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THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSL­Y

The coronaviru­s outbreak could be the start of a health crisis that wreaks social and economic havoc.

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We knew it would happen. We were warned. Building on flood plains and promoting industrial farming, combined with rising oceans and increased rainfall, would cause widespread flooding. It was a matter of when, not whether. And so it has come to pass. It’s even worse in the UK. The same goes for the looming pandemic. Since the turn of the century, epidemiolo­gists and virologist­s have warned that something big was on the way, most likely a new strain of our old nemesis influenza. But it could be from any of many families of virus. There was Ebola, SARS and MERS. In the end it’s a coronaviru­s and it’s causing chaos.

Covid-19 is very 21st century. It has all the characteri­stics of an internet meme or a social media storm except that it’s a bit slower. It’s very infectious, has grown exponentia­lly, has loads of followers, lots of down-thumbs, crosses political and cultural borders and is harder on the old than the young.

Every country will be hit, the only question is how hard. Stupidity will play a part. For example, members of a Christian sect in Korea are refusing to cooperate with the authoritie­s.

It’s the will of God, they seem to believe, and they may not be alone. Fundamenta­lists of other stripes are likely to do the same. Beware.

SECTARIAN VIOLENCE

Those who cling to such belief systems accept their fundamenta­l texts literally, so they see themselves as merely passing through this life en route to Paradise, a place of milk and honey where they’ll hang out forever with people like them. And where there won’t be war, hunger, floods, swarms of locusts, pre-marital sex, heavy metal, rap or, of course, disease.

But pessimists knew things would only get worse when Brexit was followed by Trump, he having a very strong base of support among evangelic Christians and US hawks, who have all read the good book and can quote by heart from the Book of Revelation – the New American Standard Bible version, that is. Johnny Cash recites it as a coda to ‘When The Man Comes Around’.

For these people the appearance of the Four Horsemen is a prelude to the Apocalypse, and they’ve done their best to help these marauders into the saddle. The world has grown immeasurab­ly darker and more dangerous and yes, myriad plagues and disasters have been loosed.

For example, what with Covid-19 and the floods, we’ve not heard much about plagues of locusts. But they’re out there, devastatin­g crops in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia and, across the Indian Ocean, Pakistan. Very heavy rains in the Arabian peninsula during the 2018-9 cyclone season allowed at least three generation­s of “unpreceden­ted breeding” that went undetected. The resultant swarms have gone east and west…

Mind you, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good. China has an army of locust-eating ducks, apparently. The Pakistani authoritie­s asked

China for help deal with swarms in the Sindh, Balochista­n and Punjab provinces, and a trial run is to take place in Xinjiang. You couldn’t make it up, but it’s true.

Well, that’s one large group of Chinese who are welcome to travel to afflicted areas, fears of Covid-19, or indeed bird flu, notwithsta­nding!

We’ve also largely missed the upsurge in sectarian violence in India, with Hindu mobs attacking mosques and Muslims in the street. With its poverty and massively crowded cities and many of its best medical practition­ers lured overseas, India is likely to be hard hit by Covid-19 when it breaks out. But on the other hand, if they’re hacking each other to death in the streets why worry about disease?

Other places where the old and the vulnerable are likely to be very badly affected are Brazil and the Philippine­s, countries ruled by Trump allies and with chaotic medical services – very good if you’re rich and under-resourced and haphazard if you’re not. Does that ring a bell? Critics decry our own health service in those terms, more or less. It has long proven almost ungovernab­le, a bottomless pit into which the taxpayers could pour endless amounts and see no change. Brian

Cowen called it Angola when he was Minister for Health.

BATTLES ON THE WAY

The problems are more than merely political as the next Minister will soon find out, and Covid-19 will be the first test. Already we can see the decisivene­ss and resolve for which our medical authoritie­s are celebrated with sports events being cancelled and, er, a few other things as well. The lines of treatment are being marked out. They’ll involve isolation at home and hope.

Well, prevention is better than cure, right?

Um, yes, but in our case it’s also imperative. Every medical facility we have is entirely overstretc­hed as it is. Throw in a pandemic and it’s likely to crumble.

One senses that Simon Harris would very much prefer a new Government to be formed, so that this would become someone else’s problem. No matter how the game plays out he’ll get no kudos. Better that the new minister was presented with a major public health crisis on the first day in office, eh? And you know, bearing in mind the vitriol of recent years, you’d sympathise.

Same goes for whoever takes over at Environmen­t. Apart altogether from addressing the climate crisis, the new Minister will have to tackle all the building and practices that have led to the flooding in the first place. There will be battles with farmers and builders and, of course, angry would-be house-buyers. Welcome aboard!

Then there’s the downstream economic effects of the global health crisis. It may well have as severe an impact as the 2008 crash. It’ll hit manufactur­ing, food production, distributi­on and tourism hardest. But it will ramify in all directions.

And that’s very bad news for the incoming Government. They should have been able to capitalise on the foundation­s laid by the last one, for example in housing completion­s, and the booming economy. But instead there will be retrenchme­nt, and quite possibly a recession. Promises will have to be scaled back. Oh dear.

One can see why Opposition looks attractive. Better to be hunters, not hunted!

“EVERY COUNTRY WILL BE HIT,THE ONLY QUESTION IS HOW HARD.”

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