It's Not the Virus, It's the System
The coronavirus (COVID-19) has dominated the news over the last few weeks. Every new case is hyped, every quarantine is trumpeted, every death is front-page news.
Some people are convinced this is the bug that will wipe out all of humanity. Others point out it's just a variety of the flu, and the death rate will likely be lower than normal flus. I've heard reactions ranging from "We're all gonna die!" to "Eh, it's no big deal."
The most loathsome reactions, of course, are those try to make political hay of the situation; or worse, who hope the virus will do their dirty work for them.
There's the charming far-left Democratic politician who cheered the idea of spreading the Coronavirus to Trump supporters in response to a leftist tweet: "For the record, if I do get the coronavirus I'm attending every MAGA rally I can."
(Leftists are also mad that Trump donated his fourth-quarter salary to coronavirus control. There's no pleasing some people.)
And of course, some hope the virus will scale back the human population. "Deaths from pathogens are part of the natural cycle. They help prune back the population of the old and weak," observes Gail Tverberg at Our Finite World blog, who laments the passage of killer diseases and the rise of modern medicine which keeps medically needy "deadwood" people alive longer. I'm guessing Ms. Tverberg doesn't have cherished elderly parents or grandparents, or she wouldn't be so eager to bump off (excuse me, "prune back") older folks.
Whatever side of the issue you fall on, two obvious repercussions are becoming apparent from the spread of the coronavirus.
The first repercussion is economic. Businesses are losing customers. Companies are canceling conferences. Cruise ships are suffering. Restaurants are empty. Malls are bare. Hotels and airlines are desperately slashing prices. Concerts are postponed. Schools are closing. Anywhere people gather is now viewed with suspicion.
The collective result is a potentially catastrophic economic ripple effect across the globe. Endless businesses – not just in the U.S., but across the world – are suffering staggering financial losses, everything from clothing manufacturers to lobster fishermen. Some businesses are already closing their doors, doomed by a lack of customers.
The second repercussion is the disruption of the supply chain because of the panic buying of essentials. In places as varied as Hong Kong, Italy, the UK, and of course America, people are ramping up their purchases of food, water, medicines, sanitation supplies, and other essentials. Store shelves are being stripped bare (see some photos here). Online sources are out of stock. Companies selling emergency food supplies are overwhelmed.
Doubtless some people are panic-buying in case they're quarantined. China's cruel imprisonment of half its citizens is proof that no one wants to be locked away without some resources to fall back on.
But others, either consciously or unconsciously, recognize one indisputable fact: The supply chain could very well be interrupted, perhaps for a long while. Because most stores work on the JIT (Just In Time) principle, their ability to restock sold-out items is easily disrupted by ripple-effect shortages down the line.
Additionally, 97 percent of antibiotics are now manufactured in China, and China is pretty much shut down. What will that do to America's health care system?
Whether or not the coronavirus is as virulent as feared, it's the perception of severity that is causing the problems. In other words, it's not the virus, it's the system.
We tend to take for granted those hard-working individuals who keep our power running and water flowing, who police the streets, staff the hospitals, man the fire departments, deliver food, transport packages and mail, and perform every other service that keeps our nation running smoothly. But what if these people either cannot or will not do their job for fear of contagion?
"Do you think people working in areas that hold the system together would continue to go to their jobs or some of them might consider the option to go home and take care of their families?" asks Selco on the Organic Prepper website. "Do you think the stores will remain stocked? Do you think everything will keep running as normal? … Virus or illness on itself might not be a problem in its essence, but the impact that it brings to the system and people might be so huge through the media that it causes the system to stop working in the normal way. So you could find yourself in a collapse – not necessarily because of a huge pandemic, but because of the reaction to it."
Since every disaster contains a lesson or a message that needs to be examined, let's consider two such lessons.
First, America is far too dependent on foreign nations for critical supplies. President Trump said the COVID-19 outbreak highlights the importance of bringing back to the United States previously offshored supply chains for drugs and gear.
"The coronavirus shows the importance of bringing manufacturing back to America so that we are producing, at home, the medicines and equipment and everything else that we need to protect the public's health," Trump said. "That process has already started. … We want to make certain things at home. We want to be doing our manufacturing at home. It's not only done in China; it's done in many other places, including Ireland, and a lot of places make our different drugs and things that we need so badly."
These efforts should be cheered, not jeered. But politics being what it is, progressives will doubtless try to twist this into some sort of racist position because, well, Orange Man Bad.
And second, after years of being mocked and taunted, it seems the prepper movement was right all along. Fear of COVID-19 has motivated thousands upon thousands of Americans to start prepping like crazy. People are panicking, emptying store shelves, maxing out their credit cards, stretching supply lines, jacking up prices, and further fueling the panic.
I wish people had thought through the need to prepare during times of calmness and abundance, but I guess that's asking too much of human nature.
Preppers have a standard response whenever anyone sneers that their preparedness is pessimistic and unnecessary: "We can afford to be wrong. Can you?"
I guess we're seeing the answer now.