It is in times of adversity that people and organizations show what they are really made of. In Japan, schools are closed, just like many museums, most or all trade shows have been cancelled or postponed, with many people sick and dying. Some products have seen manifold price-hikes with the follow-up dialogue if that’s in any way ethically defendable. In the meantime, the virus continues to spread. And not only in Japan. It’s everywhere! This article aims to shine a light on some who are truly heroes. This article is sourced and cross-checked over a vast number of sources meaning that it’s hopefully close to true.
The latest threat to global health is the ongoing outbreak of the respiratory disease that was recently given the name Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19).New England journal of medicine
Doing business in times of pandemics
It’s generally believed that a bad pandemic will remove 5% of the global economy. Depending on the nature of the outbreak, different industries will, of course, be affected differently. It is true that even in the worst of times, there are business opportunities.
The travel and tourism industry is generally suffering. Other sectors that are taking a hit include events, restaurants, retail, leisure and real estate.
The gold price hit a seven-year high last week and stock markets around the world plunged. The Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its worst week in over a decade as investors apparently shifted from ignorance of an impending pandemic into PPM: Panic-Pandemic-Mode. Put in a different light, last week wiped out a full year’s worth of market gains.
The Summer Olympics may not happen, Saudi Arabia shut down many religious sites and in South Korea, the leader of one church may face charges on manslaughter and their president Moon Jae-in is facing possible impeachment after earlier stating that the coronavirus will soon disappear. The media is also reporting that Panic Buying has started in Australia.
Drug companies are racing to develop or repurpose treatments to combat the potential pandemic. There are currently 35 active drug development programs in North America, Europe, and China.A new survey by Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN)
Hard times make heroes
One great example is the British company Cambridge Mask who produces military-grade face masks for ordinary people. Their business has gone through the roof and they have slashed the price on-line with 10%.
“I’m pleased someone is appreciating that we’re not raising our prices. It seems a much more socially responsible thing to do in this situation.”CEO of Cambridge Mask, Christopher Dobbing
…while several companies in hand-sanitation and mask-production have doubled (or more) their prices.
Amazon is warning third-party sellers against exorbitant price hikes to face masks as it’s a violation of their Fair Pricing Policy. It seems Amazon has warned some vendors, but not yet banned any sellers.
The biggest hero is, of course, the Chinese whistleblower Li Wenliang who was shut up by the Chinese authorities and then became a victim of the disease he had discovered. However, all the healthcare workers of the World easily qualify for the heroes list.
COVID-19 in Japan
Apart from the unbelievably clumsy incompetence shown regarding the management of the infection spread onboard the Diamond Princess ship, there is a deep and serious discourse in society.
In late February, Japan’s prime minister Abe called for the closure of all Japanese elementary, junior high, and high schools as a measure to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Many festivals and events such as trade shows like MEDTEC 2020 in Tokyo have been cancelled or postponed. Also, theme parks such as Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, and Universal Studios Japan, museums and galleries have been closed until further notice.
Japanese huge advertising company Dentsu sent 5,000 workers to work from home after one employee tested positive for the virus. Cosmetics group Shiseido decided that 8,000 employees should start teleworking. A growing number of Japanese companies are cutting most or all business-related travel and looking at various ways to. Business meetings are also increasingly moved to online platforms.
Already the old Greeks…
Let’s go back to September of last year, 2019. An article published by Foreign Policy then says what we’ve all actually known all along, that our life on Earth is under serious threat from a horrific pandemic. The question isn’t “IF” but “WHEN”. A bad pandemic can kill 80 million people and wipe out a huge portion of the global economy. That’s a serious threat to modern society, something that WHEN it happens, the World will never fully recover from. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, the World Bank and other prominent organizations were the source of this statement. Read it! It’s important!
Even if the World has many brilliant scientists and leaders that have been trying to make governments prepare for the next bad pandemic since over 100 years ago, not much has actually happened regarding preparation. As you could see from the many disastrous and crazy mistakes made by health professionals in Japan with the ship Diamond Princess. It’s extra scary as Japan is likely the World’s best-prepared nation for anything that threatens society or infrastructure.
