We are in the throes of a great catastrophe. Pat Bishop whispered that none of us have crossed, until the very last one is on the other side- and many we must carry. The impossible has happened. What this means is that our reaction should be to do the impossible. What just a few moments ago seemed impossible, within the limits of the existing world order, is no longer so. Jeff Bezos has cancelled the need for subscriptions to Amazon’s entire collection of books and audio stories, for children of all ages, allowing them to stream and learn at home during the pandemic. Egypt’s Al-Azhar has shut its doors. Both undergraduate and postgraduate students at Cambridge have been asked to return home, if possible, as all library collections are now closed.
The decisions that we make will shape our economy, social ethics, politics and culture and will carry forward long term consequences. Every choice we make, from among the available alternatives to deal with the immediate, takes us to a fresh habitation. Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. During the 1948 War of Independence, Israel declared a state of emergency that justified a range of temporary measures. The war was won, but Israel has never declared the emergency over. Many of the “temporary” measures have never been revoked. The impossible has happened and today the impossible is possible.
The rivers waited for twenty years for a beverage container bill to reach the parliament but witnessed that overnight regulations can be drafted and approved if the issue is perilous enough. So the earth ran out of patience having waited for so long and refreshed its homepage. Fishes are swimming in the canals of Venice. In the port of Cagliari dolphins are splashing. Ducks are in the fountains in Rome. A flock of white birds perform tawaf around the Kaaba draped in a black pall while in Teheran fifty people are infected every sixty minutes and a person dies every ten minutes from COVID-19.
There will be no return to innocence. Most of us will survive. But we may not have prepared for what awaits us. This epidemic will be long because we need time to curtail the basic propositions of our social ethics. Legitimized expert opinions enforced with sympathy and adoring regret now underpin survivalists’ measures for bare life. In Italy, doctors had to decide who to save and who to let die.
In London a mathematical model guided the decision not to interrupt transmission completely, but to reduce impact. The projection was that 80% of the UK would contract the virus, with a 1% mortality rate. This equates to more than 500,000 deaths. In compunction the Prime Minister of England reasoned with the populace and said that, “It is going to spread further and…many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” In France, the courts are closed for all but “essential litigation.” The European Court of Human Rights has cancelled all hearings apart from those where a suspension would cause “irreparable damage.” The Italian and Irish courts are closed under government decrees.
The contradiction of government advice warning against gatherings, but expecting jurors, judges, clerks and counsel to turn up in confined court rooms, became obvious quite quickly. Judges must self-isolate and keep social-distancing. Criminal courts everywhere are creaking. Yet, the effect of the anticipated contagion in prisons everywhere may mean, a suspension of criminal trials, is urgently needed. The interrelation with probation services, individuals on bail or in remand, and the timescales to bring a prosecution, demands emergency legislation.
After 9/11 humanity was stripped of innumerable human rights. The majority eagerly surrendered their civil liberties praying for protection from the viral ideologies of a radicalized minority and yielded to iris recognition immigration scans. Some even experienced detention without charge. In the wake of 9/11 the amount of surveillance that’s been unleashed with less and less judicial review is disheartening. Governments invoke the state secrets privilege to shut down civil litigation challenging rendition and surveillance. Benjamin Netanyahu authorised the Israeli Security Agency to deploy surveillance technology, ordinarily reserved for combatting terrorists, to track COVID-19 patients. The biometric monitoring of heart rates and temperatures stored in the cloud would soon make Cambridge Analytica’s data hacking tactics juvenile.
Curtailment in Wuhan was no medical marvel. It was a political pill. One party decree. Quarantine had never been tried on such a sprawling scale in the modern world. Wuhan has eleven million residents and tens of millions more in proximate cities. They were all brought under collective lockdown. Some zones permitted limited outings to one family member every two days. No exceptions. Not even for medical emergencies.
Dr. Li Wenliang recognized a commonality among seven patients from a local seafood market. His warning did not depend on sophisticated laboratory testing but on his own understanding of biological plausibility. He was reprimanded and detained for “spreading rumours”. The clinical entity he exposed took his life in February. The bare truth is; China’s Coronavirus Crisis has only just started. The management of the epidemic has invigorated political dissent.