I'm honestly freaking out.
This feels like we're just at the beginning of a story and so many are acting as if we already know everything that's going to happen when all the evidence points to the fact that no one has any clue, no one has anything resembling a plan for the long term.
Here's what we think we know at this stage:
- The virus is believed to have started in China, in a Wuhan wet market. It appears to be the result of a crossing of a bat virus with something else, possibly a pangolin. The resulting mutation hopped again to humans in the city.
- It's everywhere. Obviously it's all over China, but in this globalised world, it wasn't long before people carried the virus to every continent.
- Governments are all responding differently. Typically, the more authoritarian/right-wing the government, the more irresponsible they are.
- Trump's United States has just gotten around to admitting there's a problem, but has stopped short of actually doing much of anything about it.
- Here in the UK, conservatives are suggesting that we just "get it over with" to establish "herd immunity", ignoring the fact that (a) this is counter to all advice from medical professionals, (b) hundreds of thousands will most definitely die if they contract it, and (c) we don't even know if herd immunity is even possible. It may be that the virus mutates too quickly, and there have been reports of people re-contracting the virus after they've survived a first round. This may be related to reports that there are in fact two separate but related versions of the virus circulating.
- In Italy especially, harsh quarantine measures are in place. More than 1200 people have died there already, with around 17,000 listed as having contracted it.
- South Korea has gone all-out with testing, issuing government funded tests to anyone who wants one, available via a drive-through. Their numbers are generally thought to be most accurate because of this policy. They have more than 8000 infected and 72 dead.
- Brazil's fascist Bolsanaro said he wasn't infected, then there was a report that he actually was, and then he responded that this was "fake news".
- Justin Trudeau's wife tested positive, so their whole family is in self-imposed isolation.
- The projected death toll is all over the place, ranging from millions to tens of millions of people.
- For the most part, it seems that this virus is killing older people (60+) as well as the immunocompromised and those with diminished breathing capacity, like asthma.
I'm scared that I'm going to lose my parents and not even be able to be there to comfort them. I'm scared it'll kill my aunt, or Ruth, or any number of beautiful people in my life that fit the profile for most-likely-to-die. I'm scared that it could kill me too.
On top of that, I'm worried about what's to come. If this virus can't be contained (and it's a decent bet at this stage) and it mutates as readily as the flu, we could be looking at a hard limit on the typical human life span of 60 years... forever. Put another way, I just lost 30-40 years of my life. If I survive this, every "coronavirus season" will be a gauntlet between now and when it finally manages to kill me, my wife, my daughter, her kid, and so on. The collective life span and ability for our species to retain knowledge may very well be irreparably damaged by this one virus.
Then there's the question of how society will change.
In the short term, we're looking at global quarantines and self-isolation. Much of the West has spent the last 30 years destroying job security in favour of zero-hour contracts and the "gig economy". This translates to millions of people with no sick pay, and therefore considerable motivation to go to work anyway and infect others.
Even with those people going to work though, we're still looking at a catastrophic global labour shortage. The vast majority of developed countries are both highly integrated with the global market and operating on a just-in-time system. Food is picked by people, processed by people, transported vast distances by people, stocked by people, and delivered by people... all of whom are being asked not to work. This applies to every industry that produces a tangible product: food, medicine, clothing. In other words, there's a critical amount of work that people do to keep us all alive, and none of those jobs can be converted to "remote work" or automated anytime soon.
It's through this lens that the US and UK positions are beginning to make sense to me. They don't want a quarantine. They're looking down the barrel of a permanently shortened life span vs. supply chains atrophying and people starving/rioting and they're opting for the lesser of two evils. It's horrifying, but I'm not sure I can blame them. Still, Christina points out to me that other countries are experimenting with more progressive options: keeping schools open only for children whose parents have no other option than working: paying out weeks of leave partially by reducing wages, partially through government funds, and partially through the employer. There's hope there that we'll find a way through this, but it's a terrifying mess.
More than any of this though, I'm angry. If we're right that the origin is indeed a Wuhan wet market, then I'm pissed as hell at China. This is a country that knew that wet markets selling wild animals were a dangerous source for breeding new viruses. They knew this because it happened once before with SARS. The government even shut down wet markets after the SARS outbreak, but that didn't last. The government allowed this to happen knowing full well what the implications would be. They did it anyway, and now millions are going to die.
Maybe after all of this settles, the global community can finally adopt a policy of isolating countries who, through carelessness or ideology, conduct themselves in a way that's dangerous to the rest of us.
For now, I'm just going to hope a vaccine is developed soon, and that the virus doesn't mutate too readily.