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Covid-19 ... What Was Wrong?

COVID-19 … What Was Wrong?

Since the early days of the Corona pandemic, we all felt that there was something wrong about it, and the conspiracy theories rolled in one after another, some of which had made some sense but lacked evidence, while others were no more than either some kind of science fiction or delusions of paranoid individuals. But no one has offered a convincing explanation for that mystery feeling, and certainly, no one has provided single evidence to support any of these theories; otherwise, we would not be talking here.

I will not go here into the debate about the origin of the virus, as I think that what Neil L. Harrison and Jeffrey D. Sachs[1] said[2] about an accidental leakage of the virus from a laboratory was more than enough. Anyway, unfortunate accidents happen against everyone's will from time to time, so let us skip this point in our conversation today. Certainly, this would be the case unless someone in the future provided evidence to prove that the virus was spread intentionally and that it was not just an accident, which will be a totally different matter then.

But before moving to the main point of our topic today, we would first need to agree on how dangerous the virus actually was, without underestimating or exaggerating. I will make it short and summarize the matter as much as possible before we continue our conversation. Numbers, statistics and studies are all available on the Internet for those who wish to check or do further deeper investigations.

The virus certainly posed some kind of serious danger to different groups of people, and there were a relatively large number of mortalities around the world. This danger, along with a relatively high spread rate, made it necessary to take some forms of precautionary measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and others.

However, it was also certainly not a deadly pandemic in the literal sense of the word. On a scale from 1 to 10 for the severity of threat posed by epidemics and diseases, we can fairly give it a moderate rating somewhere between levels 4 and 5 compared to other epidemics, given both the spreading and mortality rates, and the long-term damage to survivors. Such an analogy may not seem so scientific for many reasons, but one way or another, it is the net conclusion drawn from all that has been said scientifically. For example, compared to death rates ranging from 10% to 75% for viruses such as Ebola, SARS, Bird Flu, Mers, and Nipah, the worst estimated death rates did not exceed 3% of the total number of infections in the case of Covid-19. On the other hand, although the rates of prevalence and infection in general did not approach other rapidly spreading diseases such as Measles, the prevalence and infection rates of Covid-19 were relatively high, which means that there will be more infected people in general, and thus a higher number of deaths in total. That also meant more pressure on the already deteriorated healthcare systems, enough to push them to collapse, which in fact is the main reason behind the relatively high severity rating of the virus. A quick look at the official death statistics[3] in the United States in 2020, for example, will give us almost the same perspective. During that year, the virus killed about 7 times the number of those killed by seasonal flu, but the number of the mortalities it caused was close to only half of the deaths caused by cancer or heart diseases.

Ammar Moussa

Now comes to the most controversial question since the beginning of the pandemic: Was it necessary to enforce the full lockdowns? In fact, the rapid spread of the virus and the deterioration and weakness of healthcare systems in almost all countries of the world made the answer to be “Yes, but...” There were points where it was actually necessary to enforce some form of partial or full lockdown for various periods that may be shortened or prolonged according to the circumstances of each geographical location separately, such as population density, the level of the healthcare system, the demographic nature of the region, the climate, among other factors. However, there was no justification in most cases for the very long lockdowns, which amounted in some places to several months. Still, some experts argue that the whole idea of lockdown was a wrong strategy from the beginning and make some arguments that lack being deeply investigated but are still worth considering. Eventually, the matter was totally depending on the discretion of those in charge in each region separately, considering the available information they had at the time, and there is no shame in that.

Now… Let us turn to the major point of our conversation today. When the virus emerged, was it met with appropriate reactions and responses? Was all of that panic justified? Was the worldwide economic damage inevitable? In other words, had the crisis been managed properly?

The clear answer here is No... No... No...

Definitely, there was a true justification for caution and reasonable precautions. It was necessary to make people aware of the needed precautionary measures to be taken, whether on the individual or national level, and to explain it to them. However, there was no justification ever for all that panic and horror. Actually, there was an urgent need to reassure people and to calm them. As any specialist might tell you, the first ABCs of dealing with any emergency situation is to avoid panicking; i.e., to control the feeling of panic and push toward calmness and rationality in dealing with the situation; and the more serious the situation is, the more urgent it becomes to do so. But the strange thing is that what happened was the exact opposite. Since the first moments, there seemed to be some kind of incomprehensible global collusion to spread panic in a way that seemed deliberate and unjustified; and it continued in an escalating manner over several months and even became absurd and vulgar at times.

To be crystal clear here, I am not referring here to a conspiracy in the literal sense of the word. Rather, I think that someone had played the song at the beginning, and then suddenly everyone jumped to dance to it as each of them thought that it was in their interest. Maybe the first spark of that panic was launched with good intentions, maybe someone thought that scaring people extremely is the best way to push them to take precautions; although I think that the issue of good intentions here is questionable for reasons that we will discuss later...

