Everything is going very fast. No pandemic has ever been so withering and of such magnitude. Emerged just a hundred days ago in a distant unknown city, a virus has already traveled the entire planet and forced billions of people to shut themselves up in their homes. Something only imaginable in post-apocalyptic fictions ...
At this point, no one is unaware that the pandemic is not just a health crisis. It is what the social sciences describe as « total social fact », In the sense that it convulses the set of social relations, and it shocks all the actors, institutions and values.
Humanity is living - in fear, suffering and perplexity - an inaugural experience. Verifying concretely that the theory of the "end of history" is a fallacy ... Discovering that history is, in reality, unpredictable. We are faced with an enigmatic situation. Without precedents. Nobody knows how to interpret and clarify this strange moment of such opacity, when our societies continue to tremble on their bases as if in the face of a cosmic cataclysm. And there are no signs to help us orient ourselves ... A world is collapsing. When everything ends, life will no longer be the same.
Just a few weeks ago, dozens of popular protests were widespread on a planetary scale, from Hong Kong to Santiago de Chile, passing through Tehran, Baghdad, Beirut, Algiers, Paris, Barcelona and Bogotá. The new coronavirus has been extinguishing them one by one as it spread throughout the world ... To the scenes of festive masses occupying streets and squares, there are the unusual images of empty, silent, spectral avenues. Silent emblems that will forever mark the memory of this strange moment.
We are suffering in our own existence the famous 'butterfly effect': someone, on the other side of the world, eats a strange animal and three months later, half of humanity is in quarantine ... Proof that the world is a system in which everything element that composes it, however insignificant it may seem, interacts with others and can influence the whole.
Distraught, citizens turn their eyes to science and scientists - as in the past to religion - imploring the discovery of a life-saving vaccine whose process will take long months. Because it takes time for the human immune system to produce antibodies, and some dangerous side effects can take time to manifest ...
People also seek refuge and protection in the State that, after the pandemic, could return with force to the detriment of the Market. In general, the collective fear the more traumatic the more it fuels the desire for State, for Authority, for Guidance. On the other hand, international and multilateral organizations of all kinds (UN, International Red Cross, G7, G20, IMF, NATO, World Bank, WTO, etc.) have not lived up to the tragedy, due to their silence or their incongruity. The planet discovers, astonished, that there is no commander on board ... Discredited for its structural complicity with pharmaceutical multinationals, the World Health Organization (WHO) itself has lacked sufficient authority to assume, as it should, the leadership of the fight global against the new plague.
Meanwhile, governments helplessly help the irrepressible spread across all continents3 of this new plague. Against which there is no vaccine, no medicine, no cure, no treatment that eliminates the virus from the body ... And that will last ... As long as the germ is still present in some country, re-infections will be inevitable and cyclical. This epidemic will most likely not stop before the microbe has spread to around 60% of humanity.
What seemed dystopian and typical of science fiction dictatorships has become 'normal'. People are fined for leaving their house to stretch their legs, or for walking their dog. We accept that our mobile watches us and denounces us to the authorities. And it is being proposed that whoever goes out without their phone be punished and punished with prison.
The long-standing neoliberal autism is widely criticized, in particular because of its devastating policies of privatization at all costs of public health systems that have turned out to be criminal, and are revealed to be absurd. As Yuval Noah Harari has said: « Governments that saved expenses in recent years by cutting health services will now spend much more because of the epidemic6. »The cries of agony of the thousands of patients who died due to the lack of beds in the Intensive Care Units (ICU) condemn for a long time the fans of privatizations, cuts and austerity policies.
There is now open talk of nationalization, relocation, reindustrialization, pharmaceutical and health sovereignty. The world economy is paralyzed by the first global quarantine in history. Throughout the world there are crises of both demand and supply. Some one hundred and seventy countries (of the one hundred and ninety-five that exist) will have negative growth in 2020. In other words, a worse economic tragedy than the Great Recession of 1929. Millions of employers and workers are wondering if they will die from the virus or the bankruptcy and unemployment. No one knows who will take care of the field, if crops will be lost, if food will be lacking, if we will return to rationing ... The apocalypse is knocking on our door.
The only glimmer of hope is that, with the planet in pause mode, the environment has taken a breather. The air is more transparent, the vegetation more expansive, the animal life more free. The air pollution that kills millions of people every year has receded. Suddenly, nature has looked so beautiful again ... As if the ultimatum to Earth that the coronavirus throws at us was also a desperate final alert on our suicide route to climate change: « Eye ! Next stop: collapse. "
On the geopolitical scene, the spectacular irruption of an unknown actor - the new coronavirus - has completely disrupted the chessboard of the world-system. On all fronts of war - Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sahel, Gaza, etc. - the fighting has been suspended ... The plague has imposed de facto, with more authority than the Security Council itself, an effective Pax Coronaviral...
In international politics, the terrifying management of this crisis by President Donald Trump deals a very hard blow to the world leadership of the United States that they have not known how to help themselves or help anyone. China, on the other hand, after an erratic start in the fight against the new plague, has managed to recover, send aid to a hundred countries, and seems to overcome the greatest trauma suffered by humanity for centuries. The future of the new world order could be at stake right now ...
In any case, the shocking reality is that the most powerful powers and the most sophisticated technologies have been unable to stop the worldwide expansion of covid-19, a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the new great planetary killer.
The number of victims continues to grow ... At the time of writing these lines, the number of deceased exceeds one hundred and fifty thousand ... The number of the contaminated exceeds two and a half million ... And those confined to their homes are more than four thousand millions ... The latter had never happened either ... The words 'confinement' and 'quarantine' that seemed to belong to forgotten times and to the medieval lexicon have become common terms. Those that best illustrate our current abnormal normality.
