Covid-19 has understandably dominated the news for the majority of the year, and with pandemics come the subsequent responses. As of writing, almost four months have passed since the initial United Kingdom lockdown for coronavirus. Whilst some leaders and administrations have simply thrust their heads into the sand and crossed their fingers, seemingly awaiting some divine intervention, there emerges from the ample number of failed responses a plethora of impressive ones. But it might not be the countries that first spring to mind.
Very few nations can legitimately claim they have lost zero lives to the global pandemic, but amongst those who can, the spotlight turns to Mongolia. At this current stage, Mongolia, a bordering neighbour of China, has succeeded in keeping their gross number of cases below 300, and kept their deaths at exactly zero. On the surface, it sounds incredible for a neighbour of China to have achieved such a feat, except Mongolia was very quick to close its borders in late January whilst also closing schools on the same day, hence minimising the spread between tourists and infants, respectively.
But critics argue this is an issue of population size. Mongolia has a population of less than 10 millions and therefore it is easier to plug the impact of the virus. Again, this rationale is logical on the surface, until one looks at the statistics of Vietnam. With an equally impressive case number of less than 400, and also zero deaths, Vietnam buries the theory that a higher population automatically results in higher case numbers and casualties. Whilst the UK with a population of approximately 66.6m climbs towards an accumulation of 50,000 deaths from coronavirus, Vietnam shames this ratio with its population of almost 100m versus zero deaths.
But critics then argue that it is a matter of population density. To an extent, this argument applies in regards to Mongolia, which ranks as the world’s least densely populated country. However, this rationale cannot be used to example the anomaly of Vietnam, which ranks as the 30th most densely populated country. Contrastingly, the UK is behind as the 32nd. South Korea also serves as further proof of the flaws of this rationale. It ranks at 13th and has been highly lauded from the initial days of the pandemic as one of the leading success stories — with just under 300 confirmed deaths to date.
Pure statistics reveal that this is not just a situation where countries with low populations or medium populations spread across expansive vistas are the only nations with low case numbers. However, the frequency with which this statement appears in international comparisons reveals an ugliness surrounding the Western stage presence.
Consider, meanwhile, the failures of famously praised Western administrations. Sweden, a country always wheeled out whenever someone naming a flourishing administration, also of small population size, chose not to entirely lockdown and has since watched their stratagem crumble. The world is also watching the current development of a potential disaster in Germany as the reproduction rate of the virus almost triples.
Overall, the global Covid-19 pandemic has revealed what was already known but is scarcely discussed. Namely, that a small sect of Western nations are held aloft, often falsely, as successful administrations; a dynamic that extends not just to coronavirus but international relations, as has been the case for decades.
For instance, the pursuit of environmental protection and regulation has become a topic of mass interest, be it in response to global warming or the intensified natural disasters as a result of climate change. If the world wants an environmental success story, it can be found in Latin America’s own Costa Rica, where at least 98 per cent of its energy is renewable and the devotion to years of combating deforestation has begun to show results via the creation of new public parks.
In essence, the obsession with the idolised caricature of the Western world is harmful and only serves to further divide people based on nationality, whilst maintaining and strengthening the skewed perceptions of less openly discussed cultures. Achievements should not be invalidated merely because they occurred outside the gilded Western milieu.
Moreover, a frequent argument against sharing space on the world stage for these peripheral, under-represented countries, or for maintaining that their achievements should always have an asterisk attached, is that some of these countries do not match the modern standards of democracy and public freedom. On this point however, there is no established universal measurement. If one is to rely solely on lists such as the Human Development Index, countries like Saudi Arabia, a prominent trade partner for many economies, and United Arab Emirates rank impressively and are therefore examples of personal liberty. Conversely, the acute eye knows well enough about the abhorrent state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. And, despite human rights being codified into the constitution of the UAE, the rights of foreign workers are terrible and frequently superseded insofar as there exists a very fine line between the conditions of Dubai and slave labour.
Furthermore, the United States of America is routinely proclaimed, chiefly by its citizens and politicians, as the epitome of freedom and liberty and so forth. Much to most of the developed world’s surprise, however, the largest economy in the world does not have universal healthcare, whereas plenty of underrepresented African and Latin American nations have thrived, either partly or wholly, where the United States fails. Take Colombia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Cuba and Uruguay, to name just a few.
The track records of neglected nations might not broadcast amazing images, and undoubtedly egregious actions and conditions should be held accountable by national citizens and international bodies. But the gold-ringed Western nations many of us have grown up believing are champions in the global fight for democracy and high-quality healthcare and freedom are by no means spangled.
We have simply settled into a routine of holding ‘outsider’ countries to a higher standard, and our first response when these outsiders displace us on the podium is to hurry and fabricate an excuse as to why their achievement should be brushed aside.
If the insular Western world is so-called the champion of fairness and equality, we surely shouldn’t mind letting someone else have their moment in the spotlight.