But the certain thing is that whether that piece was played with good or bad intentions, whoever started that chaos realized later that the matter had gone out of control. Everyone started to dance and repeat the song using all possible amplifiers, and it would no longer make a difference whether he stopped playing or not; the party had already begun. Later, everyone realized that the matter had gone so far, the panic from the virus became a bigger problem than the virus itself, and the snowball grew to sweep everything, at least from an economic perspective. That is why the song was not played again with the announcement of the new mutation (XBB), despite the fact that it was reported to be more dangerous, faster spreading and elusive, and less responsive to vaccines and treatment than the previous versions of the virus; the dust has finally settled, and no one wants that chaos again. Actually, those reports turned to be false[4], and the new mutation does not seriously impose higher risk than the original Omicron mutation, even if it was slightly faster in spreading; but the point here is that no one ringed the bell to scare people unnecessarily again. They first took their time to check the facts and evaluate the situation fairly before making any statements.

Ammar Moussa

Anyway, this insistence on spreading panic in a systematic manner has had many repercussions and effects, and it may take a few years before we can grasp them all. However, it is certain that some of these repercussions were immediate. The first and most dangerous one was that it was the reason behind the spread of that vague feeling that something fishy was happening, providing fertile ground for multiple conspiracy theories. The result was that the shock or the panic wave among the public quickly turned to dividing people into two main groups. One of which is terrified and becomes more terrified every day and continues to repeat the song of panic and spread it until everyone around participates, while the other had been strongly annoyed and was provoked by the whole matter to take a completely opposite position. The later expressed their position by total negligence or even rejecting and challenging the precautionary measures, which ultimately resulted in a significant increase in the number of infections and deaths that could have been avoided were things had gone differently since the beginning. Those who were complicit intentionally in spreading that panic will always bear that blood over their shoulders whether they like it or not.

As for the other immediate repercussions of that campaign of panic, probably the economic impact was the most important. The fact is that the full lock-downs were not the main cause of the crisis that hit the global economy, as some people like to think. Rather, it can be said that they actually contributed to the prosperity of some sectors, as we will see later. The main cause of the economic crisis was the spread of panic and uncertainty, which are the main enemies of any economy.

There is no doubt that the lockdowns must be accompanied by some slowdown and recession in some sectors, and some chaos in others. However, if there were some wisdom, these effects could have been absorbed and managed to come out with acceptable and relatively small damages that do not represent more than a mild transient recession that can be passed in a short time without negative impacts on the long term. The states should have spent more to strengthen the dilapidated infrastructure of their healthcare systems, and that had to be accompanied with a rational and wise mix of well-studied stimulus programs and aids, along with some temporary regulatory legislation to create a relatively stable situation. All of that would have sent a message to everyone that things are under control and that we have your backs, and that your role is to take the necessary precautions for your safety and go out to fight so we can pass the crisis together, with the minimum possible losses.

But once again, it seemed that someone was pouring oil on the fire and feeding the state of panic and uncertainty about what is to come. The taken economic measures were incomprehensible in terms of the desired benefits. Looking back now, it seems as if it was either an obvious foolishness or a deliberate attempt to keep feeding the panic! It also seems that most of the world's countries were more or less reading from the same handbook of economic stupidity! One of the largest money printing operations in history had been launched, and waves of governmental debt began in order to finance stimulus packages and aids that can be described as random or insufficiently studied at best. They simply did not provide any beneficial solutions in the long term. But the worst was that pathetic dramatic scene that accompanied all these measures, which sent only one message that we all received: We are doing the impossible not to drown either healthily or economically. Just stay in your homes, frightened like rats, for as long as possible… until someone saves us from extinction by producing a vaccine of some kind! Keep dreaming of life returning to normal, and we will send you food in your cages!

Ammar Moussa

Of course, the result was an inflationary wave and a spiral of sovereign debts, which in turn doubled the state of uncertainty and deepened the wounds of the global economy. Then necessarily, that had been followed by a deep recession that has continued since then, and it is not clear yet how and when it would end, especially that the war in Ukraine had cast a shadow over the scene and made it darker.

But the sensitive questions here remain to be who kicked off the ball in the beginning? Who were those participated or colluded later? And why? And herein lies the whole point.

There is no doubt that it all began from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States (CDC). Although their response sounds to be legit, within normal boundaries, and does not indicate bad intentions, but the confusion and circumstances that accompanied that response at the beginning raise questions. Also, it is difficult, frankly, to ignore their links with the international pharmaceutical companies, which have raised many questions in the last few years[5]. These companies “happen” to be the first beneficiaries of all that chaos as they developed new technologies to produce suitable vaccines for such a virus, which they “expected” to emerge, based on previous experiences. They also spared no effort later using all their well-known influence in the media and academic circles to promote the importance and necessity of the vaccines although some of them admitted[6] later that these vaccines were put into use before confirming their effectiveness in stopping the spread of the virus.

However, although they certainly did not hesitate to support what happened later and benefited to the maximum possible, but it would be unfair to hold them alone responsible for that wave of panic. Even if the speculations about their deliberate role in launching that panic campaign turned out to be true, most likely the goal was to stir up a small and limited storm but not a hurricane. In such a case, their goal would be to put the governments under pressure and push them to contract to buy these vaccines before they are produced, and then things gradually calm down, and life continues.