There is controversy, at the highest level, about the origin of this virus that appeared in Wuhan (Hubei, China). As patient zero has not yet been identified, that is, the first contagion from animal to human, various speculations circulate. On the one hand, authorities in Beijing accused the US army of having manufactured the germ in a military laboratory in Fort Detrick (Frederick, Maryland) as a bacteriological weapon to stop the Chinese rise in the world, and of having dispersed it in China on the occasion of the World Military Games, a competition held in October 2019 precisely ... in Wuhan. On the other hand, in the United States, President Trump himself repeatedly incriminated Beijing, after influential Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton, sometimes featured as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), blamed scientists Chinese military having produced the new germ in a laboratory «virology and biosecurity»Located also ... in Wuhan.
Widely disseminated by the conspiracy followers of the 'theories of the plot' on both sides, these contradictory versions (there are others) have been widely circulated on social networks. They have little foundation. Sound scientific studies rule out that the new coronavirus is a design biological weapon released intentionally or by accident: « Our analyzes clearly demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 is neither a laboratory construct nor a deliberately manipulated virus.. ", Stated emphatically the professor at the University of Sydney (Australia) Edward C. Holmes, the world's best expert on the new pathogen.
We still ignore many things about this infectious agent: we do not know, for example, if it has already mutated or if it is going to mutate ... Nor why it infects men more than women. Nor what are the determinants that make two people with similar characteristics - young, healthy, without associated pathologies - develop opposite forms of the disease, one mild, serious or fatal the other. Nor why children almost never have severe forms of the infection. Not if the cured patients continue to transmit the plague, nor if they are really immunized ...
But there is broad agreement among international researchers to recognize that this new germ has emerged in the same way as others before: jumping from an animal to humans ... Bats, birds, and various mammals (particularly pigs) naturally harbor multiple coronaviruses. In humans, there are seven known types of coronaviruses that can infect us. Four of them cause various varieties of the common cold. And three others, recently appearedThey produce much more lethal disorders such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which emerged in 2002; the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which emerged in 2012; and finally this new disease, covid-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2, whose first outbreak was detected, as we already said, in the Wuhan seafood market in December 2019. This new germ would have the bat as 'original host' and another yet unidentified animal - the pangolin? -, as an 'intermediate host' from which, after becoming particularly dangerous, it would have jumped off to the humans.
What is not fully understood is why, if we already live with six other coronaviruses and have them globally controlled, this new pathogen has caused such a colossal pandemic? What is particular about this germ? Why has its speed of infection exceeded the forecasts of the best health authorities in the world?
Without a doubt, as has been repeated a lot, non-virus conditions such as the current speed of communications, hypermobility and the intensity of exchanges in the era of globalization have favored its spread. Obvious. But then why did SARS in 2002 or MERS in 2012, also caused by new coronaviruses, not 'globalize' in the same way across the planet?
To answer these questions, the first thing to remember is that « Viruses are troubling because they are neither alive nor dead. They are not alive because they cannot reproduce by themselves. They are not dead because they can enter our cells, hijack their machinery and replicate. And in that they are effective and sophisticated because they have spent millions of years developing new ways to circumvent our immune system. »But what distinguishes specifically SARS-CoV-2 from other killer viruses is precisely its silent irradiation strategy. In other words, its ability to spread without raising suspicions, even in its own victim. At least during the first days of infection when the infected person does not present no symptoms of the illness.
We do not know with certainty why the virus travels so quickly, but what we know is that, from the moment it penetrates -through the eyes, nose or mouth- in the body of its victim it already begins to replicate exponentially ... According to the researcher Isabel Sola, from the National Center for Biotechnology of Spain: « Once inside the first human cell, each coronavirus generates up to 100.000 copies of itself in less than 24 hours... »But also, another unique and cunning feature of this pathogen is that it concentrates its first attack, when it's still undetectable, in the upper respiratory tract of the infected person, from the nose to the throat, where it replicates with frenzied intensity. From that moment, already that person -who doesn't feel anything- it becomes a powerful bacteriological bomb and begins to massively disseminate in its environment - simply by speaking or breathing - the lethal virus ...
This is the main characteristic, the fatal singularity of this new coronavirus. In China, up to 86% of the infections were due to asymptomatic people, no detectable signs of infection. At Oxford University, a group of researchers showed that up to half of SARS-CoV-2 infections is due to individuals undiagnosed y no apparent symptoms.
Only a minority of those infected suffer the second attack of the germ, this time concentrated in the lungs, in a similar way to SARS in 2002 (although the viral load of the new coronavirus is a thousand times higher than that of SARS), causing pneumonia that can reach be lethal, especially in people over 65 with chronic diseases.
As the number of infected is massive and simultaneous, this minority -which represents 15% of all infected -and who will go to hospitals-, can quickly reach very high figures according to the volume of population ... As we have seen in China, Iran, Italy, Spain, France, United Kingdom or United States, it is enough that several thousand people come at the same time to hospital emergencies to collapse the entire healthcare system of any country no matter how developed it is ...
In Wuhan, Tehran, Milan, Madrid, Paris, London or New York, doctors and nurses were soon completely overwhelmed. Masks, disinfectant gel, protective material for health personnel, ICU beds, respirators, etc. were missing. In several cities (Wuhan, Madrid, New York), the authorities, overwhelmed, had to resort to the armed forces or civilian volunteers to build makeshift hospitals with thousands of beds. Almost everywhere, the authorities confessed that they had not foreseen such an avalanche of patients, « a continuous tsunami of patients in serious condition... "
A VERY ANNOUNCED PANDEMIC
In the face of criticism for what public opinion perceived as 'bad management' of the pandemic, some leaders also argued that the speed of the pandemic attack had caught them by surprise ... Donald Trump, for example, did not hesitate to affirm repeatedly -when the first coronavirus deaths occurred in your country, months after China or Europe-, that « no one knew there would be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion », And that it was a« unpredictable problem "," something that nobody expected "," emerged from nowhere "...25
Many things can be said to explain the poor preparation of the authorities in the face of this brutal scourge, but the surprise argument is not one of receipt. First, because there is a famous proverb in public health: « Outbreaks are inevitable, epidemics are not. »Second, because dozens of fiction and science fiction authors - from James Graham Ballard to Stephen King to Cormac McCarthy to filmmaker Steven Soderbergh in his film Contagion (2011) - described in detail the apocalyptic health nightmare that threatened the world. Third, because visionary personalities - Rosa Luxemburg, Gandhi, Fidel Castro, Hans Jonas, Ivan Illich, Jürgen Habermas - have long warned that looting and pillaging the environment could have dire health consequences. Fourth, because recent epidemics such as SARS in 2002, avian flu in 2005, swine flu in 2009 and MERS in 2012 had already reached uncontrollable pandemic levels in some cases and had caused thousands of deaths around the world. Fifth, because when the first death from the new coronavirus occurred in the United States, on March 10, 2020 in New Jersey - as we have already said - it was almost three months that the epidemic had broken out in Wuhan and had quickly overwhelmed the entire health system both in China and in several European nations; I mean, there was time to prepare. And sixth, because dozens of prospectivists and several recent reports had issued very serious warnings about the imminence of the emergence of some kind of new virus that could cause something like the mother of all epidemics.
