National Unity in Times of Crisis, Part 2: COVID-19 | By Vikrant Sharma

National Unity in Times of Crisis, Part 2: COVID-19
 By Vikrant Sharma,
Founder-Editor, The Global Telescope

It is no secret now that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives all over the globe. At the time of publication, the world has seen more than 3.5 million confirmed cases and is very close to 250,000 deaths. The hardest-hit countries at the moment (based on lives lost) are USA, Spain, Italy, UK, and France.
Countless companies and organizations have sent emails to their employees on the lines of ‘in these uncertain/difficult/unprecedented times… (usually followed by some work)’. Same lines have been used by companies sending out mails to their customers. But exactly how unprecedented is the current time? While it is true that this is the first global pandemic of this scale since the dawn of modern technology, internet and democracy in most parts of the world, there exists substantial evidence of multiple pandemics that were far worse than the current one. I wish to draw your attention to two facts.
During various points of time in history, normal life has been disrupted by way of pandemics; this has also had a socio-political impact on human civilization. The most brutal pandemic in recorded history that ravaged the world was the Black Death that occurred between 1342-1353. Milan, a commercial hub with a big population, was relatively spared by the plague- this was because the houses of those infected were bricked/boarded up and they were left to die inside along with members of their family who they might infect. Although this method was certainly inhuman for such family members, it did mean that the entire city was much less affected due to the disease.[1]
When Thomas Hobbes wrote his most famous work, Leviathan, the cover page of the work was designed by Abraham Bosse while working closely with Hobbes. In the bottom right part of the city on the cover, you can faintly see two plague doctors roaming around the city. In fact, the entirety of the city beneath the Sovereign is sparsely populated in the image. As Dr Thomas Poole explains this in detail in his latest article ‘Leviathan in Lockdown’[2], this could all point to the possibility of the work being influenced by the prevalence of outbreaks of plague at the time. Hobbes was accustomed to plagues that occurred during that time in history in England, and hence his conception of political theory would have been influenced by considerations from how society as well as the ruling class managed the population during the outbreak of infectious disease.
Today, public health authorities are in a much better position than they were back then and advances in medical science have moved humankind forward. However, important lesson can still be drawn; parallels do exist in the examples quoted and the world today. While we do not, and should not, board up the houses of the infected individuals, we do have to follow the principle of not letting them back into society till they are not carrying the infection, which is done today via quarantine facilities.
Different countries have fought with the disease in their own way. One important question is- how do you bring together an entire nation and tell the citizens to stay in their houses for weeks or, possibly, months? We shall look at this from the view of 3 countries- India, UK, and USA.

India has been a shining star during this entire period. It enacted a swift lockdown and the people largely followed it. The Prime Minister used very clever messages to bring together the nation and keep the spirit of the populace up during this time- through national unity. He urged the people of the nation to simultaneously clap/make noise for the frontline workers risking their own health, and a week later urged everyone to light a diya or a candle to thank the workers. These ‘tasks’ served 2 purposes in my view. First, they brought about a feeling of unity within the people while also ensuring that everyone stayed indoors and away from community transmission. Secondly, it helped raise the spirit of frontline workers fighting the battle. Indian Air Force has also used its choppers to drop flower petals on some hospitals to thank them for their fight against the virus. These steps were all tools to channel positive national unity in a time of crisis, and succeeded to do so.
The United Kingdom imposed a lockdown a little later than they could have but have since been very careful to ensure its implementation. They have used the same tool that India has used to channel their national unity and community spirit by hosting multiple days when people across the nation have simultaneously clapped for the NHS (UK’s public health agency) from their balconies and front doors. This serves the same purposes it served in India, and has also proven largely successful in the UK to bring together the people. UK has a long history of channelling its nationalism to get through times of crisis, as it did so in this crisis as well.
The USA has been a different story. Fighter jets were, in a positive step, flown over New York to honour the frontline workers. Nonetheless, there has been no national lockdown; Governors have been given the power to decide on one for their own state. In states with lockdown measures, people have been going out to protest, without any protective equipment, against what they call the wrongful infringement of their freedom. The primary reason for this is the division of the political class in the country even during this time of crisis. The protestors are supporters of President Trump (who has been vocal against lockdown measures) in an overwhelming majority while a large number of Governors urging people to follow lockdown measures are of the Democrat party.
This political divide reflects on the streets; it has resulted ultimately in USA being the hardest hit country with over 60,000 people dead at the time of publication.
It is my strong belief that the unity of the political class decides the unity of a population who looks up to, and follows, its leaders. Indian leaders from various states, like Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh from the INC party, have shown unflinching unity in their effort to combat the disease with the Union Government led by the BJP party. This leads to people who follow these leaders to come together and adhere to the instructions of the Government.

The UK is doing the same with the new Labour Party leader Keir Starmer issuing a statement at the onset of lockdown assuring his support to the Conservative Government of Boris Johnson in fighting the pandemic for national interest, after Boris urged the opposition parties to do so.
The United States has failed to have a unified governmental response, and that I believe is one of its most fatal mistakes during this pandemic.
National unity is the true strength of a nation in times of crisis. It is the greatest weapon a nation can possess in its battles, whether against a foreign enemy (World War 2) or a global pandemic (COVID-19).

[1] How You Could Have Survived the Black Plague, Weird History, YouTube
[2]Thomas Poole, Leviathan in Lockdown, London Review of Books Blog (1 May 2020),


This is Part 2 in a 2-Part Blog Series by Vikrant Sharma titled 'National Unity in Times of Crisis'. Part 1 titled 'National Unity in Times of Crisis, Part 1: World War 2' is available on The Global Telescope.


Popular posts from this blog

Naomi O'Leary on Her Journey as a Journalist and The Irish Passport Podcast | Vantage By TGT, Season 1 Episode 4 Part 1

Jack Parrock on His Life in Journalism, Living in Brussels, and the United States of America! | Vantage By TGT, Season 1 Episode 1 Part 1

International Arms-Oil Relationship in the World | By Sampurna Mukherjee