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In a Westernised World, Covid-19 is the Perfect Pandemic

Do Pandemics usher a new dawn? 

Over the last more than 100 years, the world has undergone numerous advancements. Human beings have been to space and the moon, we have powerful nuclear bombs and nuclear energy, bullet trains, planes that fly half around the world, and we can now treat and cure hundreds of diseases that tormented our ancestors. 

Yet, despite all these scientific advancements, the world is being ravaged by a pandemic. Worse, one that can be eradicated by people just staying home for 3 weeks. What went wrong?

Well, it is important to understand that the world, by nature, is destined for pandemics. 

Forests get extreme wildfires, wild animals get almost wiped out by diseases or drought, and human beings get pandemic. Drought too was once a problem, but the wonder that is the modern supply chain means shiploads of grains and all sorts of food can be easily moved from one part of the world to another. 

Pandemics, like wildfires, droughts and much more are nature’s way of introducing chaos into a system. 

Nature favours change, and it favours variety and evolution. Chaos is a destabilisng factor that leads to life rearranging itself to achieve more variety in a bid to survive. 

Without this chaos, everything begins to behave in much the same way, otherwise known as going with the flow, and the system adopted becomes extremely powerful. 

Like the Tower of Babel, nature soon comes up and changes things. 

Human beings have however learned to harness nature to do what we want thanks to all the technology know-how we have amassed in a bid to survive better. 

Then, why have hundreds of thousands of lives been lost to covid-19. Why has the whole world been brought to a standstill? 

First, it is important to note that any disease can be a pandemic, but many of them do not make the cut. 

It is not that the many diseases that do not develop into a pandemic are lacking in any way. Once upon a time, typhoid, the bubonic plague and in between the 1918 flu reigned terror on humanity. Today, while typhoid and the plague exist - they are largely under control. Typhoid still has outbreaks that wreak havoc, such as the ongoing one in Haiti. 

What this tells us is that for a disease to become a pandemic, it must fit our current lifestyle and  it needs to be deadly to some extent. It shouldn’t make everyone who gets infected too sick too soon, or it will be easy to detect and have to be dealt with. 

And this is where covid-19 falls. It is a disease that spreads out of close contact and can be spread unknowingly. 

What makes it even harder to stop is that doing so would either need an instant cure, a vaccine or people drastically changing the way we live. 

The biggest challenge seems to be that we are unable to change how we live. While we retreat to our homes at the end of the day, our lives involve working in large, open plan factories and offices. During lunch, we sit in expansive restaurants that are table after table. At the end of the work day, we take mass public transport that in developed countries means checking in (and touching) a few pay-stations and then using the same bus and train cabins that will be shared by thousands of other passengers. 

Over the weekend,  we may head to a couple of malls and restaurants for shopping and dinner. We also take our kids on a shopping outing to the supermarket in the mall, and our dates to a restaurant dinner. 

Our bosses are busy and jet in and out to meetings and company offices across the world at crowded airports and through planes that need to make quick turnarounds. 

Any disease that can be easily spread by touching things that others have touched or by being in close proximity with other people will strike gold in this world of ours. Worse, if a sick person can spread the disease over a number of days, yet be healthy enough to go about with their activities, then you have a disaster. This is what covid-19 is. 

Sure, if we all stayed home for 3 weeks, we would drastically reduce the number of infections. But Western culture is not based on staying home. It’s based on commuting to work, sharing open spaces, restaurants, and shopping. Not going to work means no pay.

For many people, having a meal means purchasing from an eatery. We are no longer in the age where people lived in largely self-sustainable farms where they could cook what they harvested. But even in those times, we had pandemics that were spread by traders and merchants. Farmers needed to buy clothes and other goods, and the Bubonic Plague was conveniently spread by rats and people onboard merchant ships. 

Worst of all, Western Governments have proven that they are politically incompetent when it comes to dealing with pandemics. Perhaps its their belief in supremacy over everything else, but between the UK and the US, failure of the government to take early action contributed to the raging pandemic now.

From the experience in Iran, Italy and Spain, it was clear that this was no normal disease. Yet, such a small proportion had been impacted by the disease by April 2020. By then, only about 3 million of the world's population of 7.5 billion had been infected, or just 0.04%. Even today, only 7.7 million people have been confirmed infected or just 0.1% of the world's population.