Perhaps the most important of these analyzes was presented, in November 2008, by the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the CIA's geopolitical foresight office, which released a report to the White House titled " Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World». This document resulted from the sharing - reviewed by the United States intelligence agencies - of studies prepared by some two thousand five hundred independent experts from universities in some thirty-five countries in Europe, China, India, Africa, Latin America, the world arab-muslim etc.
With an unusual sense of anticipation, the confidential document announced, by 2025, “the emergence of a new, highly transmissible and virulent human respiratory disease for which there are no adequate countermeasures, and which could develop into a global pandemic. " The report warned that “the appearance of a pandemic disease depends on the mutation or genetic rearrangement of strains of diseases that are currently circulating, or the appearance of a new pathogen in humans that could be a highly pathogenic avian influenza strain such as H5N1, or other pathogens, like SARS coronavirus, which also have this potential. "
The text warned with impressive advance that " If pandemic disease arises, it would likely occur in an area marked by high population density and a close association between humans and animals, such as many areas of South China and Southeast Asia, where wild animal husbandry practices are not regulated which could allow a virus to mutate and cause a potentially pandemic zoonotic disease… ”
The authors also anticipated the risk of a too slow response from the authorities: “It may take weeks before definitive laboratory results can be obtained to confirm the existence of a new disease with pandemic potential. Meanwhile, the sick would begin to appear in the cities from Southeast Asia. Despite the limits imposed on international travel, travelers with mild symptoms or asymptomatic people could transmit the disease to other continents." So that "waves of new cases would occur in a few months. The absence of an effective vaccine and the universal lack of immunity it would make populations vulnerable to infection. In the worst case scenario, tens to hundreds of thousands of Americans within the United States would become ill, and deaths, globally, would be estimated in the millions ».
As if that document were not enough, another more recent report, from January 2017, prepared this time by the Pentagon and also addressed to the president of the United States (who was already Donald Trump), again clearly warned that “the most likely and significant threat to American citizens is a new respiratory illness”And that, in that scenario,“ all industrialized countries, including the United States, would lack respirators, medications, hospital beds, protective equipment, and face masks to deal with a possible pandemic».
Despite such explicit and repeated warnings, Donald Trump did not hesitate to get rid, one year after this last report (!), Of the committee in charge - within the National Security Council - of the Protection of Global Health and Biodefense, chaired by Admiral Timothy Ziemer, a renowned expert in epidemiology. This committee of technicians was precisely the one that should lead decision-making in the event of a new pandemic ... « However –Explains the journalist Lawrence Wright, who interviewed Ziemer and all the members of that Committee- Trump eliminated those who knew the most about this matter ... One of so many colossal mistakes by the President of the United States. The annals will show that he has been responsible for one of the most catastrophic public health failures in the history of this country. If you had listened, months ago, to warnings from intelligence services and public health experts about the serious threat posed by the outbreak of coronavirus in China, the current explosion of cases of covid-19 could have been avoided. "
It would also have been enough for Trump and other world leaders to listen to the repeated warning notices issued by the WHO itself. In particular the cry of alarm that this organization launched in 2019 September, that is, the eve of the first attack of the new coronavirus in Wuhan. The WHO did not hesitate to warn that the next plague could be apocalyptic: « We face to the very real threat of a withering, extremely deadly pandemic caused by a respiratory pathogen that could kill 50 to 80 million people and wipe out almost 5% of the world economy. A global pandemic of that scale would be a catastrophe and unleash widespread chaos, instability and insecurity. The world is not ready. "
Even more precisely if possible, another previous report had already warned about the specific danger of the new coronaviruses: « The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, coupled with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb… The possibility of another SARS arising from new coronaviruses. of animals, should not be discarded. Therefore it is a must be prepared. "
Between 2011 and 2019, numerous scientists did not stop sounding the alarm about various infectious outbreaks that, according to them, heralded a greater frequency of appearance of potentially fast-spreading pests, increasingly difficult to tackle ... The former president himself Barack Obama, in December 2014, pointed out that investment should be made in health infrastructures in order to face the possible arrival of a new type of epidemic. He even recalled that a scourge similar to the "Kansas flu" (misnamed "Spanish") of 1918 can always occur: " There may probably come a time when we have to face a deadly disease, and to be able to deal with it, we need infrastructure, not only here in the United States but also around the world to quickly detect and isolate it. "
It is also well known that, in 2015, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, warned that all the conditions for the appearance of a new infectious scourge, easily spread around the world by asymptomatic patients, were being met: « May arise A virus he explained with which people feel good enough, while infected, to get on a plane or go to the supermarket ... And that would make the virus spread throughout the world very quickly... The World Bank estimates that such a planetary epidemic would cost no less than three trillion dollars, with millions and millions of deaths ... »
In other words, it is bad for Donald Trump and those leaders who spoke of « surprise »Or« stupor », The reality is that the imminent danger of the emergence of a new coronavirus that could have been known for years skip from animals to humans, and cause a terrifying pandemic ... « Science knew it was going to happen. Governments knew it could happen, but did not bother to prepare. - Explains veteran reporter and science popularizer David Quammen who, to write his book Contagion (Spillover. Animal infections and the next human pandemic), he traveled the four corners of the planet chasing zoonotic viruses, that is, those that they jump from animals to humans - The notices said: it could happen next year, in three years, or in eight. The politicians told themselves: I will not spend the money for something that may not happen under my mandate. This is the reason why money was not spent on more hospital beds, intensive care units, respirators, masks, gloves ... The science and the right technology to deal with the virus exist. But there was no political will. There is also no will to combat climate change. The difference between this and climate change is that this is killing faster. "
In other words, this pandemic is the most predictable catastrophe in the history of the United States. Obviously much more than Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination or September 11. Warnings about the impending attack of a new coronavirus were abundant and notorious. No investigation by any top-secret intelligence service was needed to find out what was coming. The disaster could be avoided ...
