1.0 A Critical Point in Human History
I fear that historians will look back on 2020 and mark the time before the Wuhan pandemic and the time afterwards as a watershed in global human affairs. This a humanitarian, national, economic and financial crisis all in one.
2.0 Reality is a Brutal Overlord
In the next series of Murrinations, I will be looking at the new reality that the world faces and the key components of future challenges governments and their populations will have to overcome.
In this specific Murrination, I will be looking at the stark choices governments have to counter with this new Wuhan Virus threat. I have to confess, that this is the most challenging Murrination I have written and I am hugely aware of the enormous implications discussed below. I offer them with a keen sense of compassion, combined with reality for our collective human predicament.
3.0 Cold War Lessons
Back at the height of the Cold War, governments faced a full-on nuclear exchange that would have decimated its population. Civil defence programs were instigated to safe guard some kind of residual infrastructure, so that from the ashes the nation might rise. In truth, they were very limited plans that included the safe guarding of local and military government and to some degree, the critical infrastructure. But unlike Switzerland, that wisely instigated a full long term protective program for its population with each family building its own high spec bunker. All other western governments decided that the scale of such measures made this civil defence strategy unfeasible. Instead, they came up with the advice called 'protect and survive'. Advising families to unscrew doors and lay them on their side and cover the door with sand bags to outlast a long nuclear winter. The advice was of course, useless, but its real purpose was to lower the levels of panic by giving the population a focus to keep them engaged, up until the moment of an attack. Although this sounds heartless and brutal, practically there was no other solution to such a massive level of destruction. Similarly, it was a given that the medical stations would be overwhelmed, such that a brutal triage system would be operated where only those who stood a chance of survival with intervention would be treated and all others would be left to die. Thankfully we avoided that nightmare, however today, we face something that is similar in that it threatens every nations integrity, if not in the same order of magnitude with respect to casualties.
4.0 The Essential Nature of Government
There are two kinds of government, peacetime and wartime. The key is the speed of transition from one to another in a crisis before it is too late. The only nation in the western world that might remotely make that switch in time is Britain, having just been though a political civil war called Brexit. The Boris government is essentially right brained and combat hardened to a degree. But that degree will have to accelerate if it is to match the challenge ahead. For America and the EU, in a declining phase of their empire cycle, their governments will be found sadly lacking and in all probability, will not make the bold decisions needed in this time of crisis. Britain however is showing signs of boldness that could serve the nation well in the coming months.
5.0 What do we know, and what do we not know about this Wuhan virus?
I am convinced that information in the public domain has all been massaged in various ways by all governments to reduce the severity of the panic and perceptions of national weakness. However, there are patterns in the information that suggest the following assumptions are relatively well founded:
5.1 What we know
1. We know that the Wuhan Virus transmission characteristics are like nothing we have encountered before. As I have previously mentioned, they are the characteristics of a biogenetic weapon designed to disable a nation. They are so powerful, that without a vaccine it is almost inevitable that this virus will spread across the human gene pool to the point of herd saturation. As such, the old protocols of containment of Sars and Mers are just not going to be effective, now it has escaped the Wuhan epicentre into the wider world.
2. We know that as an RNA virus, it can mutate and the Chinese claim that there are two strains, one more lethal than the other. As the disease reservoir grows, the risk of mutations increases. Like all Darwinistic processes, some will be less lethal but some could be more so.
3. We know that its lethality increases as it saturates our health systems and as we lose ICU and oxygenation capacity, the mortality rate increases dramatically.
4. We know that the old and already vulnerable are more susceptible to death with this virus. But that the young are immune.
5. That the poor with weaker immune systems are more likely to be impacted than the wealthy with stronger immune systems.
5.2 What we do not know
1. Will it mutate further into more lethal strains as its human reservoir increases?
2. Does it have susceptibility to UV light, temperature and humidity?
3. Does it have any male/female or racial bias?
4. Are there any long term after effects associated with the virus once in the system?
5. We know the numbers who test positive and who then die, but not how many have the virus and develop an immunity and do not notice. This is the key unknown, because in the end, it effects the mortality rate associated with exposure of 60 to 70% of a population, before herd immunity is attained. It is this that is the big unknown in designing a response on a national level.
