When a friend asked me if this was the big one two weeks ago, I was not sure.
Today I can answer: Yes. This is a big one in terms of lives that will be affected and lost, and economies destroyed.
But… It is a big one, not as a consequence of an intrinsic property of the virus, but entirely the result of human action and inaction.
The course of the epidemic in China shows that the epidemic can be controlled without an effective vaccine or antiviral drug. Rigorous people to people contact control can halt the spread of infection.
Lack of short-term and long-term preparedness has doomed both the US and Europe and may well devastate other continents as well.
Forewarned long in advance that a pandemic respiratory infection from an influenza or coronavirus was inevitable, our government failed to prepare and to support the research needed to create the vaccines and drugs needed to prevent and treat infections. We also failed to develop the necessary health system infrastructure needed to cope. This despite repeated warnings over the last thirty-five years since the advent of HIV/AIDS that this day would surely come.
Failures over the past three months are of a different sort. They are failures of leadership and of government. We are plagued by a President who, more than three quarters through his term, still claims that the buck stops with Obama. He is deaf to the agonized pleas of our health care professionals who, unprotected, must risk their lives and those of their family to treat the ill.
The economic toll is yet to be measured but surely will include an unprecedented global depression, bankruptcies of national and state governments, businesses large and small and untold millions of people around the world that depend on their jobs for food and shelter.
What may mount to well more than 100 trillion dollars in economic damage could have been prevented by a few billion dollars of investments in research and a few hundred billions in health infrastructure.
I fear ten years from now (one, two, three Presidencies hence) we will revert to our natural state of complacency, distracted by present exigencies and fail to prepare for nature’s next inevitable big one.