The Malta Independent 10 April 2020, Friday

As bad as the plague

Noel Grima Sunday, 16 February 2020, 08:27 Last update: about 3 months ago

I was pointed along the direction this article will take by my good friend John Meakin, pastor and journalist and passionately interested in weather phenomena.

He has his own ideas about themes such as global warming and climate change and I cannot pretend I understand them all or subscribe to them.

But some time around October he started to predict that the world was to get a very cold winter with cold spells setting negative records around the world.

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As I have just said, he does not believe this is the result of any deterioration of the earth’s atmosphere but rather part of a recurrent alternation of hot and cold spells in the world, such as we have had countless times in the past.

This is where it gets creepy: every time the world has got colder, humanity has suffered from bouts of pandemic diseases that brought with them waves of deaths.

The example that springs to mind is, of course, the 1918 outbreak of Spanish flu, which killed around 50 million all over the world. It came after World War I, following an exceptionally cold winter, and was aggravated by factors such as poor hygiene and widespread ignorance. Suffice it to say, wartime restrictions on what could be reported made it seem it was happening only in Spain, which is why it was called the ‘Spanish flu’.

As such, it was not a dangerous disease. It is now thought that it is the same strain as the H1N1 strain we know as ‘Swine flu’ that caused a global outbreak in 2008.

So already around October, people interested in the weather were forecasting a global epidemic, obviously without knowing where it would strike.

Now we know. It appeared around Wuhan in deepest China and, again, official reticence about it helped it spread and kill – even the young doctor who vainly tried to raise the alarm.

It struck during the Chinese New Year celebrations, when people travel long distances to be with their loved ones, and so the virus soon reached beyond China and has even reached Europe and America – in small numbers so far.

But two cases show how it can be spread.

The first is the case of the Briton – now called the ‘super spreader’ – the Scout who was at a sales conference in a five-star hotel in Singapore, went on a skiing holiday in the Alps, then travelled by plane to the UK and went straight to the pub, infecting people in three countries before realising that he could be carrying the virus.

The second is the Chinese woman who travelled home to the UK and, when she felt sick caught an Uber taxi and walked into a hospital A&E department instead of staying at home and waiting for a properly equipped ambulance.

The risk of contagion is thus multiplied every time a non-infected person comes into range, and if that person is elderly and suffering from respiratory problems, the risk of death gets bigger and bigger.

There is now an added consideration to make and, again, it had to be John Meakin who drew attention to an article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Daily Telegraph explaining how the Corona virus can be even more devastating than the Spanish flu.

The Chinese government, he explains, is faced with an atrocious dilemma: it can either put the country into lock-down and impede travel and communication both inside the country and with the outside world – with all the consequences on trade and growth – or else it can decide to save trade and the economy and hope to contain the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, hopefully, a cure can be found.

This is why, in our case especially, we must be super-vigilant without degenerating into xenophobia.

 

 

 

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