Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Covid-19, a Retrospective

It’s been a couple of years now, since the 2020 Coronavirus disaster. Society is still not completely back to normal, and I doubt it ever will be. For instance, you can clearly see which movies were made before and after. People shake hands and hug complete strangers with abandon, something that today, even with the virus mostly under control still feels extremely un-natural and would immediately result in people freaking out or at a minimum speaking up and indicating the fact that they are unconformtable. The economy is still in recovery. And it probably will be for a long time. The see-sawing stock market was uncanny to watch. Fortunes were made, and fortunes were lost over the backs of the weakest in society, the elderly, the immunocompromised.

The virus didn’t really care much about the stockmarket. It didn’t read the newspaper, did not participate in politics and didn’t care one bit about whether or not we felt it was important or a danger. All it took was one butcher not cleaning his knife properly and it was done. Patient zero, a man in his 20’s in Wuhan, China, probably never even realized he had contracted it. By the time the seriousness of the situation was recognized it was much too late and the virus had been spreading for weeks. It’s a miracle of science that they managed to figure out how it happened.

Having a psychopath at the wheel of one of the largest and most influential countries in the world didn’t help, but, to be fair, his enablers and the callousness displayed by the people who believed themselves not to be at risk was as much or maybe even more of a factor than the leader. The progression right up to the point where the American ICUs started to overflow was mild enough that lots of people must have thought “I’m young and strong, nothing will happen to me”. If only. When Wuhan, China got barricaded everybody seemed to think: That’s China, far away from here. And when the North of Italy collapsed the same happened. Then Spain got the bill for that massive party they had, in order not to upset the tourism. By the time New York hospitals were overloaded you’d think that authorities would have wised up. But everywhere it was the exact same pattern: slowly trying to curb a disease that was spreading very rapidly with a long incubation time and zero immunity. It was a bad scenario, and collectively we made it so much worse than it had to be.

The deathtoll was well in the millions, and it hit the healthcare industry harder than any other. A large fraction of an entire generation of Doctors and nurses was lost. According to a randomized WHO antibody test which has by now been completed by most countries where the healthcare system has recovered (Spain and Italy are still too harmed to participate) only 35% of the world population caught the virus. It still springs up every now and then whenever a closely connected group of individuals gets infected, a bit like Ebola, only a lot closer.

Old people have become a rarity, especially in public. They as a group suffered more than most. It’s hard to meet their eyes, knowing that we live because so many of them died. Triage at the admittance to the ICUs was based on life expectancy and recovery expectancy. People over 60 were given some morphine for the pain and not much beyond that.

The online fora didn’t help. Tons of people mercilessly downplaying the risk and coming up with all kinds of utilitarian arguments about how it wasn’t such a big deal if a bunch of old people died, they weren’t a productive part of the economy anyway, in fact they only cost money. But they were just small fry compared to some of the politicians. Take a hit for the DOW, as one American politician put it. You couldn’t have made it up.

The hearings were harsh. Shades of Neuremberg, only now in almost every country in the world where the social order didn’t collapse entirely. A couple of country leaders got out at the last moment. Others were not so lucky and a couple met raging crowds before they could face justice. Those are images that remind me of how some of the worst SovBloc states came to their end, and I wish I could unsee them. Those that profiteered or sold their stocks before briefing the public, a surprising number of politicians and people peddling ‘miracle cures’ and hoarding personal protection equipment for the most part were dealt with fairly. They’ll be in jail for years to come. Re-instating the death penalty was - in my opinion - a mistake but I do understand the sentiment, some countries came out much worse than others and the demand for a payment in blood was too loud. The degree to which these people were gambling with and profiting off the lives of others was disgusting. But not that much more disgusting than some of the things that were happening before.

In almost every country the health care system collapsed and had to be rebuilt from the ground. That’s at least one thing that all parties concerned seem to agree on, retrospectively. That health care, even in times when there is no pandemic going on should be a universal right. And that infringing on that right is now seen as political suicide. I wonder how long that will last.

The world will heal, I don’t doubt it. There is already talk of reducing the danger pay for healthcare workers, and to strip them - and the emergency services, cashiers, stockers, food delivery people and everybody else that kept all of alive during the crisis off the ‘essential personnel’ classification that allows them to get some benefits and basics such as job protection and full pay if they should become infected or otherwise ill. Those very same gig economy workers that kept us alive were found to be without the protections that regular workers would have had if they got sick. And they did, in droves. Without any safety net to catch them quite a few of those didn’t make it. And worked much longer than they should have, which helped spread the virus much further than it would have if they were simply able to call in sick and get paid. Those are now things from the past. That lesson will stay learned, you would hope.

Things will get better, bit by bit. And then people will forget, a little cut here, another there. It will happen very slowly, almost unnoticably we’ll make a new house of cards. And everything will look just fine. Right up to the next pandemic. Which - it has to be said - could be a lot worse. R0 a little higher, incubation time a little longer, mortality a little higher. It’s all luck of the draw. History repeats, for those that do not learn from it. At least we now all have a basic understanding of exponential curves. That’s a pretty thin silver lining for such a dark cloud.

Hope you’re doing fine. Stay well. Stay indoors as much as you can. And wash your hands.