JOHN CARLIN.- Time of Opportunity

Mar 16, 2020

The Corona virus could be a time of opportunity for the human race.

I suspected it very sadly a year ago when my mother died, and now the Corona virus seems to confirm it: old age is bad for health and even carries a significant risk of death. For the rest, medical science is not sure about the conclusions to draw from the global epidemic unleashed at the end of last year, apparently when a Chinese ate a pangolin. Or got too close to the animal. Or something.

Science is not clear about even the most important thing: what is the mortality rate of the Corona virus. I read a lot on the subject and see, for example, that the director general of the World Health Organization declared this week that the death rate was 3.4%. Shortly thereafter, a WHO spokeswoman clarified that this was “a gross figure,” and that it would change over time, that it was perhaps based disproportionately on the experience of the Chinese city of Wuhan and that it did not take into account cases that have not required medical attention. It is also probable that there are many undetected cases, another reason to believe that the real frequency of mortality is much lower than what the world’s chief doctor proposed.

The only thing we know, I think, is that it will take a long time until we know with certainty the scope and dimensions of this disease. The virus may experience a lethal mutation and end human life. But it is also not been ruled out that the Corona virus might turn out to be less malignant than the flu we catch during our a lifetime. Meanwhile, fear of the unknown leads to the stock market collapsing and the world economy in crisis.

Those who detect a note of scepticism in my words are not wrong. Which tells me that I should try something that I often recommend and rarely put into practice: getting into the skin of the other; making the effort to understand the point of view of those with whom I disagree because of temperament, conviction, age, or living in the city and not in the countryside.

We will assume, like a distinguished expert in contagious diseases from Harvard University, that one in five adults, possibly three in five, will be infected with Corona virus. Well, let’s assume, while we are on the point, that all of us are going to be infected and that it seems on the calculations of the majority of scientists (excluding the WHO’s chief alarmist), that between 1 and 2 percent of us will die. That’s a lot of dead people! Although most of them will be of, say, 70 years and older, we would be talking about between 77 and 154 million bodies. We could end up almost doubling the number of deaths caused by World War II.

But I am still unable to suppress my optimistic vein. Inspired by a column that I read this week in the venerable English magazine The Spectator, founded in 1711, I have resolved to try to see the Corona virus as “a blessing.”

First because the new disease offers an antidote to the other terrible virus travelling around the world, polarization. The Spectator columnist writes: “like a meteorite heading towards earth,’ ‘then all wars would stop.’ IIf only there were something that united all mankind against a common enemy, like a meteorite moving towards Earth, then all wars would end.” I would add that in the face of such an enemy, the hatreds generated by the tendency we have to divide ourselves into tribes would end, whether these are Trump fans, Bolivarians, Peronists, Communists, Fascists, vegans, meat eaters, feminists, machos, Boca or River fans.

And in the process we would save the planet. People have stopped using planes, and therefore carbon emissions are reduced. In China, the world’s great polluter, space photos show that the large cloud of smoke that usually covers the world’s most populous country has disappeared since the Corona virus forced factories to close. Is it possible, by the way, that the damage caused by the Corona virus in China is compensated for by the lives that will be saved, because its 1.4 billion inhabitants will breathe fresh air again?

Another advantage of the Corona virus is that it will accelerate the tendency to work from home. For many human beings, I understand, there are few things more exasperating than endless work meetings. They will be significantly reduced when they are not an option. When meetings become dreary, people can attend them from a distance by Skype, which will offer ample opportunities to play with one’s mobile or look for appointments on Tinder without anyone finding out.

Well, no. The Corona virus will be the end of Tinder. I share with the Spectator columnist the notion that what she calls “barnyard sex” undermines the dignity of the species. The successful application will have its days numbered once the idea spreads that if shaking hands with strangers has its risks, exchanging body fluids with strangers can be a death sentence.

There are many who say that the Corona virus panic has its origin in a great conspiracy. I do not see it. But what I do contemplate is the possibility that, without having planned anything, we find ourselves taking an important step in the natural evolution of the species. The explanation would be Darwinian or divine, according to your point of view. But the Corona virus may have come as a redemptive phenomenon to save us from ourselves. It might prevent us from killing each other. It might save us from being burned alive by the planet. We might be able to breathe clean oxygen. We might live better, and less like pigs. And let’s hope the pangolins, an endangered species, survive. If, in the worst case, all of us adults die, the young will have the opportunity to start over again and try to do better.

No. I refuse to give up optimism, to fall into fear or despair. China got us into this mess. Maybe now China should advise us. I always liked what they say there: time of crisis, time of opportunity.

John Carlin is a journalist, author and columnist for both English and Spanish language newspapers. His main areas of interest are international and national affairs, food and football. He is the author of a number of books about Nelson Mandela, and writes regular columns for La Vanguardia and Clarín, (Argentina). This column appeared in Clarín, Argentina, on 7 March 2020, and is translated by Kieran Tapsell,

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