This means that it would have been easier for the world to pool its resources to fight the virus. If we had all all halted flights, asked people to stay home, then taken stock of all N95 surgical masks that stop the virus and the protective equipment, and allocated them based on where there were more positive people, we would have rapidly reduced the number of new cases in 3 weeks!

Instead, each country worked on its own trying to grab as many masks and as many tests and protective equipment as it could. The US and UK chose to ignore the threat for far too long taking no action until the disease was well established amongst the population.

These early blunders mean that the world lost the chance to take an early lead and beat the virus back. Today, we are in a continued state of suspension where the pain of shutting the economy is high but the progress against the spread of the virus remains flat.

The practice of Quarantine is said to come from Venice where merchant ships coming from infected areas were supposed to spend 40 days just outside the port to ensure any infections on the ship ended before it could dock. 

In modern day Kenya and Uganda, while restrictions in travel have been applied for the majority of the citizens limiting the spread of Covid-19, truck drivers have emerged as the most affected and biggest spreaders of the disease. Again, key entry points for the disease in both countries were the air-ports of Nairobi and Entebbe and the sea-port of Mombasa. 

The more things have changed, the more they have remained the same! Modern-day trucks are the ships of times past. 

Countries find it hard to lockdown everything for 3 weeks since people need supplies, and most supply chains can not withstand a few days' closure. The Just-in-time concept means that everything arrives at the factory or supermarket the day that it is needed, not a day earlier or later, and there’s little capacity for storage to last beyond a day, let alone 3 weeks. 

We have definitely made quite a number of advancements from medieval times where little was known about diseases, yet, while we know enough, most governments have proved incapable of taking measures that can stop the spread of a pandemic. 

If people are to remain home for 3 weeks, they would need supplies, and indeed some governments, especially in Asian countries, have taken to supplying quarantined citizens with food. Western governments, however, struggle here having spent the last 30 years divesting and defunding social services. 

Indeed, what we see is that developing countries across the world from Vietnam, to Uganda, Kenya and even South Africa have been quite better at reducing Covid-19 spread compared to countries rated as more developed. There are a few exceptions such as Brazil, and such exceptions stand out by having taken the same path as Western countries.

In short - we face the perfect pandemic. It spreads based on our westernised lifestyle, especially where cold, wintery weather encourages indoor activities. We have been caught pants-down because we have designed extraordinarily efficient supply chains that can not store a few weeks of supplies.

It is why the West is leading both in calls to reopen the economy and in numbers of those affected by Covid-19. This is a western pandemic. Developing countries have had more success than their developed counterparts, and it seems the hit shall mostly fall on Westernised economies. 

At the end of the day, it appears that no matter how much humanity is advanced, we still can’t outrun nature. Nature still holds the chaos trump-card (pun-intended) and the more systemic we become, the more likely that chaos will strike to create ground for a new order.

Our scientific knowledge may be quite advanced, but science plays second-fiddle to the very basic field of politics. That creates a fertile thriving ground for politics.

Pandemics accelerate changes that would never have happened or if they did, would have taken hundreds of years to appear. And so far, it seems there is no way for humanity as a whole to avoid this chaos of pandemics. 

Therefore, it can be concluded that we are destined for the disruption that pandemics bring. The forest regrows after a wildfire, but it is not exactly the same forest that existed before.

For humanity, most of us will take a hit from the pandemic. Some very wealthy people will no longer be so wealthy. And some who were not so wealthy will emerge better on the other side. Behaviours that were common before the pandemic will be replaced by different ones. This means that whole groups pf people may emerge better off.

In Kenya, motorcycle riders who make deliveries have seen demand for their services rocket. Across the world, medical supply manufacturers will end up with a lot of money in the bank. Live music concerts were rare and costly previously, but we have had so many free, high-quality, live concerts on YouTube and Instagram.

In the West, it is said one of the drivers of the revolt against racism has been record numbers of people out of jobs. Ordinarily, they would not have had time to participate in political issues such as protests.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, a former Premier of the Soviet Union once said that "There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen. The world is changing. Pandemics change the world.


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