Hey good people!
I hope you’ve all been doing well, and keeping safe in this uncertain climate. Serious topic today, and the only one everyone seems to be talking about these days – the coronavirus aka COVID-19. Malaysia currently has the highest number of COVID cases in Southeast Asia (at the time of this writing, 238) – and I think it’ll get worse in the coming months.
Now a disclaimer before I get into the post: I am not a health expert, nor a policymaker of any kind. These are just my thoughts and observations, and are meant for discussion.
Coming back to the topic at hand…
As someone who likes zombie films and books, I’ve read a lot of literature on global pandemics, my favourite being World War Z by Max Brooks (it’s nothing like the film, in case you’re wondering. You can read my review here). The book is told through a series of interviews with a United Nations Postwar Commission agent, and narrates the post-events of the viral zombie outbreak and how it changed the face of the world. Eerily, the book mirrors reality: Patient Zero in the book originates from China – and despite government coverup (as in the case of Wuhan), it spreads through other means (in the book, it’s through human trafficking, refugees and the black market organ trade) – and by the time governments try to rally to curb the spread, it is already too late (sounds familiar?)
World War Z may be ‘fiction’, but it is surprisingly grounded in reality. The scenarios of which are laid out are exactly like what governments and communities are doing right now. And just like the characters, organisations and governments in the book, we are ill-equipped to handle the pandemic.
They say history is important because it is key to understanding our present. If so, then mankind has failed to learn an effective way of dealing with viruses on a global scale.
The Spanish flu of 1918 was widely regarded as one of the worst pandemics in human history. It came at a bad time, when war and poverty ravaged many parts of the world. Increased land, sea and air travel also resulted in the spread of the virus across the globe, something which would have been much harder in days before modern travel was possible. The result was a mortality between 17 to 50 million (some say as high as 100 million), as well as a devastated economy.
We are nearly 100 years from the days of the Spanish flu, with advancements in tech and medicine that many people in the early 20th century would have thought impossible. And yet, humanity and its constructs are still as vulnerable as it was before.
If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has only highlighted the flaws in our system. The world we live in today is a very interconnected one – businesses rely on manufacturers in other countries to supply them with materials, people travel for business and leisure, etc. Because of this, economies are especially vulnerable in such climates, because disruptions in the supply chain results in delays, shortages and panic. A very good (micro) example: the toilet paper scare in Singapore, Penang and Japan.
The immediate effect of the coronavirus might be fear of infection, but its consequences are far-reaching. It’s like a giant domino effect – topple one domino, and the rest collapse as well. Economic instability aside, the nature of our world today in which communication is instantaneous has also given rise to misinformation and conspiracy theories (looking at all of you Whatsapp aunties and uncles who love sharing unverified info). And just like in World War Z, the duality of human nature comes to light in situations of survival – shining examples of bravery, compassion and kindness (doctors who put their life on the line in service), and horrific examples of callousness, ignorance, cruelty and selfishness.
And when all this is over, we will once again bury our heads in the sand, blissfully ignoring the fact that the next pandemic, epidemic or whatever mic you might call it might be deadlier, and we will no more be prepared for it than we were before. Unless. We. Learn. From. This. It’s amazing how we have all these plans in case of war, invasion and terrorism, but have no effective action plans in case of a pandemic.
That being said, I don’t have answers as to what governments should do. This isn’t a sci-fi novel where the protagonist has an idea and gets plucked out of a suburban neighbourhood and involved in some ultra-secret government project to save mankind lol. But common sense (which is unusually uncommon these days) should prevail. Avoid big gatherings. Avoid travel unless absolutely necessary. Work from home if you can. Sanitise and wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. And for God’s sake, stop buying up all the damned toilet paper. why tf do y’all need that much toilet paper? I don’t get how it correlates.
Stay safe, peeps.