Although the origin of everything, as David Quammen says, lies in the eco-predatory behaviors that condemn us, if we do not prevent it, to the fatality of climate change. What is really at stake is the production model that has been sacking nature for decades and modifying the climate. For decades, environmental activists have been warning that the human destruction of biodiversity is creating the objective conditions for new viruses and new diseases to appear: « Deforestation, the opening of new roads, mining and hunting are activities involved in triggering different epidemics -explains, for example, Alex Richter-Boix, doctor in biology and specialist in climate change- Various viruses and other pathogens are found in wild animals. When human activities come into contact with wildlife, a pathogen can skip and infect pets and from there jump again to the humans ; or directly from a wild animal to humans ... Bats, primates and even snails can have diseases that, at any given time, when we alter their natural habitats, can skip to the humans. "
For millions of years, animals have in their bodies a great diversity of viruses against which, during this long coexistence, they have known how to develop immunity. But when an animal is removed from its natural environment, that balance is broken, and a virus can then be transmitted to another species with which the animal never coexisted ... The destruction of the habitats of wild species and the invasion of those ecosystems Wild by urban projects create situations of their own for the rapid mutation of viruses… This is probably what happened in Wuhan. For years, many Chinese animal organizations have been demanding a permanent ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals in order to conserve the species and, above all, avoid predictable epidemics.
Europe and the United States ignored all these warnings. And when "the pandemic of pandemics" arrived, their governments had not taken any precautions, they had no prepared strategy to follow, nor action measures in the short, medium and long term ... In contrast, in East Asia, the models of Epidemic management were more successful. Especially in South Korea. In one of the most commented articles on this crisis, the South Korean intellectual living in Berlin Byung-Chul Han, adept of dataism, praised the « digital biopolitics »Implemented by the South Korean government and stated that Asian countries were coping with this pandemic better than the West because they relied on new technologies, big data and algorithms. Minimizing the risk of privacy intrusion: « Critical awareness of digital surveillance –Byung-Chul Han admitted- it is practically non-existent in Asia. "
SANITARY CYBER SURVEILLANCE
The new coronavirus spreads so fast and there are so many asymptomatic people that it is, indeed, impossible to trace its expansion by hand. The best way to track down such an undetectable microorganism is by using a computerized system, thanks to mobile phone devices, that calculates how many people were near the infected. South Korea, Singapore and China, often cited as nations that have been successful against the coronavirus, have in particular applied big data and digital surveillance strategies to keep infection numbers under control. East " technological solutionism"Obviously involves the sacrifice of a part of individual privacy. And that obviously poses problems.
In South Korea, the authorities created an application to smartphones designed to have greater control over the expansion of the coronavirus through digital monitoring of citizens present in areas of contagion or suffering from the disease ... That Whatsapp is called "Self-Quarantine Safety Protection“, And has been developed by the Ministry of the Interior and Security. The Whatsapp find out if a citizen has been in risk areas. You know if your test is positive or not. If it is positive, he orders you to confine yourself in quarantine. It also tracks the movements of all those infected and locates the contacts of each one of them. The places where the infected walked are made known to the mobile phones of those who were nearby. And all of them are sent in quarantine. When citizens receive the confinement order from their local medical center, they are legally prohibited from leaving their quarantine zone - usually their homes - and forced to maintain strict separation from other people, family members included.
La Whatsapp It also allows tracking by GPS satellite device (Global Positioning System) of each suspicious person. If she leaves her assigned containment area, the Whatsapp He knows this immediately and sends an alert to both the suspect and the officer who controls his area. The fine for disobedience can be up to $ 8. The Whatsapp It also sends notices of new coronavirus cases to the neighborhood or to nearby areas. The objective is to guarantee greater control of the virus by knowing where, both infected and quarantined citizens are located at all times.
In Singapore, a highly guarded nation, the state Technology Agency and the Ministry of Health launched last March a Whatsapp very similar : TraceTogether, for mobile phone that, retrospectively, can identify all the close contacts of each person and notify them if a family member, friend or acquaintance contracted the virus. Citizens can be tracked through a sophisticated combination of security camera images, telephone geolocation, and police investigation conducted by true "disease detectives" with the eventual assistance of the criminal investigation department, the anti-narcotics office, and the police intelligence services. … The 'Singapore Infectious Diseases Act' makes it mandatory, by law, for citizens to cooperate with the police. A unique case in the world. The punishment for indiscipline can be a fine of up to $ 7, or jail for six months, or both.
China has also developed a similar application, HealthCheck, which is installed on mobiles through messaging systems such as WeChat o Alipay, and generates a "health code" graduated in green, orange or red, according to the freedom of movement allowed to each citizen (free movement, one week quarantine, or fourteen days). In about two hundred cities, people are using HealthCheck to be able to move more freely, in exchange for giving information about his private life. Is Whatsapp It has been shown to be so effective that WHO itself is drawing inspiration from it in developing such a call. MyHealth.