6.0 Accelerated Vaccine Development, Production and Delivery.
This is a critical aspect to a nations response, that the earlier a full inoculation program can be deployed and the populations made aware of a date, the greater the chance of holding to the fabric of a society. There are numerous groups working on a vaccine but the next key stage, is that each country industrialise vaccine production facilities, that are ready to put the cure into production and at the same time make plans for a swift role out of the vaccine to the public. Each country needs to commit the resources applied by America to the WW2 Manhattan project in this endeavour, as time is critical in terms of lives and economic damage. The nation that effectively does this first will have a huge advantage in the speed of its recovery, compared to its neighbours and other nations. Thus, this has enormous geostrategic implications. The only mitigator could be the rapid introduction of an effective antiviral, that could lower mortality rates. This again needs to have a major national priority.
7.0 The Threat to National Integrity
We are looking at a threat to nations integrity that is of a similar magnitude to an industrialised total war. There are two threats that all governments need to counter balance in their chosen response strategies.
7.1 The impact of large scale illness and death. The mass deaths within society, that could break down a nations social fabric and order. Different nations will be at different stages of the five phase cycle and thus have different national characteristics and levels of national energy with which to face this onslaught. In short, rising nations with younger populations, will be less affected and recover faster in the long term. Older nations, with an older population, will both be hit harder and recover slower. Additionally, the older leadership structures who are left brained dominated will respond poorly and exacerbate the problem. Naturally, developed nations will have better technology and resources, while emerging nations will be bereft of such advantages.
7.2 Economic contraction and, in the worst case, collapse. The world is not facing a recession but rather a global depression of unprecedented depth and duration. However bad the threat of illness and death is, equally if not more so, in a world of swift supply and low inventories, is the break down of the global supply chains and the collapse of economies. This is an even greater threat to a nation than the illness. If the shock is short and sharp, it will do less damage than an extended shutdown of the global and national economies of 12-18 months, before vaccines arrive and are implemented. The collapse of modern societies as we know them, would cause a far greater death toll that any the virus could inflict. Thus the phrase, 'the only thing to fear is fear itself', is true in this binary challenge. That being said, the management of the economy is essentially that of a wartime economy and all measures to that effect need to be implemented effectively and rapidly.
8.0 Government Options
With an effective vaccine implementation program 12-18 months away, there are only three options available.
8.1 Containment. Up until now this has been the standard response to the relatively limited Ebola, Sars and Mers outbreaks, all of which could be contained because the transmission characteristics meant the infectiousness was signalled by temperature. The Chinese executed this strategy in Wuhan, in a way that no other nation on earth could. However, they have a massive problem. Even if the official numbers they quote are 100 times underestimated and 8 million Chinese have been infected, that leaves some 1.2 billion Chinese unaffected. Thus, every time they try to move out of containment to return to work, the disease will spread and repeat Wuhan all over again. So, whilst the population is locked up, so is economic productivity. This will inevitably lead to a slow economic break down in both China and in all other nations that follow this option. The inevitable conclusion is the we are not facing a recession but a global depression. The duration of the global lock down could be at least 12 months, whilst the recovery to pre 2020 levels much longer than we expect.
8.2 Phased exposure. This would be the ideal route. First, lock down the affected areas and all other parts of a country. Then, when the outbreak subsides, expose the critical members of the workforce to the virus intentionally, in waves that do not saturate the the ICU system, to maximise survivability. The limitation on this strategy, is the number of ICU beds and oxygen enrichment facilities per 100,000 of population. Britain has 6.6 per 100,000 and is poorly equipped compared to Italy, that has been swamped with double that number. Germany and America have the highest number, but is that enough? Assuming that 10% of all infected need critical care, that means that even America with 35 beds per 100,000 could only infect and protect 0.35% of their population every two weeks. That would mean that in 52 weeks only 9.10 % of the US population could have been put through such a program, which would not be sufficient to keep the economy alive. Thus, it is clear that although desirable, phased exposure would not save the nations integrity. That leaves only one viable and very bold option.
