It is a number so large that is hard to comprehend, but the image of Scotland, entirely devoid of people, is one way to picture it.
However, as has been said many times before, viruses do not recognise national boundaries. And why would they? For these biological entities – there is a debate about whether they are actually ‘alive’ – see us not as we see ourselves, but as we truly are, a single species.
That we have divided ourselves up into different groups that we call nations is neither here nor there to Sars‑CoV‑2. And yet, our response to it has been divided along national lines.
Now, in a letter to Boris Johnson, scientists, academics, and public health experts have urged the Prime Minister to recognise the need to vaccinate the vast majority of the world’s population, saying this is the best way to prevent more mutations from developing.
“Allowing huge numbers of people in low and middle-income countries to remain unvaccinated is a reckless approach to public health that creates conditions where new Sars-CoV-2 variants of concern are more likely to develop,” they wrote. “Unless we share this technology with the world and increase global vaccination coverage, vaccines will not be effective at stopping new variants of concern.”
They urged Johnson to give the UK government's backing to a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights over Covid vaccines, tests, and treatments to allow production to be increased to a level that would “end this pandemic”. “The crisis posed by the Omicron variant is a stark warning of the dangers posed by global vaccine inequality. The pandemic does not stop at the UK border,” they stressed.
As Prime Minister, Theresa May once declared: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.”
However, while most people have a reasonable understanding of what it is to be a UK citizen, too few, it seems, recognise we are also global citizens whether we like it or not. And that matters as much to efforts to preserve peace, freedom and democracy in the world as the fight against a deadly virus.