This "South Korean model", adopted by these countries and also by Hong Kong and Taiwan, is based on the massive use of data and associated with various "video protection" systems. Until recently it would have seemed dystopian and futuristic, but it is already being imitated in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and other Western democracies. It must be said that, for a few years, some States and the large private mobile phone operators have stored billions of data and know exactly where each of their many users is. Google and Facebook have also kept mountains of data that could be used, under the pretext of the pandemic, for massive intrusive surveillance. And also, dating applications with urban coordinates, such as Happn or Tinder, could now be used to detect infected ... Without forgetting that Google maps, Uber, Cabify or Waze also know the routes and history of their millions of clients ...
Everywhere, digital control has accelerated. In Spain, for example, the Secretary of State for Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence launched, on April 1, a 'Datacovid' program to track 40 million mobiles and control contagions. For its part, the RENFE railway company will oblige passengers to give their name and mobile number to buy a transport ticket.
In Italy, the main mobile phone and internet providers have decided to share the sensitive but anonymous data of their customers with the Working Group for the prevention of the epidemic formed in the Ministry of Science and Innovation. In the Lombardy region, GPS geolocation is used in cooperation also with mobile phone operators. People's movements are anonymously tracked. Thus it was found that, despite the confinement measures, displacements had only been reduced by 60%… Much less than expected.
In Israel, the government also decided to make use of 'digital surveillance counter-terrorism technologies' to track patients diagnosed with the coronavirus. The Ministry of Justice gave the green light to use 'intelligence tracking tools' and digitally monitor infected patients, through their use of the Internet and mobile phones, without the authorization of users. Although they admitted « some invasion of privacy "The authorities explained that the objective is" isolate the coronavirus and not the entire country »Verifying with whom the infected came into contact, what happened before and what happened after ...
In that same perspective, on a global scale, the two planetary digital giants Google and Apple decided to partner to track the contacts of those affected by the pandemic. Recently, they announced that they will work together to develop a technology that will allow mobile devices to exchange information through Bluetooth connections to alert people when they have been around someone who tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Covid-19 has thus become the first global disease to be fought digitally. And of course, this leads to a debate, as we said, about the risks to individual privacy. « The fact that the Whatsapp Geolocate the person and that, according to certain data, establish a kind of traffic light that serves as a certificate to go outside can collide with privacy. » They even acknowledge some defenders of the cyber surveillance system.
There is no doubt that cell phone tracking, even for a good cause, opens the door to the possibility of mass digital surveillance. The more so since the applications that identify where you are at every moment can tell the State everything. And that, when the pandemic passes, could become general and become the new normal ... The State will also want to access the medical records of citizens and other information until now protected by privacy. And when this scourge is over, authorities around the world may wish to use surveillance to simply better control society. As happened with the anti-terrorist legislation after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Cyber surveillance paradises, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and China could become models of the future. Societies in which a kind of coronaptikon, where intrusion into private life and technological hypervigilance become commonplace. In fact, a recent opinion poll on whether or not to accept an application on our mobile phone that allows us to track those infected with the coronavirus showed that 75% of those surveyed would agree. In this way, governments - even the most democratic - could become the Big Brother of today, not hesitating to break their own laws to better monitor citizens. The 'exceptional' measures that the public authorities are taking in the face of pandemic alarm could remain in the future, especially those related to cyber surveillance and biocontrol. Both governments, Google, Facebook or Apple could take advantage of our current anguish to make us give up an important part of our intimate secrets. After all, they can tell us, during the pandemic, to save lives, you have accepted without protest that other freedoms have been absolutely restricted ...
SOAP AND SEWING MACHINE
There is no doubt that the geolocation and tracking of mobile telephony, added to the use of prediction algorithms, sophisticated digital applications and the computerized study of highly reliable statistical models have helped to control infections. But it is also true that, despite what Byung-Chul Han affirms, this waste of futuristic technologies has not been sufficient and definitive to combat the spread of covid-19. Not even in South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam or Singapore ...
The relative success of these countries against covid-19 is mainly explained by the experience gained in their long struggle, between 2003 and 2018, against SARS and MERS, the two preceding epidemics also caused by coronaviruses ... SARS -which was the first lethal virus driven by hyperglobalization- jump humans from civets, another mammal sold in Chinese markets. Transported by globalized commercial flights, this microorganism spread throughout the world, reaching thirty countries. During the duration of the epidemic - against which there was no vaccine or therapeutic treatment - close to 10 infected and almost 000 deaths were confirmed ... In 800, when these nations had just finished controlling the SARS epidemic, MERS emerged, causing by another coronavirus that jump this time from camels to humans in the Middle East.
Neither of these two pests reached Europe or the United States. This also explains, in part, why the European and US governments reacted late and badly to the pandemic. They lacked experience ... While China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam suffered the cruel onslaught of SARS ... And South Korea also had to face, in 2015, a particularly damaging outbreak of the MERS epidemic ...
Against these two new coronaviruses, in a situation of absolute urgency, and without any Western power coming to their aid, all these Asian nations wasted no time experimenting with digital technologies to curb infections. They drew on public health provisions of the past that epidemiologists were well aware of because, in the face of numerous epidemics, as we have already said, since the Middle Ages, they had been used effectively ... Perfected and refined since the XNUMXth century, measures such as quarantine, the social isolation, the restricted areas, the closing of borders, the cut of roads, the safety distance and the monitoring of the contacts of each infected, were applied immediately ... Without resorting to digital technologies, the authorities based themselves on a conviction Quite simply: if by magic all the inhabitants remained immobile where they were for fourteen days, a meter and a half away from each other, the entire pandemic would stop instantly.
From then on, the use of masks became widespread throughout Asia. And dozens of factories specializing in the mass production of protective face masks were created… Fever checks with gun-shaped digital infrared thermometers became routine. In the cities of the affected Asian countries, it became common, since 2003, to take people's temperature before entering a bus, a train, a subway station, an office building, a factory, a nightclub, a theater, a cinema or even a restaurant ... It was also mandatory to wash your hands with chlorinated water or soap. In hospitals - as was done in the XNUMXth century - areas were divided into "clean" and "dirty" zones, and medical teams did not cross from one to the other. Partitions were built to separate complete wings; health personnel entered through one end of the room wearing protective diving suits and exited through the opposite end disinfected under the inspection of nurses ...