8.3 Mass accelerated exposure. Is the only logical option left. Where by the whole population is exposed to the virus rapidly. Whilst the death rate generated will be the worst scenario possible in terms of loss, it may will be much lower for the reason given 5.2.5 above. Most of all, this would give the highest chance of economic survivability, compared to the almost guaranteed failure of a containment strategy. There are key areas that should be observed to maintain social integrity. These include the isolation of the most vulnerable, such as the old and the sick with low immune systems. This would reduce the death toll and leave more critical care for the young and healthy, to more swiftly return to the work force. However, this strategy is what amounts to a war time decision of what is in the greater good and the knowing infliction of casualties. The challenge is that a peacetime public would never agree to this course action during the key early stages, even if they were fully informed. Hence the need for a balanced national information management scheme, such as the ones used in Britain in WW2 to keep the public both informed and onside with the national course of action. This needs to be combined with truly great leadership from the national leader.Boris. I have always said that he would go down as one of Britain great leaders on a par with Thatcher and even Churchill to a slightly lesser degree. This is now his moment I believe that he will serve his nation brilliantly.
9.0 Which Nations Are Following Which Strategies.
9.1 Containment has been practiced by China, the Asian nations (very effectively I might say, in Taiwan especially), Italy and the EU nations.
9.2 Containment and Chaos = Mass exposure This has been the completely ineffective Whitehouse response. At the back of the planners heads will be Americas highest per capital number of ICU beds and powerful military complex which they hope will minimise casualties.
9.3 Planned Mass Exposure. There is only one nation that seems to be following this path, and that is the UK. When the governments decisions seem strange compared to other nations and indeed almost insouciant, suddenly, when the strategy of mass exposure is understood, it all makes sense. Indeed it puts a new light on the mantra: following the Science!
1. The continuance of schools being open under the excuse that NHS workers would have to stay at home, when in reality the schools are the best disease spreading centres of all. Especially as children have very little risk of contracting the Wuhan virus in any critical form.
2. The refusal to give government enforced shut downs of large gathering until forced to do so by public pressure
3. The statement of the chief scientific officer, that we needed to infect 60% of the population to gain herd immunity
4. The refusal to give out test kits to keep the official numbers low and thus delay any containment measures
5. Boris’s extraordinary statement that we could all expect to lose loved ones in the weeks ahead
6. The government planning for hundred of medical centres and large scale funeral mechanisms, to cope with the sick and hundreds of thousands of dead
10.0 Mass deaths versus maintenance of moral
1. In WW1 the population of Britain was approximately 41 million and by the end of the war 744,000 had died and 1,675,000 were injured, which was 5.9% national casualty rate.
2. In WW2 the population was 47.7 million and by the end of the war 450,000 had died and 376, 000 were wounded equating to a 1.7% national casualty rate.
3. In this epidemic, if 60% of the population become infected that is 36 million Britons, then in the worst case a 10% wuhan type mortality rate would kill 3.6 million or 6% of the total population. But if the dynamics described in 5.2.5 come into effect then the actual mortality rate would be lower at 2% of those infected, and we would then we are looking at 720,000 deaths which is 1.2% of our total population.Which is our best hope. Either way, we are facing a potential national trauma on the scale of between WW1 and WW2
4. With such a huge shock to the national psychology, creating a sense of national emergency and collective purpose and values is critical. As is a sense of local community and cohesion. But most of all, great leadership of the quality of Churchill is an absolute necessity. A contemporary war time spirit should be considered a must for Britain’s chosen strategy. Especially as Britain with its full exposure policy will look worse hit initially than all other nations. Only in the further months will the benefit of the huge initial hit come through, compared to the other nations still in lock down. I would anticipate that the Government will come under enormous pressure for their course of action unless they are very honest with the population, that there was no other choice and that they had done all they could to safeguard the vulnerable sections of society with isolation programs. However having transcended the Brexit civil war Britain’s social structure is far better placed to weather this storm than any other western nation. Together with a unbridled sense of national pride in adversity that is accessible to every Briton if they so choose.
11.0 Economic durability.
Although the situation is bleak, humanity is extremely robust and we will prevail. However, the first step in successfully negotiating a crisis of this nature, is to recognise it and then confront it, armed with the most effective, informed strategy, guided by those with the courage, vision and skill to enable the best possible outcome.
Global Forecaster was created to achieve this outcome.
In my next "The New Wuhan Reality-2" I will be looking at the financial and economic impact of the global event.
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