Prime Minister Scott Morrison might think he can revive his political fortunes by pressing the panic button over the new coronavirus COVID-19 — further whipping up the racism and xenophobia cultivated through his government’s cruel refugee policy — but this does not help society deal with the real medical challenges.
The facts on COVID-19 are still being assembled. While the World Health Organization (WHO) has still not declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Morrison has said there is “every indication” that it will be.
As of March 2, about 89,000 people globally have tested positive for the virus and 3039 have died. This is a fatality rate of 3.4%, although the rate outside of China is only 0.6%.
By comparison, the Ebola virus had a mortality rate of 70%, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) 34% and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) 10%. MERS, SARS and COVID-19 are coronaviruses which are thought to have originated in bats and jumped to humans from pigs or animals that fed on bat excreta.
Coronaviruses are the source of the common cold, from which people recover every day.
No one has immunity to the COVID-19 until they are exposed to it. It is highly infectious, but not virulent. Older people, with other illnesses and lowered immunity in general, are most at risk. Face masks do nothing but heighten the panic, as the virus is spread by droplets from an infected person sneezing and coughing — the droplets can pass through the fabric of most masks.
The panic buying of face masks, fuelled by the corporate media, has led to price-gouging by pharmaceutical companies. Worse, there are shortages for health professionals who have to treat patients with respiratory illnesses. The price for a mask has gone from $1.45 to $5.40, an increase of 270%.
At the time of writing, 52 people have been identified as having the infection in Australia. Two people have died. James Kwan was 78 years old and had been on the Diamond Princess cruise ship with infected passengers quarantined in Japan. The second was a 95-year-old woman who died in a Sydney nursing home who came into contact with an infected worker.
Japanese health authorities have been told to delay testing suspected patients in a bid to artificially lower the number of infections so that the Olympic Games scheduled for Toyko in July will not be cancelled.
Iran, South Korea and northern Italy have become new centres of infection.
The United States’ trade embargo on Iran has hampered its progress in dealing with the virus.
The Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea is being blamed for the epidemic there, as 9000 of its 220,000 members have symptoms.
About 10 towns in northern Italy have been put under strict isolation.
Isolating countries with higher numbers of identified COVID-19 cases will have declining value and there are more practical measures that can be taken.
The virus is viable for 48 hours, which means that avoiding hand rails is good advice. It is also important not to touch your face, nose, eyes and mouth before washing your hands with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based sanitiser — good advice for all cold and flu viruses.
Australia has extended travel bans from Iran, China and South Korea and is considering putting Italy on the list. It is also officially recommending that those flying in with symptoms self-isolate for 14 days.
Universities in Australia are expected to lose $1.2 billion in revenue from foreign students. Of the 100,000 Chinese who study here, almost 20,000 are considering applying to Britain or Canada to continue their studies. It has been claimed that about $3 trillion will be wiped off the global stock market as people stay home and stop purchasing, but at best COVID-19 is just one factor in collapsing share prices.
While it is too early to predict the likely end result of the spread of this disease, we should ask why the government did not energetically address the 3500 deaths from influenza, 3000 deaths from suicide and 1146 deaths from road accidents in 2018. We should ask why our governments have instead cut public spending, thereby adding to much greater threats to our lives.