In 2011 as my hometown reeled in horror from the aftershock of 22 February 2011, the brains trust of my Amnesty International group came to a grim conclusion. 2011 would not be about activism, but about simply making it through the year to start consolidating and taking stock of the losses and trying to move forward as a group in 2012.
It was a grim year punctuated by aftershocks, illness, members constantly being displaced by the former and desperately trying to avoid the wave of illness that swept Christchurch. An airborne illness spread in much the same way COVID19 is being today. It spared no one, especially if one had been involved with the Student Volunteer Army, where a lot of the people involved were not from Christchurch, but who had come down to assist.
It might be pushing humans to be T.I.M.E. magazine’s person of the year. A virus that has grabbed ahold of the world stage and is proceeding to give it the biggest shake a medical issue has in decades. A virus that just when figures out of China and South Korea were stating to intone that they had seen the worst, it becomes a pandemic and hundreds die in Italy in a single day. Such is COVID19.
Now countries left, right and centre are starting to see that maybe the boss of the World Health Organization was not such a fool, when he warned the world is on the edge of a pandemic. This might be the biggest global medical emergency since the 1918 influenza, which was brought about by soldiers returning from the trenches of World War 1 and which became so severe that there were people dying in the streets. That pandemic occurred when the global population was between 1.8-1.9 billion, infected 500 million and killed anywhere between 17-50 million people. Were it to happen today, using those numbers, 2 billion would be infected and anywhere between 70 million and 200 million would die.
Sobering figures. Now, it should be noted COVID19 is quite different from the influenza. However the 400% growth of the world’s population since then, much better accessibility to all corners of the world thanks to long haul flights, a yawning chasm between first world health and third world health mean COVID19 is much more dangerous.
2020 might well wind up being a year in which humans are made to learn some harsh facts. Facts that no amount of social, economic or technological theorizing can get around. Facts where humankind is going to find out that endless economic growth has biological constraints as well as environmental ones, and that these biological constraints are just as powerful on the human body.
2020 might well end up being like 2011 was in Christchurch. Simply surviving in a condition to consolidate the following year was everything. When the N.B.A. suspends its season; the United States blocks all travel from Europe except the U.K. and South Korea after days of showing a downward trend, spikes, one needs to have a hard look at what is going on. When Minister for Home Affairs in Australia and the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau both test positive for COVID19, maybe it is time to start locking the Houses of Representatives down as well.