This entire area of East Asia experienced then, for the first time, what we are experiencing on a planetary scale. There, in South Korea in particular, some of the best post-apocalyptic films were made on the subject of sudden contagion: Virus (2013) by Kim Sung-soo and Train to Busan (2016), by Yeon Sang-ho.
With SARS and MERS, the governments of these countries learned to store, as a precaution, huge amounts of protective equipment (masks, face shields, gloves, diving suits, disinfectant gel, gowns, etc.). They knew that in the event of a new outbreak, one had to act quickly and aggressively. This is what they did last January, when the covid-19 began to spread. China was quick to impose strict quarantine. She isolated infected people and their contacts in hermetic areas. They did not do South Korea, nor Japan, but all demanded the safety distance and wear hygienic masks. And they massively multiplied the screening tests.
The most paradigmatic case, in Southeast Asia, is that of Vietnam. It had been one of the countries that acted most quickly and most decisively against SARS in 2003. And it learned the lesson. When the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus began to spread throughout the area, the authorities in Hanoi immediately applied - with only six people infected - the strictest containment and isolation measures. And in February 2020 they announced they had contained the pandemic. It was the first country in the world to beat the new coronavirus. All the infected were cured. Not a single patient died.
All this shows that, despite their importance, digital location and identification technologies are not enough to contain the coronavirus. Furthermore, the widespread use of hygienic masks prevents the efficient use of biometric facial recognition systems. From the first weeks, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore verified that, due to the massive use of masks and eye protectors, their bio-control system using video protection cameras was not effective.
In other words, the spectacular technological supremacy of which we boasted so much, with our next-generation smartphones, futuristic drones, science fiction robots and innovative biotechnologies have served little purpose, as we have already said, at the time. to contain the first impact of the pandemic tide. For three very urgent objectives - to disinfect our hands, make masks and stop the spread of the virus - humanity has had to resort to old products and techniques from several centuries ago. Respectively: soap, discovered by the Romans before our era; the sewing machine, invented by Thomas Saint in London around 1790; and, above all, the science of confinement and social isolation, honed in Europe against dozens of waves of successive plagues since the XNUMXth century ... What a humbling experience!
These are also times of lack of solidarity. National selfishness has manifested itself with surprising and brutal speed. Neighboring and friendly states have not hesitated to launch a "mask war" or seize, like pirates, medical supplies destined for their partners. We have seen governments pay double or triple the price of medical supplies to obtain the products and prevent them from being sold to other nations. The media have shown how, on the airport runways, masked containers were taken from cargo planes to divert them to other destinations. Italy accused the Czech Republic of stealing batches of masks bought in China and calling in Prague. France denounced the United States for the same. Spain blamed France ... Asian manufacturers informed African and Latin American governments that they could not sell them medical supplies for the moment because the United States and the European Union paid higher prices.
In everyday life, suspicion and mistrust have grown. Many foreigners or foreigners, or simply sick elderly people, suspected of introducing the virus, have been discriminated against, persecuted, stoned, expelled ... It is true that the elderly are the group with the highest mortality rate. We don't know why. Some ultra-liberal fanatics have been quick to openly claim the Malthusian elimination of the weakest. A vice-governor in the United States stated: « Grandparents should sacrifice themselves and die to save the economy. » In that same annihilating vein, the neoliberal analyst of the American channel CNBC, Rick Santelli called for a 'health Darwinism' and called for " inoculate the virus to the entire population. That would only speed up the inevitable course… But the markets would stabilize.». In the Netherlands, where ultraliberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte is also betting on "herd immunity", the head of epidemiology at Leiden University Medical Center, Frits Rosendaal, stated that " people who are too old or too weak should not be admitted to the ICU». Threats worthy of the exterminating demons of graphic novels… And also absurd because, as one nurse explains: « Covid-19 is deadly. And I can say that it does not distinguish age limit. Nor color. Nor size. No origin. Nor social class. Or anything. Will attack anyone. "
The covid-19 does not distinguish, it is true, but unequal societies do. Because, when health is a commodity, poor, discriminated, marginalized, exploited social groups are much more exposed to infection. This is the case, for example, in Singapore where - as we saw - the authorities initially managed to control the epidemic. However, in this opulent city-state there is a minority of hundreds of thousands of migrants from poor countries, employed in construction, transportation, domesticity and services. The country depends on these workers for the operation of its economy. But physical isolation is almost impossible in those jobs. Due to their social status, many of these immigrants had to continue in their tasks despite the danger of becoming infected ... Furthermore, a law requires that foreign workers reside in 'dormitories', rooms that house up to a dozen men, with collective bathroom, kitchen and shower. Inevitably, these premises became sources of infection ...
From these nuclei, the virus spread again ... It is documented that about 500 new infections emerged from there. A single 'bedroom' caused 15% of all new cases in the country. To such an extent that Singapore, an “example” of a victorious country in the pandemic, is now facing a dangerous rebound in covid-19. The coronavirus revealed the hidden inequalities of society ...
What happened in those 'bedrooms' in Singapore gives an idea of what could happen in Southeast Asia, in India, in Africa, in Latin America, and in low-income nations with embryonic health systems. If in rich states - Italy, France, Spain - the virus has wreaked the terrible havoc that we know, what will happen in some impoverished areas of Africa? How to speak of 'confinement', or of 'isolation', or of 'disinfectant gel', or of 'protection distance', or even of 'washing hands' to millions of people who live, without running water, crowded in Favelas, shacks or tin neighborhoods, or do they sleep on the streets, or live in makeshift refugee camps, or in the ruins of buildings destroyed by wars? Only in Latin America, 56% of the active live in the informal economy ...
