One month ago, the word ‘coronavirus’ was nothing more than a rogue addition to my lexicon that had barely any meaning to me. Fast forward to now, and it has been the dominating voice of conversations and collective pandemonium. What was once an abstract idea tucked away in the Far East has now adopted an omnipresent persona, ‘COVID-19’. The element of theatrics in the continuing development of this viral pandemic are uncanny, reminding me of the agitation and liberation of Koba in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes.’
In what looks to be most significant pandemic the U.K. has faced since the outbreak of the Spanish flu at the end of the First World War, the destructive potential of this little-known strain of coronavirus should not be underestimated. Despite the counter-productive role that 24-hour news cycles and social media companies have played in whipping up public fear and spreading misinformation, this is not simply a passing trend.
The public health crises that countries such as South Korea and Italy are currently experiencing have left their respective communities debilitated and in uncharted economic and social territory, with some of the images being projected from the capitals bearing close resemblance to the penultimate scenes before the descent of metropolitan anarchy. Italy’s health service in particular is crumbling as more citizens are brought in testing positive for COVID-19, which has provided British medical professionals with a visual premonition of the scale of a threat that has yet to reach its peak.
If there was ever a clear signal to illuminate the growing distrust towards those in positions of power, it was the empty supermarket shelves. Nothing shows unwavering confidence in the people’s elected representatives to remedy this issue than the people stockpiling loo roll and penne pasta for their makeshift bunkers in anticipation of total societal collapse. Whilst it has made for a high-quality flurry of memes, this does not detract from how damning an inditement this is. We are all beginning to realise how much of what we are routinely led to believe are foundations of our lives are, in fact, constructs. The smokescreen is being dissipated by the need for decisive and urgent practical measures, which, in these early stages, have seemed sluggish and lacking in clear direction.
Some have allegorised that this is the pushback against globalisation come to life, and karmic prices will have to be paid for those nations who have turned their backs on their neighbours to pursue a rose-tinted fantasy of their former selves. The lack of a co-ordinated worldwide effort pays tribute to this and, despite the best efforts of the World Health Organisation, decisions being made by world leaders increasingly appear to be political ones, rather than rooted in publicly-beneficial consensus signed off by the virology community.
But I think it is far more than this. It is symbol of a lack of sustainable thinking.
The gradually decreasing interest and subsequent funding to produce a vaccine following the last coronavirus outbreaks of SARS and MERS can be attributed to an apathy and selfishness that is closely tied to governmental self-interest and short-term greed. The 1,632 people that died as a result of these last outbreaks may not be as shocking a statistic as the estimated 50 million people that were killed by Spanish flu, but these deaths were entirely preventable. The U.K.’s ‘herd immunity’ strategy, which requires roughly 80% of the population to be infected, appears as a long-term solution, but in actuality fails to register the avoidable human cost. Even if just 1% of the infected population dies, that is over half a million people. The promotion of this strategy surmises the zero-sum game that politicians are happy to play in the arena of public health.
Without a plan of action, COVID-19 or the next viral hit will coerce us into a stranglehold that we may never be able to free ourselves from.
The Next Epidemic – Lessons from Ebola (Bill Gates) https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1502918