It’s one of those realities that we all cleverly dodge, much like that guy at the wedding who’s drunk before the canapes are even served. It’s that niggling feeling at the back of your mind that the world has a dollar number on all our heads, the maximum value that will be expended to save our lives.
The acceptance of lives having a dollar value has woven itself into the systems of governance and decision making. It’s always been there to some extent, but health events like the outbreak of the coronavirus, or more correctly, COVID-19, tell us clearly that the economy is more important than your life.
On the other hand, experiences during the SARS outbreak demonstrated the considerable economic and social disruption caused by some public health emergencies, meaning that experts could well be lobbied or pressured for commercial or political reasons, potentially compromising the objectivity of their advice.
The real effect of this change has become evident with the COVID-19 none-pandemic. It has infected over 100,000 people worldwide across every major continent (except Antarctica) and has killed thousands. But it is not a pandemic. Apparently, the definition of a pandemic has changed since the last one. Why? There are claims of minimising fear, of how the general public will buy even more toilet roll if a pandemic is declared. CNN has begun referring to COVID-19 as a pandemic even as the WHO claims the “threat” of a pandemic is “very real”. The reality is clear; the economic impact of the word “pandemic” is too high a cost.
Watch: How to protect yourself from COVID-19. Post continues below.
The idea of declaring a pandemic has of course lost all meaning, leaving only the perception of the word, the practical impact, the fear.
The idea of the declaration is to give governments the signal to start ramping up preparations. Nowhere is this clearer than in the difference between their reactive actions, and proactive actions. Most governments, even today, with a mountain of evidence around the risks of this virus continue to restrict their actions to the “reactive”. Football, rugby and sporting events continue with massive crowds in virtually all countries except Italy. Even in Italy, the decision for a nationwide lockdown was only made yesterday, after the number of confirmed cases surpassed 9,000. At last count, 631 people are dead.
In testing as well, the methodology remains so restrictive that it evokes the image of a horse with blinkers worn firmly, progressing down the busy road safely protected from the fear that the knowledge of traffic would bring. The pattern that this virus has followed in every country has been clear. By the time you spot it due to a spike in hospital admissions, it is already too late. The UK only yesterday started testing people with respiratory illness for COVID-19. Perhaps we should be grateful that they’ve even started that before the case count ticks into the thousands. Despite there being a wealth of evidence that this virus has a fatality rate somewhere between 3 and 50 times more than the seasonal flu, we continue to see reports even this morning from the White House: