COVID-19 Threat and Terrorism: How Pandemics Can Change Our Counterterrorism Narrative

by Rommel C. Banlaoi

30 April 2020

COVID-19 has claimed more lives than the September 11, 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks.  As of 30 April 2020,  COVID-19 has caused the death of around 220,000 individuals worldwide with a global infection of more than three million persons affecting at least 100 countries and territories.  The Philippine government has reported around 8,500 confirmed cases to date with more than 560 deaths. 

COVID-19 threat is compelling the Philippine government to pursue stronger and more humane actions than the 2000 Rizal Day bombings, 2004 Superferry 14 bombing, 2005 Valentines Day bombing, the 2011 Makati bus bombing, the 2012 and 2013 Cagayan de Oro bombings, the 2016 Davao City bombing, and even the 2017 Marawi Siege, among others. 

COVID-19 is now even viewed as a threat to Philippine national security because of the extent of massive terror it is causing to the Filipino people emotionally, economically, socially, and politically.

Indeed, World Health Organization (WHO) Chief, Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus, makes sense in stressing that COVID-19 is “more powerful in creating political, economic, and social upheaval then any terrorist attack.”  He further exclaimed that COVID-19 is a virus that can have “more powerful consequences than any terrorist action.”

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 is causing fear, panic, and terror all over the world at present.  There is even a bizarre speculation from conspiracy theorists arguing that the COVID-19 is a weapon for bioterrorism.  Though this conspiracy theory is really hard to prove and may even sound preposterous, biologists strongly admit, however, that nature is the ultimate bioterrorist of all time.  The use of bioterrorism has a long history that dates back to 600 BC.

While international terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State can use bioterrorism as a weapon of mass destruction, the international scientific community agrees that nature is the world’s most bioterrorist.

How really prepared are we for possible intentional or natural bioterrorist attacks?  Do we have a national plan to counter bioterrorism caused by humans or nature? What lessons can we learn from our current responses to COVID-19 threat? How is the spread of infectious diseases currently shaping our counterterrorism narrative?

In preventing and countering terrorism, COVID-19 has demonstrated that the spread of infectious diseases is a serious terrorist threat of the 21st century.  In a report, A More Secure World, published by the United Nations as early as 2004, the spread of infectious diseases has been identified to be one of the major threats to international peace and security.  This threat can be more catastrophic than the consequences of World Wars 1 and 2 combined.

Pandemics and infectious diseases outbreaks present clear and present danger to public health, human security, and even national and international security.  

Do we really have adequate and equipped hospitals, public health units, emergency departments, quarantine areas, and laboratories to meet the security challenges of infectious diseases?  Have we defined the role of the military and police in responding to the spread of infectious diseases?   Do we have enough first responders to public emergencies caused by the spread of infectious diseases? Are the proposed Philippine anti-terrorism laws responsive to bioterrorist threats?  What role can individual citizen play to prevent and counter bioterrorism?

Academics, experts, and scholars worldwide agree that preparedness is the most potent defense against bioterrorist attack whether caused by nature of by humans.  Preparedness requires not only capacity building for emergency responders and health care providers but also the keen awareness and appropriate education of the citizens. 

Governments have the gargantuan responsibility to provide citizens not only well-trained first responders and medical service providers but also reliable and accurate information on the emergency situation and the nature and extent of the threat caused by the pandemics.   Denying them of these information also denies the citizens of the inherent right to defend and protect themselves as well as others.  

An informed citizenry through greater transparency is the best shield against bioterrorist attacks whether caused by humans or by nature.  Raising the awareness and improving the education of citizens must shape our current narratives to prevent and counter threats of bioterrorism. 

Our current responses to COVID-19 are providing us difficult but useful lessons on how to confront greater threats ahead.

Photo Credit: Google Images

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