Dearths And Deaths

“When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be.”

Let it be. Words of wisdom by Paul McCartney. He was not thinking of the Virgin Mary when he wrote these beautiful words in 1969. She was Mary, not Jesus’s mother, but his. Troubled times. All day news about the COVID-19 virus. It is still on a rampage, killing thousands overnight. All of India are now on total lockdown, i.e. 1.3 billion people sardined in small spaces. My generation has been the lucky one, until now. We had not seen anything like the fear and deaths that we are seeing now. Fear of being infected. Fear of suffering the debilitating effects of the disease. Fear of being stranded without an ICU bed with a ventilator to help us breathe. Fear of losing our loved ones. Fear of losing our jobs, our savings, our house. Fear of death. We read about home invasions but will we also be targeted because of our race? We have experienced recessions but never one like the Great Depression. Will we suffer one soon? Some of us may have seen street riots in our lifetime but will we feel the wrath of the fearless and starving mob desperate for food and water? We read about wars and the millions of casualties. We read about those lucky ones who survive but they are mostly desolate, desperate, displaced or destroyed after the horrors of wars. We read about the cowry shell money, the Gulden, Reichsbanknote and the Japanese banana money becoming worthless when empires collapse. Apart from Cowry shells, these are worth less than toilet rolls especially now. Will the USD follow suit in our lifetime? Will we see runs on the banks? Troubled times but time and time again, we read about the dearth of strong leadership, proper timely decisions and honesty from our political leaders.

Ma’s neat bundles of banana notes.

There is a serious lack of masks, PPE and hospital beds everywhere. The scarcity of ICU’s has reached a critical point even before the number of infected cases has reached anywhere near crisis level. Elective surgeries and non-life threatening surgical operations have been banned in Australia until further notice. The dearth of basic PPE even in Australia, supposedly a first world country, is disturbing. Personal Protective Equipment for frontline medical workers is scarce, I hear from a doctor friend. All over the world, medical workers are performing heroic tasks saving lives or soothing patients suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Both AMA’s of the US and Australia have called on their governments to address the critical shortage of PPE needed by frontline doctors, respiratory experts and nurses. The idea of being sent to the frontline without protective wear is unthinkable. It’s akin to sending your nation’s best soldiers to fight a war without backing them up with some basic protection. The dearth of coronavirus testing kits even in the richest country in the world spells trouble as the number of infected cases there double every three days. On Feb 26, Trump said the 15 cases would soon dwindle “down to zero within a couple of days.” That was just four weeks ago. Today, there are 53,778 active cases there with 784 deaths. The dearth of brain cells in his cranium is evident for all to see. There is a dearth of anything that may resemble an intelligent, honest and effective strategy from the leader of the most powerful superpower to overcome this pandemic. The WHO declared that the US could become the next epicentre of the pandemic. Nevertheless, the Dow surged 11% overnight – those in pinstriped suits want to desperately believe Trump can tell the virus to take a hike. Americans want to work; they need to bring food to the table. They worry about how to pay their rents or mortgages. Unfortunately, there is no good news on the horizon, even when Trump tells more falsehoods to calm the markets. Mr. Tritch foretold the current sharemarket crash in 1872. For those in my generation, many will not live long enough to see the peak of the next bull phase. That will be in 2035. Trump announces he loves Easter and wants the churches to be packed with believers, despite the Pope cancelling Easter mass over two weeks ago. He wants the factories and shops to crank up again. He is thinking in weeks ahead, not months, to reopen America for business. He reckons a prolonged lockdown will cause an economic hardship so severe it will kill more Americans than the virus will. There is a dearth of common sense in America. Even if the people want to work but will they dare when sick people start falling down in the streets and in the factories? Will they even have the strength to stand? Fortunately for the Americans, it is their governors who decide to open or shut their cities for the greater good. Trump has not locked down a single town and he cannot open up any of them. Trump reckons many thousands may commit suicide if they do not return to work. He is somehow oblivious to the mortality rate, especially of someone in his age group. See Cases 333,235, Deaths 21,191, Recovered 114,218. Mortality rate of closed cases: 15.6%. A more accurate measure for those in the vulnerable age group, to which I belong, may be the deaths over total closed cases. Mortality rate of active cases are yet to be determined, this being dependent on whether the hospitals can cope with the influx of cases. Will the authorities “flatten the curve” quickly enough? Will the dearth of medical supplies and ICU beds be fixed soon enough?

