So begins the next great arms race with the superpowers, and some less than superpowers, jockeying for the top spot in the world of international medical power-brokering.
The last time, only two nations were left standing at the end of a global race, when each had military arsenals jammed with nuclear missiles capable of destroying, with the touch of a button, the world.
We called it the “Cold War” at the time. The superpowers, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR – Russia) and the United States of America, were challenging each other, and each seemed ready to destroy their rival and the world.
The only thing delaying the final act was the fact that any cataclysm started by one would destroy all.
And so, the world moved on. The mighty Soviet Union disintegrated. Russia remained on the world stage respected but not as powerful or as feared as it once was. Old Europe tried to re-group as the European Union joining forces for economic clout, but in recent months that shaky union has been travelling a bumpy road threatening EU survival.
Now, seemingly overnight, China has stepped from the global shadows into the world spotlight. In fact, China began its transition decades ago from the instability of revolution to an internationally powerful military and economic force capable of facing down the threatening bluster of the United States and President Donald Trump.
Now, China is positioned to challenge the USA for the best weaponry in the field of public health care.
China has become a favourite Trump target since he ignored warnings in late 2019 that an outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus, was being reported. The president chose to ignore the early warnings that with no vaccine or treatment known for the disease, it would become a global pandemic.
China attempted to confine the COVID-19 outbreak by isolating the communities in which it was reported, banning new visitors and confining all citizens until further notice.
But it was too late. The first carriers of COVID-19 had unknowingly spread the disease to Europe and other corners of the globe.
President Trump was quick to blame his political rivals for running a vendetta against him and for supporting Chinese government attempts to cover up laboratory work that had gone astray and permitted the release of the disease.
The World Health Organization cleared the Chinese government of wrongdoing. Trump has held back WHO funding pending review.
In the next few weeks or months, the WHO will be expected to play a lead role if a vaccine is discovered to defeat COVID-19. For many years now, it has coordinated significant research and discussion in the realm of international public health policy, helping determine what standards should be set and met. But it lacks the power of binding decision making.
So, the great race begins for new, more powerful weapons, new armour to protect citizens against invading forces, new strike forces to move anywhere in the world to defeat the invisible alien virus.
And, every country in the world can bid to deliver those weapons. It should be a great war rooted in high ideals, healing and happiness. But, can that happen with Trump muscling to get his “America First” thumb on the decision scales? Can China overcome inherent distrust on the part of western nations and agree to coordinated research and delivery of the product?
It should be possible – but it’s hard to ignore the warning message from Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates. Talking about vaccines and cures a few days ago, she feared a final decision on a vaccine or cure would go to the highest bidder. “The worst situation would be if, when these tools are available, they go to the highest bidder – that would be a terrible end for the world. COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere. And that’s why it’s got to take global cooperation.”
Oxford University scientists have a head start in the race for a cure. They had been researching inoculations for viruses similar to COVID-19, and figure by September they will be ready to release their vaccine.
They could stay ahead in the race for rights, but they will not be alone. The competition will be fierce. We can only watch and hope that world leaders listen to Melinda Gates when they decide on resolution. Covid-19 is a world problem not an “America First”” election slogan.