Scientific and historical evidence is clear that the only tried and proven response to a pandemic resulting from a novel infectious disease is quarantine. Quarantine can be applied selectively, or globally, but that depends on the nature of the disease. In cases where the diseases are known to be highly infectious and where a ready cure is not available, the latter has been the best remedy in the short term. In the case of the novel Corona Virus, (“novel” referring to its new and unknown nature), the virus is highly infectious both from symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, and there is not yet a vaccine or a known cure. On top of that, the mortality rate among known cases ranges between 4% to as high as 10%.
This perspective is important as it sets the backdrop against which leaders must make hard decisions as to when and how to impose or ease quarantine restrictions, thereby allowing or disallowing personal movements and business to begin to function.
Across the globe, countries are grappling with the balance between economic well-being, and universal good-health. This situation is made even worse in a world where inequality is prevalent not just in individual and national wealth, but also in political systems, health capacity, population sizes and social tolerance. The United States for example, is a nation founded on freedom and democracy, and one where personal lifestyle is considered a right not a privilege, and where state authority often conflicts with Federal policy. This globally perplexing situation becomes especially challenging as the world witnesses a daily standoff with health, science and fear on one side, and personal freedom and capitalist economics on the other.
At some point, and the economics of tolerance will overcome fear and compassion. Modern humans, long conditioned to value the freedom of travel, entertainment and unfettered consumption, are quickly losing patience and the sense of value to the greater good. Except for those on the medical frontlines or in the hospital beds that witness or experience the pain and anguish of the actual disease, the majority of the human population are but spectators, viewing the crisis through small electronic windows, and through the words of doctors, scientists and leaders, often at odds with each other. Soon, given a small taste of freedom, the proverbial dam will break.
This balancing act is a tough one for governments, themselves questioning the wisdom of presiding over economic wreckage as predictions of growing economic doom hovers heavy in the months to come. Those that understand that their own future is dependent on becoming re-elected often will walk a thin line with medical advice on one side, and voter opinion on the other. For a time, both sides will converge, but only for so long that fear prevails among citizens.
So many questions need to be answered: In a world that was built on pushing the limits of capacity in all aspects, how do we manage social distancing and for how long? Can anyone practically enforce laws that limiting of movements, the washing of hands, the wearing of masks, the spacing of lines, and the separation of humans on crowded public transport? What is the real resulting impact on the economy, personally, locally and globally and can countries afford that impact at the expense of growth and sustainability? How will the world manage safe international travel across a diverse planet to avoid cross-border spread? And, what is the breaking point at which economics will trump compassion for the elderly and the infirm?
The race to re-open is fueled by needs, wants, boredom, ideology and fear while the compulsion to stay quarantined is grounded in science and historical fact. The enactment of draconian law in democratic societies to enforce the latter is bound to meet strong resistance and as patience runs out, the results could be explosive.
When covid19 made that zoonotic leap into humanity, we certainly expected significant medical impacts, but little did we know the sociological impact as it clashes with modernity.