aspects of life as we know it — economy, politics, education, and society.
From Preschools to Universities: How COVID-19 is affecting education worldwide
By Berhane Weldegebriel Staff Reporter
While the WHO and the global medical community are fighting to contain COVID-19, the education sector is being forced to adapt.
As schools across the globe are temporarily or indefinitely closing, the number of affected youths and adults is soaring. Reports from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimate that up to 80% of enrolled students across the globe are experiencing some sort of disruption in their education. With as many as 165 countries declaring nation-wide school closures and several countries enforcing localized closures, the number of students experiencing disruptions has exceeded 1.5 billion. This has created a massive challenge of providing uninterrupted and stable education.
States and schools across the world are trying to find new ways for education, with distance learning becoming more and more popular. From maintaining real-time classes using video conferencing softwares to using social media platforms to share lecture videos, schools are trying to keep classes running. But although they are filling the learning void in these ways short-term, uncertainty over the duration of the pandemic suggests that long-lasting solutions need to be implemented.
Unfortunately for many, classes running online — which is a privilege not everyone can afford — is the least of their worries. There are millions of students across the world who depend on their schools to provide them with food and health care. The suspension of school activities makes these forms of support less accessible. The problem worsens if the students are young and in need of a caretaker. For parents, school closure means having to take time off work to watch over their kids, facing the possibility of being denied paid leave.
Online education and school closures are obviously efforts needed to tackle the mammoth that the world is facing. However, this change has caused unintended chaos and distress. Even Harvard, one of the world’s most reputed universities, gave as little as five days for students to move out of campus dormitories. This was chaotic for some, especially international students, who don’t have a place to stay in the country and are confronted with financial issues and travel restrictions.
Meanwhile, high schoolers who are preparing for their exams are also facing unforeseen ripple effects. The College Board announced that they would not be holding SAT examinations in May. They also announced that additional testing will be provided as soon as possible. Whether the June SATs will also be canceled is yet to be decided, the organization adding that they are monitoring the situation and making decisions based on the health and safety of all involved. The ACT, another placement exam organization, has postponed its April 4 test to June 13 open to the possibility of further postponement. In addition, the International Baccalaureate (IB) also announced that all exams will be cancelled. The organization has instead decided to give credits based on students’ coursework and exams taken.This is the first time IB has cancelled its exams, which students spend two years preparing for. These changes are surely going to affect seniors who are in their last year and applying to university.
Effects on Economy and Politics
By Assem Dikhayeva Staff Reporter
Not much has been immune to the detrimental impacts of COVID-19, and the economy and politics are no exception. The virus threw the global economy into the rope with a series of violent shots on oil prices and the financial market, and experts dread that it will slam hard enough to knock the economy into a recession comparable to the 2008 financial crisis.
The world market started to shake in its shoes as soon as news about deaths from the coronavirus started to emerge. Although a similar situation took place in China during the SARS outbreak, it was clear early on that COVID-19 had the potential to be a much greater economic threat in the international arena. In 2002, when the SARS outbreak peaked, China’s Gross Domestic Product(GDP) did not exceed 1.7 trillion USD; its economy has grown almost nine times since then to reach domestic GDP of 15 trillion USD, and its share in global GDP has increased from 4% to 16%. China has become so tightly integrated into world trade, industry, and finance that it would be impossible for it to bear economic losses in isolation.
Hence, the slowdown in China’s manufacturing sector and the reduction of consumer spending in the service industries have triggered a domino effect on industries all around the world. Particularly, lockdowns and travel bans have greatly undermined global oil demand, rattling the nerves of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), headed by Saudi Arabia. By March 4, oil prices had already plunged by 20%, pushing OPEC to make a desperate decision to cut production by 1.5 million barrels a day to stabilize the prices. However, the arrangement was conditional on Russia’s agreement to shoulder one-third of that number.
Nonetheless, the meeting in Vienna on March 6 went spectacularly wrong; not only could the countries not settle on deeper oil cuts, but they also failed to reestablish existing agreements and terms of cooperation, resulting in the collapse of OPEC and Russia’s three-year alliance. Mikhail Leontyev, press secretary of the Russian energy company Rosneft, stated that the deal made no sense, with the US occupying vacated market space at its first opportunity. Moreover, Leontyev noted that the terms offered by OPEC “were not of collaborative nature.” In other words, it was suggested that OPEC intended to compensate for their losses at the expense of Russia. In response, Saudi Arabia initiated a price war by announcing unexpected discounts and an increase in production by 2.6 million barrels, effectively sending the prices into free fall. In two weeks, oil prices have plunged by more than two times.
