AND so, it begins, the pulling up of the ladder.

Come to think of it, the warning signs have been there for some considerable time now. After all, there’s nothing like a threat to one and all for some to see it simply as a threat to themselves alone and the rest be damned.

I’m talking about the Covid-19 pandemic and the insightful and sometimes rather unedifying responses to it by those countries that have adequate defences, towards those countries that do not.

Be it vaccine, oxygen, ventilator stocks or general health care provision, you can’t help but notice a certain, “I’m alright, Jack,” mentality increasingly prevalent right now.

Arguably, it was always going to be this way once those rich developed nations got over the initial shock of being caught wrongfooted by the virus and began to put their house in order. But my, how quickly and unreservedly that safety ladder has been pulled up letting others sink into the abyss.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s only understandable that there should be a palpable sense of relief here in the UK and any country that has managed to turn a corner in the fight against the pandemic. What’s far less comprehensible though is the misguided notion of singularity or exceptionalism in a global crisis.

If ever one detail was a sharp reminder of that, it’s the news that India, one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, won’t be exporting many for a while.

This means that COVAX, the global initiative aimed at equitable access to the Covid-19 vaccine, has lost much of the supply produced by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India.

In the words of one vaccine expert, “right now COVAX has ground to a shuddering halt... we’re at the point of where we’re trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

This in turn means that many of the poorer countries that were relying on such supplies will be impacted and even some of the richer ones in Europe and elsewhere who are beginning to exit the crisis could well find themselves affected.

In other words, here once again is more proof – if it were needed – of the truism that no one is safe until everyone is safe. Whatever happened to those leaders and governments that were once enthusiastic chanters of such a mantra? It didn’t take long it seems for them to forget the words to this chorus of caring

For the grim inescapable fact is that while many in the West are cock-a-hoop about the rapid roll out of vaccines, the pandemic is gathering pace elsewhere. India is the most obvious recent example, but many now fear that numerous African countries are about to plummet down that same terrible track.

“Two months ago, India was doing a victory dance and handing out vaccines around the world like candies,” observed Dr Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, which is co-ordinating distribution on the continent.

“They were saying how wonderfully they had done because of the immunity and the youth of their population. Look where India is today,” was Dr Alakija’s timely reminder this week.

India’s catastrophe is all the proof needed, say health experts like her, of what could happen in Africa if vaccination campaigns are not rapidly accelerated, and the virus is allowed to spread and mutate. And Africa of course is not unique in this respect with South and Central America experiencing another surge that contributed this week to a record near million cases reported globally on a single day.

So much of what has unfolded politically around the world during the pandemic has given us an insight, sometimes chilling, into the way global politics and many governments and leaders worldwide operate.

What lessons might we take for example from the fact that the top five slots in the geographical mortality rankings all belong to countries run by populists when the pandemic began – the US, Brazil, Mexico, India, and Britain.

As Gideon Lasco, a leading global medical anthropologist at the University of the Philippines, noted recently “medical populist” politicians like India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and former US president Donald Trump, all rose to power and ruled in populist styles.

This allowed for an oversimplification of the pandemic and enabled them to flag up their own frequently misguided solutions while forging divisions across their nations in the process.

What to make then of the call this week by Gordon Brown to the foreign ministers of the world’s leading economies, meeting in London as part of the G7 Summit, to fund a $60bn two-year vaccine and healthcare support package for poor countries?

On the face of it, Mr Brown’s humanitarian rallying call makes sense. But coming as it does in the wake of the UK Government’s bafflingly stupid decision to cut life-saving overseas aid for water and sanitation projects amid the pandemic, it only underlines the mixed motives and messages coming from nations in the developed world.

At its most cynical and some might even argue predatory level, there are those countries, too, who now clearly view their capacity to supply vaccines through the prism of international competition.

If we give you desperately needed vaccines, you give us concessions goes the current thinking. These concessions might take the shape of access to natural resources and markets or helping turn the screw on political rivals as China has done in pressuring other countries into derecognising Taiwan in return for vaccine supplies.

It’s all a far cry from those early days of the pandemic when some global leaders spoke of universal vaccines and aid as a moral course of action and the way to bring about the swiftest end to a disease that affects us all.

If the pandemic has perhaps taught us anything and is still teaching us, it’s the lesson that responding intelligently to a global crisis of this kind depends on people in high office being smart enough to listen and co-operate with one another. Admittedly, there have been some examples of that, but in the main precious few that really matter.

Instead, what we are witnessing now is an ever-more clearly defined demarcation line between those nations able and those less able to cope. The ladder is undeniably being hauled up behind the latter. It has become a tale of two pandemics, not one in which we can claim any longer to be “all in this together.”

David Pratt is Contributing Foreign Editor. He appears in The Herald every Wednesday and Sunday

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