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Mother Is Not A Number

First, repeating covid-19 advice: maintain social distance, maintain hygiene, follow local healthcare guidelines, protect yourself and protect others, wear a mask or anything that stops you coughing on others, if you are sick avoid infecting others.

The leaders of the ‘Free World’ have been pathetically, woefully slow in their response to covid-19. They delayed and prevaricated. They didn’t take covid-19 seriously. They didn’t learn enough from China and Korea and Japan and Taiwan and Singapore and Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Perhaps they thought they were special.

And now we have stories about Switzerland giving up on counting and accepting most of their citizens are getting sick. Merkel warning Germans (and thus Europeans) to prepare for 60-70% to get infected. Epidemiologists warning how it probably can’t be stopped. And I don’t even have to mention the US Presidential response. Do I?

Today is March 12th. The WHO declared it a public health emergency of international concern on the 30th of January. Italy declared an emergency and 200+ cases on the 23rd of February.

Why have the numbers kept exploding in the the West?

I mean, they must have thought they were special. I guess they didn’t want to hear the lessons of Eastasia. When the epidemics exploded in Iran, Italy, and South Korea, why did Australia only block travel from Iran and South Korea? Why did tourists from around Europe continue to go skiing in Italy last week?

I saw the control efforts first hand in Korea and I can tell you, they were working hard to keep this under control.

But in Europe? Everybody followed protocol and kept everything casual. Italy’s outbreak speaks for itself. In Slovenia they didn’t even specify what the symptoms were until this Tuesday and now we’re seeing a doubling of cases every 2 days. We could well be at 100 tomorrow and have an overwhelmed healthcare system by next week. A large proportion of our cluster outbreaks were doctors and medical staff who went skiing in Italy, then followed national public health institute guidelines to keep working until they showed symptoms.

I absolutely can’t speculate about what the leaders of Europe thought, but I can assure them: they were wrong. They didn’t learn from Eastasia. They didn’t look. They didn’t move fast enough. They didn’t take appropriate measures.

In a word they fucked up.

Because, if Taiwan can be on top of things, and Korea, and Japan, and Singapore, and Hong Kong, and Vietnam, and China … if all these countries can be on top of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s obviously not impossible.

The countries in Europe that haven’t got out of control outbreaks yet are putting draconian measures in place. Days ago Israel put in place a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all visitors. Slovenia is putting in place controls on the border with Italy — half a day later than Austria, but better than nothing. And when they announced it, the governments of France and Germany pointed fingers and said these controls are a bad idea and won’t work.

Well, I’m sorry, but it looks like their ideas were worse. It looks like their measures were less useful.

It looks like they thought they were special and could find a magic wand to control this pandemic without hurting their precious economies. Their numbers. They weren’t alone, of course (I’m mentioning Usania now). They were still talking about their numbers yesterday, and now Usania has cut travel from Europe for 30 days.

I guess there’s a lesson here, huh?

With coronavirus there are two choices:

  1. Bite the bullet, accept the economic cost, and put stringent measures and controls in place.
  2. Pretend you’re special. Wait. Kill people through inaction. Then bite the bullet, accept an even higher economic cost, and put stringent measures and controls in place.

Sort of like saving a buck today to spend ten bucks tomorrow, huh?

But there’s worse.

My Mother Is Not A Number

Do you know what it looks like to me?

It looks to me like these elected leaders of the free world don’t care about my mother. She’s old enough to be in a high-risk group with 8% mortality.

I mean, they certainly didn’t care enough about my mother to take the data out of Eastasia seriously. They certainly didn’t care enough about her to scramble and work over the weekend when it turned out their ‘measures’ were inadequate. May they even played golf, while they could have taken measures to protect her.

They certainly didn’t care enough to learn about exponential infection rates, because they seem to have thought that another week or two of tourism and economic activity was worth the whole pandemic getting out of control here in Europe.

Let me point that out again.

They prioritized an additional two weeks of economic activity over the lives and welfare of all of us, but especially our parents and grandparents.

Do they think their surviving voters will thank them once this is over? Do they think we will say, “oh, yeah, two more weeks of business-as-usual (which is killing the climate, by the way), was totally worth it. I don’t mind our relatives and friends and medical workers sacrificing their lives for that.

Because that’s what it boils down to.

Italy declared a crisis on the 23rd of February. Bit more than two weeks ago. Let’s say any government needs a week to figure shit out. But nearly three? After they’ve seen what happened to country after country? After seeing successful examples of control? This is a morally repugnant abdication of leadership. Does this make me angry? You bet. Furious.

Oh, I don’t just think that voters won’t thank them. I think the voters will hate them. A lot of people will absolutely loathe them.

Because our mothers are not numbers. Our fathers and grandparents and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and cousins and children and nephews and nieces and friends and acquaintances are not numbers.

But you know what is a number? Two weeks of economic activity as usual.

That’s a number. And I think a lot of people will say that’s a number that’s worth a lot less than their friends and family.

I know I will.

—Peace and health.
—L.


P.S. – Let me be clear: I absolutely hope I am completely wrong. I absolutely hope these governments and their experts know what they’re doing far better than me. I absolutely hope they have a plan. But let me repeat myself: there already are successful East Asian plans. Why were these not used?

2 replies on “Mother Is Not A Number”

I’ve got the experience from the point of view of Switzerland adn Germany (via my family). Switzerland are fairly proactive, Germany should do better. I also worry about my family. What my sister describes from the hospital where she works backs up the reddit post translating the account of the Italian doctor you posted before.

In Switzerland, since I started thinking about it, the symptoms and required actions were clearly explained – on displayes in any public place as well as on the government websites. They cancelled events and raised the alarm level about this twice (it can go higher still). They also stopped any large public gatherings, including huge commercial events.

If people choose not to follow the good advice they are given that is another problem. I really don’t like the idea of handing off our personal freedoms because of an exceptional event like thhis. Look at recent history: since 9/11 we have notrmalized living in suveillance states, after the sub-prime crises the banks got slapped with regulations which is already gone. I worry as I see ourselves inching towards fascism, if not that authoritarian regimes.

A thought to contextualize Merkel’s statement which you are referencing: in the German federal system medical infrastructure is managed by the state not the federation. That means she has to mobilize all German states to combat this pandemic. That she can only do if she paints a clear picture of just how bad things could get.

Thank you for elaborating on that, Frank.

It’s hard to understand the situation in different countries from a distance. It feels like the world is going mad and information is turning into a rushing, muddy torrent. The loose English-language reports of the situations in Switzerland and Germany are probably making things worse. I really wish more countries invested in sharing their experiences in second languages as well.

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