Wow, a lot has sure happened in the week since my last column. And a lot more will happen before this week’s edition hits the newsstand. I’m talking about the coronavirus of course.
Things are moving so fast that almost anything written today will be outdated by tomorrow. That’s both good and bad. It means unfortunately that the virus is continuing to spread across the globe. It also means that governments are taking bold actions to try to stop it.
Last night in the US, President Trump shocked much of the world by announcing a travel ban on flights from the European Union. Bold move. And while as you know, I rarely ever agree with something he has done, this was a move I can support him on. I know, the plan has its flaws. For example, why are the UK and Ireland exempt? And why only Schengen European countries? What about Eastern Europe?
Nonetheless, I support this action for two reasons. One, it was a move that goes totally against his grain. Meaning, it will further tank the stock markets and increase the likelihood of a recession. And two, he did it for the right reason—to try to reduce the spread of the virus in the US.
There is of course huge debate on whether it will make a difference. But history does show that in pandemics, isolation does help reduce the spread of a virus (e.g., the 1918 flu). However, this is a little bit of locking the barn door without taking into account that the fox is already inside.
In a situation where the virus has already started “community contamination,” the travel ban will only help in combination with strict quarantine and isolation efforts internally—like Hong Kong, China and now (probably too late), Italy have done.
So, if President Trump stays the course here, that’s what I would expect to see in the US next. If that doesn’t happen, then I’m not sure that the travel ban is going to do much to halt the spread. The virus (fox) is in the US already and its incubation period makes it very hard to stop.
As we have seen in the rest of the world, the virus is attacking mostly the elderly (likely because of their lowered immune systems). That does not bode well for the US that has almost 15 million people over the age of 65. If the virus becomes widespread in the US, with a mortality rate of 3.4% (or more), that would mean that up to 1.5 million of the older generation could die.
All of this is as difficult to project as winning the lottery. There are so many factors that the CDC and WHO take into account when they make their projections. But, if we just look at what happened in Italy, it’s clear that this virus could reach all corners of the US within the next one to two months.
We can also be sure that there will be plenty of blame being slung around after this comes to an end (it will come to an end, though it may then become a seasonal problem like the flu or the common cold—also a coronavirus). That will do little good if it is purely for political reasons and not to stimulate an improvement of procedures for the next time a pandemic crosses the globe.
On a different note, someone posted something this morning about all the other ways people die every day, and the staggering numbers that those deaths represent. The author then pointed out that the coronavirus is only killing on average, 50 people a day. He makes a good point.
To quote just some of his numbers, every day: 24,600 people die from hunger; 10,000 people die because they do not have access to medical care; 1,643 people die from tobacco; 740 pedestrians are killed on the roads; and, 2,191 people die by suicide.
So, let’s try to keep this in mind as we all face this pandemic. I’m not trying to say that a little fear, and a lot of preparation aren’t good things to have in the face of this virus. In fact, for a few weeks I’ve been pushing hard trying to make people take the virus seriously.
But let’s also not be fatalistic about this. Yes, people will die. And likely, someone we know, even if peripherally, will be included in that group. So, we will all be impacted by this.
And, the world economy is in for a serious correction. We all will be impacted by that as well.
But, those of us who survive the virus will go on. We always do. That’s the nature of human beings. The human race survived the black plague. It survived the 1918 flu. It survived that fallout from 9/11. It will survive this.