This carnage — combined with falling stocks of air and travel companies, hotels, and even technology companies with supply chains and sales in China — caused the stock market to crash. On March 12, the US market suffered what the media has called “The Wall Street’s worst day since 1987”, when the Dow Jones, a stock market index measuring the performance of the 30 largest US companies, closed down 10%. Moreover, the Dow has been falling at a faster rate over the past month than during the Wall Street Crash of 1929, when it fell a whopping 90% from its peak. By March 18, the Dow closed down just 227 points above the level when Donald Trump formally took the office, wiping out almost three years of market gains — a point Trump has always been very proud of.
Although predicting the impact of the virus on the US election is still premature, it should be noted that the Republican party has already been involved in several scandals since the outbreak. Senator Richard Burr was accused of dumping millions from his stock portfolio while reassuring the public about the country’s preparedness for the epidemic, while Trump faced public backlash for calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus”, throwing fuel to the fire of discrimination and prejudice against Asians.
With banks and firms hesitant to make any predictions, it is still hard to tell if we already hit rock bottom or if there is still a way to go. At the end of the day, the duration of the virus’ rampage seems to be the defining variable in this economic equation.
How COVID-19 has Infected Daily Lives
By Min Kim Head of Culture Division
As devastating as the novel coronavirus is on the human body, its impacts on the non-infected portion of the population are just as disastrous. With the number of cases and the death toll shooting up every day in various parts of the world, our daily lives look nothing like they did only a few weeks ago.
The biggest change to our daily routines is the fact that they literally cannot be carried out. Because social distancing is important for preventing the spread of the disease, people are in lockdown, quarantining, or are simply taking the advice to refrain from leaving their houses. Employees are working from home, college students are taking online classes, and public schools are closing in most of the worst-affected countries. But as we slowly grow used to making things roll remotely, another problem emerges — this lifestyle can become terribly monotonous. “Can City Life Survive Coronavirus?”, asks a New York Times article. This question doesn’t just have to do with congestion in urban areas — a pandemic preys on the basic human desire to socialize. It not only causes an economic recession but a social one, too. Though telecommunications may be a temporary solution, it cannot compare to an in-person connection. Loneliness is an epidemic on its own, and those with pre-existing conditions such as anxiety or depression are particularly susceptible. In response to this new social threat, the WHO released a set of advice on mental health protection.
An additional side effect of the quarantine lifestyle is hoarding. Some countries are seeing aisles and aisles of empty supermarket shelves as part of their daily scene. Since no one knows for sure how long the pandemic will last, it is understandable that people are buying more than they usually would, to reduce their number of unnecessary journeys outdoors. However, panic buying beyond one’s potential need is becoming problematic and is being criticized for being selfish and foolish. In the UK, a video of a critical care nurse, Dawn Bilbrough, appealing to the public in tears on this issue has especially gone viral on social media, raising further awareness. She mentions that National Health Service (NHS) staff like herself, who are on the frontline of this battle, are the ones left with nothing to eat when they visit the supermarket after their shifts. Here in Korea, however, hoarding food and necessities does not seem to be an issue. This may seem strange, as it was once the worst affected country outside China, but is presumably due to the prevalence of delivery services, for which an efficient system has long been well-established. People are used to buying what they need, when they need it, online and the pandemic hasn’t changed that.
Nevertheless, we have a different kind of scarcity issue here: protective masks. A very visible change in the daily scenery in Korea is the very conspicuous presence of masks in public; almost everyone is wearing one wherever you go. Although there are discussions about the extent to which they actually protect you from the disease, the consensus seems to be “better safe than sorry”. But because the masks with the highest filtration efficiencies are non-reusable, we are experiencing scarcity, and it is not difficult to spot long queues extending around the corner of pharmacies as you walk down the street. In the attempt to relieve this stress, the Korean government has banned sending masks outside the country, and implemented a new five-day rotating system. This allows people to buy masks up to two masks, only on designated days based on the last digit of their birth year.
The above are major changes in our society. Other seemingly trivial issues like the cancellation of an anticipated cultural event, postponement of a wedding, or simply missing social gatherings can all add up to stress in this pandemic unprecedented for our generation. It is a difficult time for everyone, and it is important for every member of society to be considerate of others, and fight their own part of the battle by being patient and staying safe.