Based on the official reactions around the world, you’d think the death toll of the Wuhan Flu has surpassed one million people and the bodies are stacking up like cordwood in Western cities. But the virus has killed less than 8,000 people so far, three and a half months after being identified. Apparently not a single person under the age of 50 in Europe has died from it. As far as I can tell – based on publicly available information – this thing is orders of magnitude away from being a significant global threat.
And yet, Western governments are treating this like it’s an emergency unprecedented since WWII, demanding immediate, radical changes to the way we organize our lives. In the US, sweeping emergency powers are being invoked on the municipal, state and federal levels. Large gatherings are being banned. Churches are suspending services. Everyone is told to hunker down at home, to avoid human contact – that is the “responsible” thing to do. We are told that these are temporary measures to “flatten the curve,” to slow the spread of the infection and protect public health.
But how temporary? New York City schools have been shuttered until “at least” April 24 – that’s five weeks. San Francisco and surrounding counties have issued “shelter-in-place” orders covering 6.7 million people until April 7. The president, meanwhile, is saying that the pandemic could end in the US in July or August “if we do a really good job.” Something tells me that normal life is not going to be resumed in the next few weeks. And it seems obvious that if this national hunkering-down drags on for months rather than weeks, it will crater the US economy. Given this country’s sudden obsession with public health and safety, it’s interesting to speculate about how many people might die as a result of an economic depression.
There is a massive disconnect between the known facts about the virus and the political and economic reaction it has engendered. Perhaps, as one blogger suggests, the authorities know something about this virus that they’re not letting on. There are even darker possibilities. But it’s worth nothing that much of the impetus for these draconian changes in the US has been driven by social media, where it has suddenly become fashionable to post self-quarantine pics and berate others who have the effrontery to eat at restaurants. Many of those same people are going to be demanding Chinese-style totalitarian “lockdowns” and electronic surveillance in the interests of public health. A narrative is already being formed that China has conquered the coronavirus and that the rest of the world should follow its wise example.
Meanwhile, Wuhan – remember Wuhan? – is still under lockdown…