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End begins with intervention... and shutdown!

Published : Monday, 30 March, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 550

Nazarul Islam

Nazarul Islam

All endings are not quite rosy. They begin with life's crude interruptions, shutdowns and the final link with 'ventilators'. These are the symbols of the end of life! The coronavirus shutdown of 2020 is perhaps the most remarkable intervention to ordinary human life...in modern history. I am sharing my apprehensions of a war. And, reminded of the stories told of the interruptions of normality in 1914, followed by another in 1939. But unlike a war, the present moment involves demobilization not mobilisation.

 While the hospitals are on full alert, the vast majority of 'US' are confined to our quarters. We are deliberately inducing one of the greatest recessions known to mankind. Are we driving another nail into the coffin of one of the great banalities of the late 20th century?
An insignificant, mutant coronavirus has revealed the folly of stripping the state and society, threadbare!

Many years ago, we thought we knew what was up and what was down. What was right, or what was wrong! Only in the wake of the cold war, this became obvious that the economics were the fundamentals, and then what followed, has defined our collective destiny. It was the west's economic success that had ultimately felled communism. And the economy had ruled not only over freakish communist dictatorships, it defined the scope of possible politics in democracies. Arguing against globalization, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was as absurd as arguing against the seasons.

This was followed by 2008, the watershed year that had left most of us wondering who the economic masters of the universe actually were. It was followed by the extraordinary, politically induced catastrophe of the 'eurozone' debt crisis, in which conservative fiscal populism and dogma--disguised as expertise--ruled over the need to ensure employment and grow the proverbial 'pie'!

And then, the scenario had abruptly changed. In 2016 the UK referendum delivered a majority for Brexit in the face of predictions of economic disaster. Months later, Donald Trump, reportedly a 'narcissistic' billionaire, was swept to power by working-class votes in the face of opposition by the great and the good.

And now....the year of the great virus CV-19 has dawned. Imagine if a truly blunt economic interest was present to dictate our responses. Would we be shutting the economy down? What we know about the virus now, tells us that it most often kills what are by the numbers--the LPM (least productive members) of society. The majority of the working population are experiencing symptoms barely more significant than a regular flu.

Unlike regular cases of 'flu' do not threaten our children-the future work force of this planet. The virus may be bad, but simplistic economic logic would only dictate that until we have a vaccine, for the dreaded virus, it would be best to keep life going, because, it is the economy, that matters in the end!

That was indeed the first reaction of the most governments of our developed, industrialized part of this world. The headline obviously was: these countries would be staying open for business. Some of us with good memories even had a novel idea to dig up their leader's fondness for the mayor of Amityville, as portrayed in the movie 'JAWS'. It was the stark economic reality that provoked the city mayor to keep the beach open, regardless of the fact that a sea monster had been eating his constituents.

And so, the beach had remained open. This is exactly what Donald Trump or Boris Johnson or Imran Khan would secretly desire. The higher wisdom of public health, we were told, is that the bold and productive workforce would acquire immunity. After all, we are living in an age of mutations of heroism-infested, economic principles.

This has ultimately led nations into pursuing their panic-driven economy end with debilitating consequences. Our hospital beds have been eroded by sick patients, who do not have access to the vaccine in demand, resulting in the carnage of thousands of excess deaths. Our healthcare systems have been overwhelmed with the crisis of political legitimacy.

It suddenly became obvious that in the event that matters of life and death are concerned, then the calculus is different. Of course, old and sick people die. We all will in due course. But it matters fundamentally how and under what circumstances. A huge surge in mortality, even if it is limited to 'vulnerable' population with pre-existing conditions, is existentially unsettling. So too are the apocalyptic scenes that will unfold in our hospitals. In an earlier age, they might have remained behind a decent veil of obscurity.

Unfortunately, the words and images that have already come to us from northern Italy and Wuhan are bad enough. Faced with all of this, the great absurdity lies in not recognising promptly that we need to act-and that we must shut down, what is  even the most essential individual activity of the market age, public shopping. Has all this not mutated into a crime against society?

This is not to say that economics is not shaping the crisis. It is the relentless expansion of the Chinese economy and the resulting mix of modern urban life with traditional food customs that has created the viral incubators. It is the globalized transportation systems that have speeded up transmission. Is it but the calculations of cost that define the number of intensive care beds and the stockpiles of ventilators?

Again, is it the commercial logic of drug development that defines the range of vaccines we have ready and waiting? Perhaps obscure coronaviruses don't get the same attention as man's ego or his erectile dysfunction. And once the virus begins to spread, triggers the country's attachment to business as usual that has induced fatal delay.

Shutting down has always arrived, at a price. Leadership is unwilling to do it. But then it turns out, in the face of the terrifying predictions of sickness and death, there really is no alternative.

It is only after you have overcome that political, intellectual and existential hurdle--to realise that this is a matter of life and death--that economics enters back in. And it does so with a vengeance. The logic revealed by the well-organized Asian states had been at best, to conduct a severe quarantine regime in the hope of being able to return to normal activity as soon as possible. The Chinese economy is already resuming--one step at a time!

This is not to say that economics is not shaping the crisis. It is the relentless expansion of the Chinese economy and the resulting mix of modern urban life with traditional food customs that creates the viral incubators. It is the globalized transportation systems that have speeded up transmission. It is calculations of cost that define the number of intensive care beds and the stockpiles of ventilators.

It is the commercial logic of drug development that defines the range of vaccines we have been made available and waiting; obscure coronaviruses don't get the same attention, as erectile dysfunction. And once the virus has begun to spread, it becomes the nations' diligent attachment to business as usual, that had induces fatal delay. Shutting down has always come at a price. No one wants to do it. But then it turns out, in the face of the terrifying predictions of sickness and death, there really is no available alternative.

It is once you have overcome that political, intellectual and existential hurdle--to realise that this is a matter of life and death--that 'economic principles' enter back into the game. And it does so with a vengeance. The logic revealed by the well organized states, and systems is that it is best to conduct a severe quarantine regime, in the hope of being able to return to normal activity as soon as possible. The Chinese economy is already resuming step by step.
I hope our leadership has come to terms with realities. Have we learned our new lessons, which were not available in the text books of wisdom?

The writer is a former educator
based in Chicago















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