Our biggest hero is, of course, Dr Li Wenliang who first found the virus, sounded the alarm and was immediately silenced by the authorities in China…
“Denial is not just a river in Africa.”As the saying goes…
Italy, Iran and Korea are three other nations that are competing with China and Japan on ineptitude, bad preparations, bad luck and bad policies. Before long, there will be many more countries added to this pitiful list. Even if China is trying hard to look like the World leader in fighting COVID-19, the facts remain that the Chinese government silenced whistle-blowers, withheld information and downplayed the threat, allowing for the early stages of this epidemic to go unchecked rather than being dealt with.
SARS and SARS-CoV-2
Do you remember the SARS outbreak in 2003? SARS: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. It’s a Coronavirus and it affected over 8000 people in 26 countries and took 6 months before it was finally contained. The containment could happen primarily because patients only became contagious after one week of being sick. Now we are meeting with SARS’ upgraded evil twin: SARS-CoV-2. This new SARS is contagious before patients become sick and have already affected over ten times (!) as many people in half the time. Containment of the new virus has not yet been successful and it seems that the only thing we can do is to slow down its spread.
The dangers of being alive
If you compare the number of yearly deaths for different reasons, the COVID-19 number of deaths is almost insignificantly small, hardly even a blip on the screen:
Deaths per year:
Ordinary seasonal flu: up to 500,000 dead
SARS: 774 people dead in 6 months.
SARS-Cov-2: Just under 3,000 people dead in 4 months
Dengue fever: 25,000 people
Malaria: 800,000 people (2018)
HIV: 770,000 people (2018)
TBC: 1,500,000 people in 2018 (including 250,000 people with HIV)
Measles: 140,000 deaths, mainly in young children
However, if the pandemic explodes, as many diseases have done in history, we will be looking at death tolls in the vicinity of the Spanish flu or the Black Death.
Spanish flu: 50,000,000 deaths
Black Death: 100,000,000 deaths
It’s also useful to look at some other common reasons for deaths among people on this planet:
Road Traffic Deaths: 1,250,000 deaths
Smoking: 7,000,000 deaths
Obesity: 2,800,000 deaths
Alcohol: 3,000,000 deaths
A bad pandemic will take more lives than all of these deaths combined!
It will be disastrous if SARS-CoV-19 kills as many people as the Spanish flu did. It is a terrible possibility and a scenario we need to be prepared for.
But why wasn’t this heard and all necessary precautions put in place already after the Spanish flu in 1920?
…and why only now, as the virus says: “told-you-so”? Denial may be one important explanation model. “Not-recently-seen-in-my-backyard” may be another important factor as to why so little preparation has actually been executed. For instance, Sweden woke up only yesterday.
What is a typical (?) politicians way of thinking: “If I push on the popular issues instead of the boring and expensive long-term issues, I can be re-elected.” And the typical voter’s way of thinking: “I want what is good for me and I want it now!” Our political systems usually suffer from shortsightedness. This is because it’s quite risk-free to wager that something bad that didn’t happen in the last 15 years, also won’t happen in the near future.
It also seems that the organizations against CO2 and other issues on the top of the agenda are screaming so loud that not much else gets through for those “not-in-the-know” of microorganisms, virus and disease. Not saying that we should not make efforts to keep our planet healthy, but we need to balance it with keeping people healthy as well.
Luck runs out
The very real and the very dangerous recent outbreaks of SARS, MERS and Ebola, to mention a few, should have sounded everybody’s alarm clocks. Those outbreaks managed to be contained, a lot thanks to sheer luck. However: Luck runs out. The SARS-CoV-2 is maybe the villain that beats humankind’s lucky streak?
Juicy headlines tend to be the foundation for both private and political decisions. Unfortunately, this isn’t so for facts.
Healthy humans on a healthy planet
Imagine if we halved our financial efforts with the CO2 issues and instead invested that money in preparing for pandemics and fighting infectious disease. Simply put, it means curing and getting rid of HIV, TBC, Measles, Polio, Dengue, Malaria, Zika and the other main killing infectious diseases. If we decided to do this, we could actually do it. Compared to other issues, the solutions are quite affordable. Before the year 2100, we could then have saved 250 million lives plus massively impaired the death toll of future pandemics. This further means we would vastly improve life expectancy and quality of life for all people on this planet. It is possible that climate change could curb those positive effects to some degree, but not very much.
