Glancing through history and a look at the effect of epidemics/pandemics on humankind, one notices that the Bubonic Plague of the 14th century killed more than half the population of many countries and straddled the continents of Asia and Europe, bringing life to a virtual standstill.
The Bubonic Plague or the Black Death, as we have read, resulted in the death of 75-125 million people in Eurasia and Africa, creating major social and economic upheavals that changed the trajectory of development and progress. With probable origins in Central or East Asia, it is to be believed that the strain was carried by the infected warriors of the marauding Mongol hordes, travelling along the famous trade route, the Silk Road, to reach Crimea in 1943 when it was attacked and laid siege to by the Mongols.
Now see the uncanny relationship to the present-day scenario, where the origins of the COVID-19 are suspected to have originated in Wuhan, China, and the infection has been carried westwards through people travelling on business or trade). The business in Crimea, a major hub of trade (especially of slaves), was controlled by the well-known Genoese (Italian) traders who fled the embattled Crimea to Italy on their ships.
Infested with black rats, which invariably travelled on merchant ships, the infection entered Italy, spreading through the Mediterranean basin and into the rest of Europe, spreading the dreaded plague. (Note again, the striking similarity of high severity of the COVID-19 effect in Italy because of its extensive trade relations with China and a resultant large Chinese immigrant population.
The Bubonic Plague resulted in the loss of 30-60% of the population of Europe. It took 200 years for the population figures to get back to its pre-epidemic levels and in some areas (mainly Italy) for almost 400 years.
The plague reminder
The present pandemic, unleashed by COVID-19, a sub-set of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), has had an unprecedented effect on the world much like the bubonic plague. The debilitation of large tracts of the human population will have a compounding effect on the entire eco-system, as it existed.
Given the pace and progress of the virus, its crippling effect is going to create a whole new world, post-2020. Conspiracy theories of its origins in Wuhan (whether in a Biological Research Laboratory or in its wet markets), its rapid travel through Europe, into the USA and other parts of the globe, have given rise to the possibility of Biological Warfare being unleashed upon the world by China. These theories have been strengthened by the fact that China, in fact, Wuhan itself, which initially seemed to be devastated by the virus, has recovered and is returning to normal status, albeit with certain precautionary restrictions.
Notwithstanding, the crisis now has to be suppressed as fast as possible. The fact that there is no known vaccine to protect the population and the expected availability only in 12-18 months has sent shivers down everyone’s spine.
Like the Bubonic Plague quoted earlier, the trade routes seem to have been the highways for the spread of the virus. China’s propensity for trade and commerce and the scattering of its cheap products across the globe have fueled its burgeoning economy. This extensive trade which involves travel to and fro between countries has provided the catalyst for spread of the virus. While Donald Trump has made efforts to curb China’s overwhelming trade access to the USA, the continuing Chinese business ventures, the routine tourism and travel have all contributed to the huge movement into and out of the United States.
Having been detected in the US, for some strange reason the government was unable to comprehend the possible consequences of the pandemic (or so it seemed). Watching and sympathising with Italy and Europe, the USA, while being unable to stop the ingress, was woeful in its address to arrest the spread.
As the cases started to multiply in alarming numbers and the red light started to blink, the leadership under President Donald Trump (often called a Baboon or a Buffoon by his detractors in the US) attempted to wish the problem away. The blasé attitude that it is just another passing flu and ‘America needs to get back to work’ has been the undoing of this country. Frantic efforts to provide respirators and associated medical equipment has exposed not only the inadequacy of the medical facilities but also the health care system that the American public looks up to.
History has recorded that the severity of epidemics can be reduced by curtailing movement and instituting social distancing (specified during the Spanish Flu). In fact, India has been a shining example in this regard, as the Prime Minister ordered a complete lockdown on a 1.3 billion population, the biggest lockdown in history. But perhaps that is the sole answer. In contrast, the tourist hot spots in Florida and New Orleans, teeming with visitors celebrating the Spring Break, blatantly continued to party in huge gatherings and in restaurants.
The White House finally constituted its Task Force to provide advice and direct the trajectory of suppression measures. Dr Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr. Deborah Birx, an ex-US Army Colonel and a specialist in HIV/AIDS epidemic control and vaccine research are the two who are the main advisors and spokespersons in this matter. While the Task Force is battling with various models and possibilities being thrown up by the virus spread, the President of the United States seemed to be focused only on the economy and the financial health of the US (and possibly his).
The acceleration of the spread has now caused fear to develop among American citizenship leading to State Governors taking unilateral decisions to contain the spread without waiting for the Federal government to take any actions. It is also probably the right way forward as the spread/containment does not seem to follow any predicted path or templated format.
The dynamics of geopolitics have been changed. Like a tectonic shift after an earthquake, the world order will, in all likelihood, see an emerging pattern that does not have the United States as the dominant player. The era of peak globalisation on which the US has been riding is over. The task ahead of the world is to rebuild economies and societies while creating infrastructures that are resilient, flexible to the crisis, and long-lasting.
As the United States continues to reel under the COVID-19 pandemic and its spread shows no sign of deceleration, the people of this country will surely and squarely lay the blame of poor response on the President, Donald Trump and American history will record it as the ‘Baboonic Plague’ brought upon it because of the inadequacies of the leadership.