For its part, the main superpower on the planet, the United States, has renounced, for the first time in its history, to lead the health fight and help the sick of the world. In a nation of such wealth, the virus has come to reveal excessive inequalities in health. The inhabitants discover a lack of basic supplies as well as the deficiencies of their public health system. Senator Bernie Sanders has long been calling for consideration of " the health system as a fundamental human right ». And many other personalities demand this change: « We need a new care economy - said, for example, Robert J. Shiller, Nobel Prize in Economics- integrating national public and private health systems».
Meanwhile, covid-19 is causing tens of thousands of deaths in that country. And the situation can be aggravated because some twenty-seven million people (8,5% of the population) do not have health insurance and another eleven million are illegal workers, without documents, who do not dare to go to hospitals ...
In what is today the global epicenter of the pandemic, analysts are seeing a “exacerbation of health disparity". Some ethnic minorities - African Americans, Hispanics - are, in effect, having a fatality rate against the coronavirus much higher than their social representativeness. In New York, for example, African-Americans and Latinos make up 51% of the population, but account for 62% of deaths from covid-19. In the state of Michigan, African Americans make up 14% of the population, but account for 33% of those infected and 41% of deaths. In Chicago, Afro-descendants make up 30% of the population, but account for 72% of deaths… « Some figures that leave you breathless… ”Said Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago.
In a country where the test to find out if someone is positive for the new coronavirus costs $ 35, health is often a reflection of social inequity. Savage capitalism doesn't care about the pain of the poor. If Latinos and African Americans are, in the United States, more vulnerable to the coronavirus, it is because they are victims of a series of social disadvantages. They are also the minorities that, due to having historically had less access to health services, frequently suffer from a series of serious pathologies: « We have always known –Explains Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the United States- that diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma disproportionately affect minority populations, particularly African Americans. "
Despite the scourge of covid-19, some employers have continued to demand that workers return to their jobs to save the economy. Latinos and African Americans therefore have to continue working on the streets, doing some of the hardest work, cleaning buildings, driving buses, disinfecting hospitals, operating supermarkets, driving taxis, delivering packages, etc. In addition to the risk of infection they face in their marginalized neighborhoods, there are the dangers they face in public transport and their jobs ... As for illegal and undocumented immigrants, harassed by the authorities, they do not go to health services, as they already do. We said, for fear of being arrested ...
Every day of this plague, people become more convinced that it is the State, and not the market, that saves. «This crisis –Explains Noam Chomsky- It is the umpteenth example of market failure. And an example also of the reality of the threat of an environmental catastrophe. The neoliberal assault has left hospitals devoid of resources. Hospital beds were removed in the name of 'economic efficiency' ... The US government and pharmaceutical multinationals have known for years that there was a high probability of a pandemic occurring. But since preparing for it was not good for business, nothing was done. » For his part, the French philosopher Edgar Morin states: « After all, the sacrifice of the most fragile - elderly, sick - is functional to a logic of natural selection. As in the world of the market, the one that does not hold the competition is destined to perish. Creating an authentically human society means opposing this social Darwinism at all costs. "
HEROES OF OUR TIME
The pandemic also has its heroes and its martyrs. And in this fight, the warriors who have risen to the front line, to the outposts to face the deadly SARS-CoV-2 have been the doctors, nurses, auxiliary personnel and other health workers who have become involuntary protagonists, winning praise and applause from the balconies, squares and streets of cities around the world. Almost all of them public officials, for whom the health of the population is not a commodity but a basic need, a human right.
They will go down in history, exhausted, exhausted, for their dedication to the daily work of fighting infection and saving lives. They have often faced the contagious virus without masks, gowns, or protective equipment ... «¡¡We march to war without arms! »Denounced a veteran nurse from Guayaquil, Ecuador, furious at the contagion of eighty colleagues and the death of another five ...
Health workers are, in effect, risking their own lives. According to the US Center for Disease Control, between 10% and 20% of all those infected with coronavirus are healthcare workers. Many are dying. Some day when this nightmare fades, we will have to erect monuments in honor of those martyrs in white coats. To forever remember his courage, his self-denial, his humanity. Surely when Albert Camus said that "the plague teaches us that there are more things in men worthy of admiration than of contempt," he was thinking of them.
In this regard, a small country, also worthy of admiration, has distinguished itself for its altruism and generosity. It is about Cuba. Besieged and blockaded for sixty years by the United States and also subjected by Washington to brutal unilateral coercive measures, the island was the first to come to China's aid when this pandemic broke out. Since then, the Cuban authorities have not stopped sending brigades of doctors and health personnel to combat COVID-19 to a score of countries, responding to the anguished requests of their governments. Among them three from rich Europe: Italy, France and Andorra. These International Brigades of Doctors Specialized in Situations of Disasters and Serious Epidemics have existed since the 1960s. In 2005, they took the name of "Henry Reeve" -a US brigadier who fought and died for Cuban independence-, on the occasion of the Hurricane. Katrina across the southern United States.
The world is discovering what the mainstream international media has so far tried to hide, that Cuba is a medical superpower with more than 30 doctors and nurses deployed in 000 nations. All this obeying a humanist and visionary slogan of Fidel Castro formulated with these words: « One day I said that we could not and never would carry out preemptive and surprise attacks against any dark corner of the world; but that, instead, our country was able to send the necessary doctors to the darkest corners of the world. Doctors and not bombs, doctors and not smart weapons.»Havana is also providing its antiviral drug Interferon Alpha-2B Recombinant, developed by its scientists in its biotechnology laboratories, and whose use would prevent aggravation and complications in patients infected with the new coronavirus.
APOTEOSIS OF DISINFORMATION
The mainstream media silence Cuba's medical solidarity while providing universal and permanent coverage of the pandemic like never seen before. For months without respite, the mainstream media from all over the planet They have told us about a single topic: the coronavirus. A coral phenomenon, hypermedia, of such global magnitude had never occurred. Not when the Berlin Wall fell, not with the attacks on the twin towers in New York ...