Unfortunately, what happened is that the media as usual had found new material for drama and increase viewership in the incident of the Diamond Princess[7] ship, which, by the way, you may be surprised by its outcome. A better opportunity for more drama was there when Italy was forced to impose a total lockdown as their healthcare system was about to collapse, at the time when Europe had turned its back on them due to the uncertainty about the nature of the virus. Then, suddenly, the media and social media platforms realized the goldmine they had just stumbled upon when the total lockdown became an available option on the table. People would be locked 24/7 in their homes, they would be either anxiously following the news or bored; there would be no better opportunity than that to raise the viewership and maximize the profits. Certainly, no better way to achieve that than to add more and more drama to the scene, to stir up more panic, then to demand the total lockdown as a precautionary procedure, regardless the facts on the ground and the circumstances of each geographical area.

Here the panic began to mount exponentially as people were pushed at some point to think of the virus as a monster standing at their doors waiting for their first steps outside their homes to kill them! Here also was the first spark of rejecting the whole idea of precautions as a reaction to that absurdity.

Ammar Moussa

Later, more and more companies realized the massive return that they could achieve if the total lockdown was imposed, so they joined the scene and each of them participated their own way. Of course, the manufacturers of medicinal products and sterilizers did not even hesitate joining the party among others. The list would include the online retail companies and the providers of the different kinds of distance-services such as communication, collaboration and education. The imposition of a total lockdown for the longest possible time has become a goal for all of them. Again, the only way to do so was to spread more panic and to impose informal censorship on any rational opinion that does not dance to the rhythms of that horror song. At that point, horror was being massively pumped and distributed here and there without accountability; regardless of the millions around the world whose nerves were being unnecessarily burned wherever they turned to, as Covid-19 had literally become the ghost that was haunting them with every breath.

As for the governments, despite their hesitation at first, as they realize what this state of continuous panic would lead to, they eventually gave in and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to achieve their own interests in turn. Some of them took advantage of the situation to harass their opposition, and some saw it as an opportunity to commit social changes (mostly negative, unfortunately), which they had been dreaming to achieve over decades to come. Most governments found it an opportunity to control cash flow and turn to electronic payments to maximize their tax revenues on one hand and strangling the financing arteries on those considered outlaws, the good and bad ones all together. As for the countries with the single voice, it was an opportunity for them to repeat the government propaganda to people's ears day and night while they are glued to screens against their will.

As for politicians, and this includes individuals, bodies, and political groups along the political spectrum from the far right to the far left, I feel no shame to say that everyone took advantage of the situation to serve their interests, goals and agendas, without considering the possible consequences. Some of them (mostly right-wing) sought to gain popularity among those provoked by that song of panic and set themselves up as leaders of campaigns of carelessness; thus, they contributed to increasing the infections and mortalities and fed the spiral of panic. On the other hand, the political left did not hesitate to feed the fire of panic with more wood to serve their electoral interests (the US elections, for example). Not mentioning that the lockdown was an opportunity to serve their ideological agendas as well, and they sought to keep it going as long as possible and make most of it. They used their influence in most of the media to pump a concentrated dose of their ideology and showered the young generations with it around the clock.

Not far away, the economic elite in the United States, Europe, and international economic institutions stood there thankful for the rare opportunity in hands. They did not hesitate to draw the broad lines for all these failed and controversial economic measures in order to secure their interests, including but not limited to that the continuation of this wave of panic would inevitably lead to severe economic crises in the developing countries majorly. That means more loans to these countries with more unfair and strict conditions against their people, and, eventually, the acquisition of the assets of these countries or obtaining the right to long-term usufruct of their wealth at cheap prices. It would be enough to know that the number of developing countries that obtained such loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the year of pandemic (2020) was more than 80 countries, compared to only 9 countries in (2019)[8] .

Ammar Moussa

Finally, one more group had contributed a large share in this campaign of panic, but they are the only ones who are fully excused and not to be blamed; and to those specifically, we tip the hat with respect and appreciation. Those are the doctors and workers in the healthcare who were – due to the deterioration of healthcare systems – not allowed to see anything other than the worst side of the pandemic, 24/7, until many of them collapsed either mentally or physically.

The bottom line here is that if there is anything to learn from the ordeal of Covid-19, and before talking about being ready for the next pandemic or confronting conspiracies here and there, the real lesson that we must learn should be that it is time to fight the pandemic of individualism and selfishness that swept the world over the past few decades. That pest which has turned healthcare from being a service to the community to be a pure business-wise field and turned a problem that could be treated with some wisdom into a global tragedy at various levels. All those who participated in that dance of panic had prioritized the narrow individual interests over the common good of all mankind, and had it not been for the consequences that would have reached them eventually, they would not have stopped before squeezing the last penny in the pocket of the last person on earth.

Ammar Moussa
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