Can you stop the world due to an epidemic? The answer is: yes, you can. We know many cases from the past when people were forced to radically change their way of life, or when the notions of globalization and the open borders were under threat.
Usually, these situations were a direct consequence of political or armed conflicts on a large scale. At the moment, this “stopping the world” is again necessary. However, if we are to seriously discuss long-term action plans in an emergency situation, it is impossible not to honestly point out all the effects of a particular action.
It is referenced that when during a particularly trying times of World War 2 Winston Churchill was asked whether to cut the funding for the arts to favor war efforts, he replied “Then what are we fighting for?” Today, this sentence should be extended to the fight for our values and lifestyle in a globalized world.
It is not my intention to undermine the precautionary measures currently being introduced in Poland, Europe, and the world aimed at temporarily isolating people to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. Moreover, I believe that such activities should be applied universally.
Now, each and every citizen has a job to do here. I am outraged by the attitude of the Polish Catholic church, which refuses to stop organizing masses, when they could be easily held via the radio, television, or online for as long as long as schools and kindergartens are closed.
We must all act in solidarity. These actions are necessary to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, give the health care systems an opportunity to prepare themselves, slow down the outbreak over time, and take precautions before the next stage of the fight against the epidemic comes.
I mention here the next stage, because I am deeply pessimistic about the prognosis and chances for a quick end to this pandemic.
When creating scenarios for the future, it should be assumed that neither on March 25, when Polish students are theoretically supposed to return to schools, nor even a month later, if we decide to extend the activities leading to social quarantine, the problem will not disappear. After weeks of economic losses, sacrifices etc. the situation will probably be slightly worse than it is today.
“Stopping the world” has far more serious consequences than many commentators seem to realize, writing lightly about slowing down, kicking back, and focusing our energy on doing household chores. The fact that some left-wingers cry in triumph that the system in place as well as globalization will finally break down is completely outrageous.
If this happens, the consequence will be dramatic for millions of humans who might end up in poverty. Shutting down the operations of many industries for two weeks, taking young people out of schools will come at a great cost, which, however, most institutions will probably survive.
Nevertheless, the recent upheaval on the stock market already shows how serious the situation is. If the situation continues for one and a half months, it may pose a very serious problem for many institutions. Three months of inactivity would lead to a series of mass bankruptcies, and possibly a huge spike in unemployment.
The crisis is much more serious than the one from 2008, because entrepreneurs have a very limited scope of things they can actually do to imporve their situation.
Historically speaking, most human tragedies (during World War II, or the Great Famine in Great Britain) were not a result of bombings and warfare, but of “stopping the world” – breaking the supply chain of raw materials or production.
The economic consequences of a long battle against the epidemic and “stopping the world” are hard to imagine today. Which is precisely why we must anticipate them, because soon politicians will be making really dramatic decisions, choosing the lesser evil.
Unemployment, scarcity of goods, widening poverty, and apathy on the one hand, and the deadly harvest on the other. Anyne who is willing to provide easy answers to this concundrum has no imagination whatsoever.
It is also worth emphasizing that coronavirus has become water for the mill of all those who would like a strong central, authoritarian-like government. On the Polish radio, I have already heard the cries of admiration for the Chinese system, which apparently would be more effective than the European Union is.
Strangely enough, however, it is precisely in China where most new epidemics start, and the quality of life of the average citizen compared to Europeans is completely beyond comparison.
The most powerful tool at the disposal of democracy is safeguarding the well-being and unrestricted lifestyle of people. If it no longer delivers on these, the system can fall apart like a house of cards.
This is why politicians must start looking for solutions for the second stage of the epidemic, focusing on what should we do after the quarantine period ends, before entire sectors of the economy collapse.
I do not have a ready answer to that. Availability of tests, quarantine of the infected, patient monitoring by means of a smartphone app, the use of digital tools to track past interactions of the infected (Taiwan has blazed the trail in this regards).
Full access to the latest updates on the situation, a new care and isolation system for the ill and elderly who are not professionally active, and who are most exposed to the lethal effects of the virus.
All of these are some of the much needed solutions before there is any hope of a vaccine or an effective cure. At the same time, these measures would allow people to return to work, children to schools, and to slowly go back to everyday cultural, sporting, and tourist life, without which it is difficult to imagine the modern world.
We will also have to learn to live with the risk of getting infected. Comparing coronavirus and its high contagiosity to other disease is pointless. Each disease poses different risks.
But we have learnt to live with various ailments, with the knowledge that about 12,000 people die of pneumonia only in Poland every year. Pneumonia can also be infectious. 108 people died from influenza in Poland between September 1, 2018, and March 15, 20191, and many doctors estimate that the mortality rate is actually much higher because the statistics do not include the deaths caused by numerous post-influenza complications.
Referring to the figures on the deaths caused by coronavirus in the midst of an accelerating epidemic makes little sense, but as of today: 5,000 2 cases were recorded worldwide, whereas in Poland, five people have died so far.
Therefore, if next to the deadly harvest of coronavirus we do not want to see a growing number of human dramas related to the unemployment, poverty, and an economic crisis, the collapse of the educational system and the cultural sector, we will need to change the existing procedures, act in a timely manner, be precise, and make difficult choices.
At some point, we simply must “start the world” again.
We must learn from this situation. It is necessary to completely re-organize the entire Polish system of care for the elderly, which is at the moment in dire state. We must be able to protect them while not ruining our entire economy and not having a detrimental effect on our children’s education.
We must finally tackle the issue of antivaxxers and start treating the healthcare system as an absolute priority.
The article was originally published in Polish at: https://liberte.pl/coronavirus-czy-mozna-zamknac-swiat/
Translated by Olga Łabendowicz