Pandemics: the warnings in the past. The ignorance in the present
by Cristina Pastia Friday, 24 April 2020
We should have been prepared for the new coronavirus. There have been warnings ever since the 80’s. It’s only that, unfortunately, the world is lead, mostly, by demagogues, incompetents and corrupts. So, the main preoccupation of mankind should be, once the threat is gone, “distancing” from the present political class.
<p>In the United States, there have a dozen reports regarding a pandemic virus, since 1990. Warnings have been published regularly, in Germany since 2012, in Ireland since 2014. And, as you can see in this material, there have been warnings everywhere. About Romania, what can we say? Even in our country, there have been warnings calling upon proper preparations. Moreover, the Ebola epidemic in 2015 led to the elaboration of a plan in the case of a pandemic. The result? A campaign hospital. Ever since 1989, the state has spent over 60 billion euro on the Romanian medical system. On what? We keep wondering why South Korea or Germany responded so well to this situation. On the 4th of March 2020, when WHO refused to declare “pandemic”, Jens Spahn, the German Minister of health, was concluding: “We are already assisting at a global spread of the coronavirus.”</p><p>And one more thing- functional illiteracy. Maybe you are wondering why it has anything to do with the pandemic. Well, one year ago I was reading a study according to which only a third of the elaborate reports by researchers, independent or not, in all fields, are read and understood by governors. In Romania, it is 7%. QED</p><p><strong>1980</strong></p><ul><li>In the mid 1980s, Edwin Kilbourne, researcher in the field of flu vaccines, held a press conference in Banbury Center in Long Island themed “Genetically alterated viruses and the Environment” (Report Banbury, Hardcover, 1st of February 1986). It was about a virus “fitted” with all the qualities that would make it more contagious, lethal and impossible to control. It was called “the maximally malignant (mutant) virus” or MMMV. Here is how Kilbourne described it: the MMMV would have the high mutation rate of the influenza virus, hosts with no restrictions like the rabies virus and the potential of long latency of the herpes virus. It would be transmitted through air and reproduced in the lower respiratory tract, like the flu and it would introduce its own genes directly into the nucleus of the host, like HIV (see ref. National Geographic). Very similar, isn’t it?</li></ul><p><strong>2005</strong></p><ul><li>President George Bush was mentioning in a public discourse in 2005 an… 8 year old report: “The Health Department of the USA Government is drawing attention upon the need to develop new models of social distancing in the case of a global pandemic of an unknown virus, in order to limit the spread. Also the situation regarding the endowment with mechanical fans and stocks of protection masks is dangerous”. No effect.</li></ul><p><strong>2010</strong></p><ul><li>And here we are in Romania. In a study published in 2010, “Biological threats and Globalisation”, the RIS was drawing attention that “through globalisation, both health issues and the solutions to them travel across borders, often having cross-sectoral causes and consequences”. There was also an excellent proposal (the extent to which it was taken into consideration you can estimate yourselves): "The definition of the protection of the critical sanitary infrastructure needs to include the profound evaluation of its security, which imposes: knowing the weak points of the system (the cooperation of the institutional actors involved and the interaction between the interconnected critical services and systems); knowing the risks and the vulnerabilities (natural disasters, human and organizational errors, technical or systemic damage or intentional biological attacks)”.</li></ul><p><strong>2012</strong></p><ul><li>The Federal Office for Civil Protection in Germany warned, in 2012, about a potential sanitary crisis caused by a virus that could lead to the collapse of the medical system. The press in Germany is really critical in this respect, even if Germany seems to have been the best prepared country in the world, alongside with South Korea. “The warning had no echo, because nobody was interested in that” wrote Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) one month ago. In the coordination of the Robert Koch Institute, experts made scenarios starting from the hypothesis that Germany would be struck by an epidemic. The pathogen agent was called “Modi-Sars” and was based on the SARS virus. “The symptoms are fever and dry cough, most of the patients have difficulty breathing, X-rays show alterations of the lungs”, was written in a report. The consequences in such a scenario would have been: shortage of medical equipment, but also of personnel, sanitary services collapse quickly. The report reached parliamentarians and ministers.