The battle against the covid-19 virus was from the beginning not centred on the problems of the people really suffering. Everybody hoped a vaccine would solve their personal problems. Such as not being able to go to work or to school or the theatre or a bar or restaurant.
The way the virus behaved though puzzled me: Why do we concentrate on a vaccine when most people do not suffer from the virus, even when they are infected? Why vaccinate everybody, when most people do not suffer from the virus? Why close all businesses, schools and public gatherings? Why wear masks? Why wreck the economy?
Nobody seemed to ponder the most fundamental question. Why don’t we focus on the perspective of the end of the pipeline? This end is that only a limited number of affected people suffer proportionally much more than the majority. Nobody suggested the end of the pipeline as the strategic focus of pandemic policies.
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Public versus private concerns
Of course, I understand that the pandemic caused, and still can cause severe capacity problems. Hospitals and ICU’s were and could again be overcharged. The question remains though. What would have happened when from the start substantial research efforts would have been invested in solving the problems at the end of the pipeline?
My guess is that by the time the inevitable second and third waves came up, the capacity problems would have been solved. Waves, that were inevitable because there is no vaccine yet. Waves, that were inevitable because nobody pointed at the importance of people’s lifestyle.
Do we fight the battle against the covid-19 virus on too many fronts? The quest to find solutions for the capacity challenge is a public funding issue. To find a vaccine is a commercial company issue. To improve your lifestyle is a personal issue.
What happens in such circumstances can even a child figure out. The public institutions cared for the end of the pipeline problem. The private companies (big pharmaceutical producers and their academic errand boys and girls) started, all at the same time, a worldwide competition to be the first to have a vaccine. These companies did not care an iota about the end of the pipeline.
The 7 rules of a pandemic
This article illustrates how life actually has always been. Humans had and still have to adapt. To be honest, humans are very good at adapting. Why could we otherwise at this very moment be living longer and healthier than ever?
This is partly because, as predators, we overstretch our natural resources. Could this be the same reason why we still have problems battling the covid-19 virus? Is this why we can’t control the pandemics that prey on us? Nobody knows.
Moreover, changing our predatory ways seems an almost impossible task. The way we live gives deadly pathogens free passage. Why pandemics exist in the first place, is best explained by the following 7 arguments:
- population density,
- domesticated animals,
- religious missionary work.
Indiscriminate pandemic, wave after wave
A fine example is the plague. The first recorded plague outbreak originated in Egypt in AD 540. Only 2 years later this outbreak devastated the city of Constantinople and subsequently massacred a quarter of the population in the eastern Mediterranean.
During the pandemic in Constantinople, some 10,000 people died each day. When this first wave of the plague ended, 40% of the citizens were dead. This was the start of 2 centuries of one plague wave after the other, throughout Europe. The plague hit the countries around the Mediterranean hardest.
There are 3 types of plague: bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic plague. The latter being the deadliest of them all, killing almost 70% of the humans infected. The septicemic and bubonic variants need an insect or animal vector to infect humans. The pneumonic plague spreads through the air via tiny droplets sprayed by infected humans. This is why it was so deadly. No matter what type, the plague killed indiscriminately.
5 centuries of Black Death
In Europe, the plague, or Black Death as it soon was called, frequently returned. From 1300 to 1800, in wave after wave, the plague tried to decimate the population. This needs some perspective. For instance, in 4 years, from 1347 to 1351, due to the plague, some 20 million people lost their life. Historians estimate the population of Europe in the year AD 1000 at some 40 million people. This means that almost half the population died.
Some historians assume that this first wave originated from China (!). They give the following explanation. In 1347 Italian merchantmen, besieged in a citadel on the Krim, were fighting off Tatars. The Tatars were dying of the bubonic plague, which they had contracted while fighting in China. This made them abandon their siege. However, before the Tatars withdrew, they catapulted the dead and infested bodies of their comrades over the citadel walls.
As a result of this first recorded example of biological warfare, many Italians inside the citadel died within three days. Those that survived hosted the plague to Messina and after that to Genoa. Decimating the population of both cities. From there the plague spread its deadly toll over Europe.
Despite the plague, during the 5 centuries of its reign, the European population grew at least 5 times its size of the year AD 1,000. One explanation is that infected humans who survived, participated in a Darwinian experiment: only the fittest of them survived. In the end, their offspring were immune.
Many explanations given for the plague are familiar to us. It was God’s punishment. The planets were in the wrong conjunction. Stagnant pools, dung heaps, decaying corpses, or Jews, polluted the atmosphere.
The solutions align with the given theories. From these solutions, the fate of the Jews was the most dreadful. Throughout Europe, the Jews were persecuted and killed.
Epidemics end for several reasons. The only reason a wave stopped, during the 5 centuries of the plague, was that in the end there were not enough healthy bodies anymore to infect.
We might assume that, in our time, modern medicine stopped epidemics. However, most pandemic illnesses vanish before any cure is invented. They often even disappear before the cause of the epidemic is identified.
The massive impact of the plague incited all too familiar countermeasures. At the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th-century cities such as Marseilles, Venice, Pisa and Genoa declared the rule of quarantenaria. People arriving from plague-infested areas had to stay in quarantine, for forty days.
Preaching, processions, feast-day assemblies, markets and travel were forbidden. Churches were closed. The sick were removed to a hospital. Everywhere the economy collapsed. Who would ever have dreamt that we would end up in the same circumstances?
The trouble with pathogenic microbes is that they seem to adapt reasonably quick. Take the example of typhoid. At first, the typhoid microbe migrated from rat fleas to rats. The rats and flies transmitted the typhoid microbe to humans.
Next, the microbes used human lice as allies to transmit to other humans. At present most people are deloused. The typhoid microbe needed another host. In the USA, this new host became the flying squirrel.
These creatures cause typhoid epidemics when they live close to humans. People keep flying squirrels as pets. Or the squirrels live in a nest under a roof in an attic, or in parks and woods near domesticated areas. The same qualities of typhoid infested flying squirrels apply to minks when it comes to the covid-19 virus.
Only the frail and vulnerable suffer?
Darwin was right. The fittest survive. This is again true for the covid-19 epidemic. Only frail and vulnerable people get very sick and die. Again and again, people counter this. They argue that even very well trained sportsmen and women got the virus and became very ill.
How to explain this? Well trained people have but very little survival fat on their muscles. Once I observed how, within a relatively short period of 5 minutes, in chest-high water with a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), three very well trained athletes got hypothermia.
When they would have been alone and would not immediately have returned to high ground, they would have fainted and drowned in a few minutes. Too much fat on your muscles is most definitely not good. In exceptional circumstances, too little can also be devastating. The covid-19 virus is exceptional.
What we learned so far from the battle against the covid-19
The first lesson concerns the number of Europeans. Across a period of five centuries, the European population did not really suffer much from all the waves of pandemics from 1300 to 1800. The fittest survived. The population grew five times its size, counting from the 40 million in AD 1000. On an individual level, the unnecessary loss of life is always tragic. From an evolutionary perspective, such loss seems inevitable.
The second lesson is that despite the huge investments we made in medical science, the frail and vulnerable still suffer. As they always suffered. This calls for the question of why the population could grow so substantially.
This brings us to the third lesson. This lesson is that you need to work on your physical health and well being. Keep your immune system in shape. If you do, you probably survive most pandemics. Your lifestyle is essential.
What did you learn from this article or the covid-19 pandemic? Please tell us in the comment box.