A terrible truth is that alarmingly few long-term precautions have been taken by governments even in the light of the recent years’ close calls. However, we can also put the blame on ourselves for not help to make the fight against microorganisms and virus a global key priority.
If COVID-19 spreads globally and deeply into all populations: It will almost surely affect how we all live our lives for the next 6 months or so, it will almost certainly kill some of our near and dear, and the Coronavirus will almost certainly continue to disrupt business on a grand and global scale.
Let’s get back to basics:
What’s a Pandemic?
Such a Jeopardy answer, of course, follows the statement: an epidemic disease that is spreading across multiple continents, or worldwide.
Flu pandemics are generally excluded from this definition as they are thought of as recurrences of seasonal flu. Throughout history, there have been a big number of pandemics, such as smallpox, leprosy and tuberculosis. One of the most devastating pandemics was the Black Death in the 14th century, which killed an estimated 100–200 million people. The only current pandemic is HIV/AIDS, which started in the 1980s. Other recent pandemics include the 1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu) and the 2009 flu pandemic (H1N1).
…and now it seems we may soon add COVID-19 to the ugly list of pandemics…
So that we don’t forget: Ebola, SARS, MERS, Zika, Bird flu and others have come very close to becoming bad pandemics. But, heroes worked hard and … humankind was also lucky.
Pandemic – Endemic? What’s the difference?
It is important to remember that widespread disease can also be endemic (meaning in a steady-state, not increasing in the number of affected people) like chickenpox in Europe. It’s a disease that is stable in terms of how many people are getting sick from it. Endemic doesn’t count as a pandemic.
Among the endemic diseases plaguing us, we find terrible members such as TBC, Malaria, Leprosy, Measles, STD’s and the whole alphabet of Hepatitis.
What are we seeing with the new Coronavirus, the SARS-CoV-2?
We may very well be witnessing the onset of a bad pandemic at this moment in time. SARS-CoV-2 is obviously a deadly viral disease that we so far have not been able to contain. How deadly the virus is, is not known yet, but it’s fair to assume that it’s more deadly than the average seasonal flu. It clearly is much more dangerous the older you are and if you have other complications. Many governments, ministers and ordinary people still seem to be perplexed or in denial, possibly hoping for this nightmare to go away auto-magically. Hoping and worrying are both useless because reality needs to be dealt with.
The difference between anti-waxers and flat-earthers is that the flat-earthers in a worst-case-scenario can contribute to confusing other, sane, people. On the other hand, the anti-waxers pose a real danger to themselves, their children and society. That’s because they allow really dangerous bugs to continue circulating in society for a number of silly and non-scientific ideas.
As we still don’t have a vaccine for this new virus, it means that us ordinary people will fare as poorly as the anti-waxers. To be as poorly prepared as the anti-waxers and to die in equal proportions is a terrible thing. The balance is usually heavily skewed towards the anti-waxers doing the main-part of the dying.
Do you remember from your history lessons that the Catholic Church were among the first and strongest anti-waxers after Jenner invented vaccination for smallpox by inoculating cowpox in people? Their argument: Humans shouldn’t meddle in God’s affairs, and it’s only good that we humans suffer, as suffering brings us closer to God. That’s quite a tricky one to translate into an ethical statement.
It’s much more straightforward to argue the ethical correctness in preferring the heroism of the people and organizations that sequenced the SARS-CoV-19 virus genome, that have made their databases available in the public domain, produce SARS-CoV-19 vaccines and look for antivirals. Can’t help putting the hero-sign up also on Sharp’s initiative to start mass-production of facemasks in a TV factory.
“Heroes are heroes because they are heroic in behaviour, not because they won or lost.”Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Sources: The New England Journal of Medicine, World Bank, Foreign Policy, New York Times, Japan Travel, Financial Times, Vox, BBC, In-Pharma Technologist, The Verge, The Guardian, Wired, Wikipedia, CNBC, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), McKinsey and WHO.
Suggested further reading
Closed attractions in Japan, updated list here.
If you want to be really scared, check out this TED Talk on How synthetic biology could wipe out humanity — and how we can stop it by: Rob Reid.