</li><li>In the same year, 2012, microbiologist Peter Piot, the one credited to have discovered Ebola, was launching a book called “No Time to Lose”. The meaning of the title is obvious to anyone. If any of the deciders in the world’s health systems had read it, they would have found that we are not prepared for a pandemic at all and “millions of lives could be lost” very easily. Piot worked with WHO but also with Bill Gates’ Foundation (now how do you explain his warnings?). In 2018, the same Peter Piot was warning that a pandemic similar to COVID-19 was coming. The conclusion of the microbiologist? To limit such a pandemic we need “political leadership” and “will”. Unfortunately, he concluded, “both are missing”.</li></ul><p><strong>2016</strong></p><ul><li>Great Britain. How many times have you looked at the British health system with admiration? A rhetorical question, we know the answer: everytime. Well, in October 2016 took place the “Cygnus Exercise” and the ministers at the time were informed. The public wasn’t, as Sunday Telegraph revealed. Here are, summarized, the conclusions of the epidemiologists at Imperial College London: “In Great Britain, the first cases were confirmed two months from the emergence of the virus in South-East Asia. A month later, the Word Health Organization declared global pandemic”. What terrified specialists at that time was the following: “Local, central institutions and hospitals are already overwhelmed. There is not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for the medical personnel. The National Health System is one step away from collapsing because of the shortage of fans and beds in Intensive Care. The communication of the government with the public opinion is catastrophic.</li></ul><p><strong>2018</strong></p><ul><li>Davos, the 25th of January 2018: “A century has passed since the 50 million demises caused by the “Spanish” flu and the serious epidemics are multiplying. A new pandemic seems inevitable on our hyperconnected planet”. The material has been taken by Romania too, by Agerpress. “Pandemics are becoming real threats to humankind” warned Elhadj As Sy, general secretary of the International Societies of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, interviewed by AFP at Davos. At the international event took place the debate: “Are we ready for the next pandemic?” One more rhetorical question, unfortunately. “We know it will happen, but we have no possibility to prevent it”, concluded Sylvie Briand, expert in infectious risks at the World Health Organization (WHO). The annual forum at Davos is not frequented by Romanian governors. It is not for free, you don’t have time for shopping and you have to go there well prepared. That means you must have something to say and present.</li></ul><p><strong>2019</strong></p><ul><li>The world will inevitably face another flu pandemic, announced the World Health Organization on the 13th of March 2019. Describing a global plan to combat a viral disease and an eventual flu pandemic, WHO emphasized that “the problem is when, not if”. “The threat of a flu pandemic is omnipresent”, declared the general director of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, quoted in a press release.</li></ul><p>The communication was based on the conclusions drawn after the most recent flu pandemic, caused by the H1N1 virus, which spread all around the world in 2009 and 2010. </p><ul><li>An analysis of the World Bank and the World Health Organization has shown that most of the states need to spend an average of 1,69 dollars per person, annually, to reach the acceptable level of preparation in order for their health system to face a global level pandemic.</li></ul><p>The information was published by David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, in an editorial which appeared in Financial Times and then on the blogs of the World Bank. For the most countries, the sum represents less than 2% of the budget allocated to health, said David Malpass. (BM report, September 2019- “The risk of a global level pandemic with a respiratory pathogen exists.”)</p><ul><li>The administration at the White House, through the Health Department, simulated, through an exercise carried out between January and August 2019, an epidemic with an unknown virus, with no existent treatment. The virus would have “left” China and in 47 days would have spread all over the world, causing a pandemic. The scenario was called “Crimson Contagion” and the report was made in October 2019. The conclusion would now seem shocking, given their accuracy: under-financing of the medical system, lack of medical protection equipment, confusion among the medical personnel and lack of coordination between the federal government and the governments of the American states. The result? 