Post Pandemic Covid 19

The rise of the Proletariat

Motorua is a small, sleepy town in the North Island of New Zealand. It is a town close to the main port so there is some traffic in and out of town but the town itself is in a quiet,

picturesque setting. Framed against Sugarloaf Islands and an aqua blue gentle bay that allows kayaking, paddle boarding and recreational fishing lies a black marbled plaque. The plaque is in remembrance of those who died in the flu pandemic of 1918 to 1919. By December 1919, Influenza had killed 8600 New Zealanders and worldwide had exacted a death toll more than that of World War One.

One hundred and one year later, the world is currently facing the COVID 19 pandemic. At the time of writing, 1,111,921 persons are confirmed infected with 58,937 deaths. This invisible pathogen is likely to be here with us indefinitely but the consequences of this pandemic will

stretch beyond the boundaries of health care threatening the socio-political spectrum.

In 165 CE the Antonine Plague or the Plague of Galen was unleashed on the mighty Roman Empire. The plague in the form of smallpox was unleashed in two waves. The first wave lasted at least until 180 CE with the last of the five Good Emperors Marcus Aurelius,

while the second wave lasted until 251 to 266 CE. The epidemic was thought to have originated in China with vicious spread along the Silk Route and by trading ships headed to Rome. By this time, Rome was a vast and mighty empire with well developed transport routes, a stable but growing population and significant technological advances.

These included the use of aqueducts, dams and bridges to link a multicultural array of peoples. It was a thriving civilisation with balance and attention paid to the arts including architecture, novel construction projects such as amphitheatres and sanitation channels.

The symptoms of smallpox included flu like illness with a rash that appeared on the face, hands and forearms and then later distributed to the rest of the body. The course of the disease included a pustular rash with crusty scabs which fell off to leave pock marks on its victim. The mortality rate for this disease varied from 1 to 30%.

The small pox rampage allowed Christian adherents to gain a foothold and later became the basis for Christianity in the Roman Empire. The Christian religion being

monotheistic was different to the polytheistic Roman religion. This contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire by weakening the political system and the credibility of an emperor who was viewed as a God.

Smallpox took a dreadful toll on the citizens of Rome. The slow growth in the population and the subsequent death toll led to less emphasis on agriculture and a general weakening

in the empire’s ability to fend off aggressors. This eventually resulted in the defeat of the Roman Empire by Germanic tribes. It was thought the factors of human overcrowding, poor diets and a deterioration in sanitation measures led to the Roman Empire being the epicentre of this pandemic and a major factor in its subsequent fall.

Apart from the obvious parallels then, we now have a virus that is capable of inter and intra species jump with a higher viral replication rate than the human genome. We have a

virus with its DNA origin in a Bat species that has found its way into the human gene pool. It is thought that there will be no herd immunity with this virus and the only hope would rest in vaccines and anti virals.

Have we encroached on habitats with pathogens that previously would normally stay within a defined animal gene pool but have now adapted and

transitioned into a naive human pool?

History provides ready examples for the perils of the expansion of civilisation at the expense of the environment. In the case of Bolivarian Haemorrhagic fever, suspect cases turned up after highway construction and transport routes disrupted bat reservoirs. Human

Immunodeficiency Virus originated from primates and subsequently spread outward Africa to the wider world. SARS, the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome all have their origins in zoonotic bat virus. The toxic mix of human overcrowding, less satisfactory global public

health and human behaviours which have encroached on habitats previously left untouched have left our DNA exposed. Walt Kelly’s quote, We have met the enemy and he is us, can never be more suited for our context.

The fall of the once almighty Roman Empire to marauding Germanic tribes eventually led to different parts of the empire being carved and resettled. An increase in population, agricultural pressures, expanded trade and transport links combined to facilitate the easy spread of this new pathogen which in turn led to a compromised political system.

Is it possible that we will see a challenge to a world order? Already this pandemic and prolonged quarantine period have forced governments to look inwards for goods and services which were obtained in previous instances at a cheaper rate abroad. Is this a future

challenge to globalisation? Already there are grumblings in the United States that the federalist system of government has not led to a coordinated and effective response to the pandemic. There were areas that were not prioritised and states that had different responses for viral containment. As of April 1 2020, 72 days after the first reported US case of Covid 19, 33 states have issued stay at home orders with varying instructions for business closures or

orders that lacked strong enforcement. Only time will tell if this incoordination will pay a heavy price.

The brutal lessons of Covid 19 belie the fact that your personal risk of becoming a statistic lies largely with oneself. This includes physical and hand hygiene, social distancing,

cough etiquette, a rational to work sensibly with technology where possible, and activities that enhance one inner mental and physical health. If this pandemic has not already

reminded us of our need for environmental concern, if this slow moving tragedy has not

reminded us of the selfishness as a human species daring to consume at will and without thought, it will have reminded us of our fragile humanity.

Governments have realised that included in the definition of essential workers, previously less regarded occupations such as petrol station attendants, supermarket workers, truck drivers and garbage disposal personnel all have a part to play in society.

What of agriculturists or machinists? These tradesmen provide the tools for life and civil society. Society will realise that these lesser thought of jobs are of no less value to modern

society. Everyone has a role to play in modern society and these less sought after jobs are just as important in civil life. The rise of the proletariat has just begun.



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