It is true America does not have the capacity to look after their own in times of trouble. They are armed to their teeth with nuclear weapons but basic health care? Why bother? Obamacare was signed into law ten years ago, yet there is still no universal healthcare for all in the richest and most powerful country in the world today. Those Trump supporters who rely on Obamacare voted for him, knowing he would repeal it. They are the ones who are worse off – those who cannot afford private health insurance. There are over 26 million Americans who do not have health insurance today. The dearth of common sense and general knowledge is palpable in the red states of the USA. In twelve days, China built two hospitals with the capacity to house 2,600 coronavirus patients in Wuhan. Meanwhile, the two naval hospitals announced by Trump to house COVID-19 patients will take many more weeks to reach New York City and Washington D.C. The dearth of preparedness and ability to respond to this global emergency is unexpected. In Australia last weekend, NSW authorities allowed 2,700 passengers to leave the cruise ship, Ruby Princess, before test results were available to determine if any of the 13 people tested were infected with SARS-CoV-2. Sadly, it is now confirmed over 130 cases of COVID-19 can be traced back to the Ruby Princess and one woman has since died. The dearth of good governance is regrettable and unfortunate. Dr Kerry Chant, NSW’s Chief Health Officer was still trying to justify their stupidity in front of cameras this afternoon. Her “monumental stuff up” will be responsible for the fast uptick in infections in Australia.

Tritch’s Chart of 1872

China, despite her initial hiccup in attempting to block the public dissemination of a virus outbreak, has demonstrated to the world her enormous capacity to organise their manpower and stop the spread of the virus in Hubei in just over two months. It wasn’t until January 8, some four weeks after the initial outbreak in Wuhan, that China realised this was a new virus. They moved with remarkable speed to determine the genome sequence of the virus and locked down the city of 11 million people just 15 days later when the confirmed cases were relatively low at 495. This has bought precious time for the rest of the world. Yet, in many parts of the world, the virus has put the limelight on their Sinophobic underbelly. There is a dearth of trust and goodwill shown to the “yellow peril”. Some of Chinese appearance were vilified, mocked and even bashed up in Western societies. Even when China demonstrated their eagerness to share scientific knowledge about the virus, publishing the world’s first genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19. This has helped laboratories develop new test kits and improved their treatment plans from a better understanding of how the virus attaches itself to a human cell. Even when experts say the global rush to find a vaccine has been facilitated by China’s preparedness to share vital information about the virus to the public. Sharing the virus’ genetic sequence online publicly has enabled virologists and immunologists to quickly work on finding a vaccine. Algorithms are being churned out by today’s powerful computers to find motifs of the virus that a vaccine can be designed to combat. It is hoped AI will speed up the discovery by many months, perhaps by altering current vaccines rather than inventing a new one. Even when China voluntarily dispatched a team of medical staff and 30 tonnes of equipment to Italy and Spain. Even when China sent a lorry-load of medical supplies to Sungei Buloh Hospital in Malaysia. Even when China donated hundreds of thousands of surgical masks and test kits to the Philippines and Pakistan. Even when China sent teams of medical officers to Iran and Iraq. Some in the US question China’s motives even as China sent 117 tonnes of medical supplies to the Czech Republic. Some are pointing to the authoritarian power’s ability to shut China’s supply chain to the US, curtailing the flow of most medical supplies that America needs – from simple syringes, masks and gloves, to antibiotics, antidepressants and chemotherapy drugs. As former White House adviser Gary Cohn once observed, “If you’re the Chinese and you want to really just destroy us, just stop sending us antibiotics.” Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, still accuses the Chinese Communist Party of a major cover-up and withholding vital information about the virus that would help the world vanquish it. They may continue to accuse China of initially dithering for two weeks but history will show that many countries in the West lost precious months to mobilise their health emergency protocols before the virus reached their shores. Even today, Trump is still in denial. The sheer incompetence and inferiority of Western governance is displayed in stark contrast to the Chinese who were able to quickly bring together their citizenry as a unified and organised response to the calamity the virus unleashed on them.

When there are dearths of trust, goodwill, common sense, good governance and compassion, I fear there will be many more deaths with the virus still out of control. Let it be. Nothing I can do. A reminder to appreciate life and the small things in life. Grow some veggies, go smell the roses. Enjoy the incredible special time during the lockdown; catch up on things and people we would not have time for. This is a unique moment in our lives to reset our priorities. Let me support Ma as she mourns the death of Ahyi, her youngest sister who passed away this morning. RIP, Balapai Ahyi.

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