110 million infected citizens and 586.000 dead. (NY Times wrote broadly on this subject)</li><li>An alarm signal was rung in Romania, too. Alexandru Rafila, Romania’s expert in microbiology, was declaring on ProTV after WHO announced the certainty of a future pandemic: “Every country should take prevention measures: to ensure vaccines and provide hospitals with equipment. There should be agreements made between producers regarding the distribution of vaccines, the accessibility to medicine, the possibility of hospitalization including the providing of respiratory support for a big number of patients and financial respurces.</li></ul><p>The only way to figure out whether a plan is efficient or not is to carry out exercises as if there were a pandemic virus.”</p><p>But who is supposed to do so? Romania was, at that time, in a fight against the parallel and illegitimate state.</p><p><strong>January 2020</strong></p><ul><li>On the 20th of January 2020, the Chinese expert in respiratory diseases Zhong Nanshan was saying that two cases of infected persons were reported in the Guangdong region. These cases supposedly did not have any direct connection to the Wuhan province. The conclusion was certain at that time: the virus can be transmitted from person to person. The virus was already “propagating” in several countries: Japan, South Korea and the USA. Four days later, on the 24th of January: the virus arrives in Europe for the first time. Two cases of persons infected with the new virus are confirmed in France. And in Wuhan, the number of cases increases dramatically.</li></ul><p><strong>As you too notice, there would have still been time for preparations. For equipment. For thinking of solutions. Only that this is also the moment when demagogues and incompetents take the stage again.</strong></p><p> </p><ul><li>Donald Trump was warned at the end of January by one of his top counselors at the White House that the virus has the potential to kill hundreds of thousands Americans and that it will hijack the economy of the United States if measures are not taken immediately, shows a series of information, said The Guardian. The information was written by Trumps economic counselor, Peter Navarro and circulated intensely via the National Security Council in all federal agencies and the White House. And here is what our character understood. Donald Trump declared to CNBC, on the 22nd of January: “We have everything under control. There is only one infected person that came from China. Everything will be alright”. On the 27th of February he was saying: day. “It is like a miracle. Then it will disappear”. After almost a month, for Fox News: “Nobody was expecting something like this”.</li><li>The World Health Organization was recommending, on the 24th of January 2020, to every state in the world to prepare for an increase of the number of infections with the new coronavirus. Also, the institution claimed that we have to take prevention measures as fast as possible.</li></ul><p><strong>March 2020</strong></p><ul><li>At the beginning of March, Boris Johnson, the prime minister of Great Britain, was saying that the virus was posing no threat. A month later, he was hospitalized at the ICU. And 1.000 British people were dying daily.</li></ul><p>Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister or Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, were making similar statements. And Emanuel Macron, the French president, was telling his fellow countrymen to go to the first round of local elections on the 15th of March.</p><ul><li>Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, was the only one to break the mold at that time, unlike the other leaders of the G20. If we only talk about these ones. The nation is facing the biggest crisis since the end of the Second World War, she was saying in mid March.</li></ul><p><strong>Instead of an end</strong></p><p>We are close to May 2020. 2,5 million people will already be tested SARS-COV2 positive. Almost 180.000 demises. Even 3 months since the moment in which it became clear that this new virus will strike the whole planet, most of the world is still unprepared. Instead of having (at least) a reasonable quantity of equipment for protection and for supporting lives, instead of having medical networks in which the key word is not confusion, we have an abundance of rumors, conspiracy theories and psychopathic scenarios regarding the economic future of the world. Wouldn’t it be better for the governors to rise up to the occasion and hide the traces of some bad decisions, of incompetence and corruption? It would.</p><p> </p><p><strong>(Note: The photo above is the one used by the media to illustrate the WHO warning in March 2019. Doesn’t it look like a belated… deja-vu?)</strong></p><p> </p><p>(an article by Edward Pastia)</p>