As the newscasters on the BBC World Service read out their reports on the campaigns against COVID-19 being fought in various countries, it became apparent that the Virgin Islands would inevitably become a new battle zone in the world war that had been raging since January. Yet we are fortunate to be able to learn better tactics and defences from the experiences of veterans in the field.
In a commendable initiative, a team of Chinese medical experts was sent to Italy, the epicentre of the European struggle, to share their experiences and to warn against mistakes. They urged that protecting health care workers be an absolute priority and confirmed that face masks only give wearers partial protection, but infected people should wear them to prevent them passing on the virus.
The battle-zone in South Korea has one of the most bitterly fought campaigns, but victory is being delayed by civilians not wanting to sacrifice some of their personal liberties to beat the common enemy. They were ignoring their government’s call for assemblies to be banned, but the largest protestant church in Seoul, the capital, announced it would be airing its services online.
India — the world’s largest democracy, which is predicted to eventually surpass China as an economic power — also had trouble in persuading many of its citizens to stay home and has consequently imposed a lockdown on millions of people. After a massive earthquake struck Greece, its government appealed to citizens not to huddle together to comfort each other as was their custom, but to recognise that the battle against the pandemic was a greater urgency.
Food and drugs
It was already looking likely that the United Kingdom would have to crash out with a hard Brexit, because of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s declared determination to un-align from the European Union in less than nine months’ time, but now fears are being expressed about the increased strain on the National Health Service and for food and medical security. A German drug company predicts it will have a vaccine ready early next year with distribution to EU member countries prioritised. If the UK has decoupled itself beforehand, then it will have to queue up like the rest of the world.
In the VI, it has become utterly clear that food security must be the aim in strengthening our food industries, not the emphasis on cash crops that the British colonial machinery forced onto its colonies.
In the UK, Mr. Johnson has closed all offices and factories in response to the unfolding pandemic crisis and pledged financial support for employees who have suffered. Depending on how long the pandemic lasts, those measures will probably push the UK into a deep recession and ballooning government debt. Inevitably, he should be rethinking his declaration of ending negotiations with the EU.
It now seems extremely unlikely that the EU will hold its scheduled meeting of all 27 heads of government in early June, particularly because its chief negotiator himself has tested positive. An online petition is calling for the UK Parliament to debate an appeal to the UK government to extend the transitionary period during which negotiation are ongoing by two years, to the end of December 2022. It is mandatory for the petition to be placed on Parliament’s agenda if it reaches 100,000 signatures.
A free press
I mentioned last week the inadvertent spread of Spanish flu by United States troops in 1918, infecting soldiers weakened by three years of fighting and exposure to mustard gas. The name is misleading. It struck both sides in the conflict hard, but its effects were classified information. The free press in Spain reported it openly, but every country later blamed others for its origin. It died out after it had killed everyone within its grasp and left others immune.
It had such a debilitating effect that it was arguably a major factor in the armistice being signed in November 1918, followed by the Russian Revolution and, as a knock-on effect, the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. The second and third waves of the flu (between September and December 1918 and between February and April 1919) were devastating. In Britain, 250,000 died and mail services were cancelled.