At the same time we are witnessing a fierce war between various factions to impose a dominant account of this crisis. What causes a true epidemic of fake news and of post-truths. The WHO has defined this phenomenon as infodemic, pandemic of info-falsehoods. The fear of the covid-19 as well as the desire to overinform and the desire to understand everything related to the plague have created the conditions for a perfect storm of toxic news. They have spread with equal or greater speed than the new virus. Mountains of lies have circulated on social networks. Mobile messaging systems have become veritable continuous factories of hoaxes, hoaxes and hoaxes. In some countries, it is estimated that 88% of people who went to social networks to find out about SARS-CoV-2 were infected by fake news.
Fake news is known to spread ten times faster than real news; and that, even denied, survive on the networks because they continue to be shared without any control. Many of them are produced with impressive professionalism: impeccable texts, perfect wording inspired by the most respected reference media, very careful images, high quality sound, deep and moderate voice of the commentary in off, nervous and addictive editing and editing, subjugating music ... Everything must give an impression of seriousness, respectability, solvency ... It is the guarantee of credibility, essential to prop up deception. And for users to viralize it ...
Nor should we forget that, during this endless quarantine, in a context of uncertainty and emotion, and in the face of everyone's real need to understand the plague and understand it with arguments, two ingredients combined together have favored the powerful irradiation of lies. On the one hand, familiarity, trust between people who share information on the same network. On the other hand, the repetition, the repetition of messages of the same matrix. If someone I know sends me information and if, through various other channels, I receive that same information or very close versions of that information, I will think that it has credibility and that it is true. Because I trust the source, and because other sources coincide and confirm it. Instinctively I will even deduce that, through these two mechanisms (closeness and repetition), the authenticity of the information is verified. However it may be false. In other words, all fake news It will try to respect both requirements to better hide or disguise its falsehood. It is a law of media intoxication: any manipulation of public opinion through false news must obey these protocols.
It is not possible to make an exhaustive list of fake news that have been flooding our networks since the scourge began, but remember that almost immediately, various conspiracy theories began to proliferate. The most disseminated ones affirmed, as we have already said, that the new coronavirus was produced in a secret biolaboratory in China (or the United States), and that it is a bacteriological weapon for the war between the two superpowers… Other false news, equally absurd, certified that SARS-CoV-2 was created by Bill Gates ... Or that it was manufactured by China to exterminate its ethnic minorities ... Or that the epidemic spread so quickly because the virus was traveling in goods exported by China ... Or that it was co- 19 is a disease spread by large pharmaceutical laboratories to sell vaccines ... Or that 5G phone antennas amplify and make the coronavirus more lethal ... Or that the plague was destined to ruin the export economy, a rival to China, northern Italy ... Or that a vaccine already exists ... Or that the virus has already mutated ...
Many of these false news are still circulating, replicated to infinity by bot farms, profiles of thousands of accounts monitored by a single user. The objective is to show a "large volume" of messages, pretending that many people are sharing or commenting on a topic, to manipulate the perception of that topic. Some fake news They seem harmless, but others - in particular, when they propagate the existence of a miracle treatment or a magical medication against the virus - can have lethal consequences. In Iran, for example, the networks spread a fake according to which methanol prevented and cured covid-19. Outcome: 44 people died and hundreds of victims were hospitalized for ingesting that methyl alcohol ...
With the general panic created by the pandemic and millions of people desperately searching their screens for data on the unknown coronavirus, the "disinformation bubbles" found a perfect ecosystem to multiply to infinity. Everything was also facilitated when -in 2016- the main social media companies modified the hierarchical algorithms of the messages. Since then, communications from friends and acquaintances have come first to the detriment of messages issued by organizations or the media.
In any case, we can no longer be naive. And innocently believe everything that reaches our screens via social networks. In connection with this, the momentum coronavirus it also constitutes a watershed. From now on, faced with the overwhelming amount of fake news, each citizen must be aware of the various verification platforms that are available to us for free: for example: Damn.es y Newtral.es, in Spain ; FactCheck.org, NewsGuard and PolitiFact.com, in the United States; or the alliance #CoronavirusFacts, promoted by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) of the Poynter Institute, which brings together more than one hundred verification platforms in seventy countries and in forty languages; or; LatamChequea that gathers to a twenty of mass media of fifteen countries of Latin America
In addition, there are multiple free tools on the Internet to verify the veracity of any photograph spread by social networks: for example, TinEye, Google Reverse Image Search, FotoForensics that allow important verifications such as knowing the original source of the image, if it is already previously published, what other media have already broadcast it, if it was manipulated and if the original was retouched.
To detect the false videos that are equally abundant, we can turn to InVid, Available for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers, which allows you to decrypt manipulated videos. Also on the Reverso site - a collaborative project involving Chequeado, AFP Factual, First Draft and Pop-Up Newsroom - we can detect false viral videos on the web. There is no longer an excuse to be fooled. At least this pandemic will have served us for that.
TOWARDS A DIGITAL CAPITALISM?
Another communicational consequence: with more than half of humanity locked up in their homes for weeks, the digital apotheosis has reached its insurmountable zenith… Never has the Internet galaxy and its multiple offers on screen (communicative, distracting, commercial) been more timely and more invasive. In this context, social networks, mobile messaging and microblogging services -Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram, Youtube, LinkedIn, Reddit, Snapchat, Amino, Signal, Telegram, Wechat, WT: Social, etc. .- They have definitely established themselves as the dominant means of information (and disinformation). They have also become viral sources of distraction because, despite the horror of the health crisis, humor and laughter, as often happens in these cases, have been the absolute protagonists in social networks, a privileged link with the outside world and with family and friends.
We are spending more hours than ever in front of the screens of our digital devices: mobile phones, computers, tablets or smart televisions ... Consuming everything: information, series, movies, memes, songs, photos, teleworking, consultations and administrative procedures, classes online courses, video calls, video conferencing, chatting, console games, messages… Daily time spent on the Internet has skyrocketed. In Spain, for example, since last March 14 when the state of alarm and social isolation were declared, Internet traffic grew by 80%. This strong increase is due in particular to the exceptional consumption of streaming of video, not only from video on demand services, but above all to the most characteristic communication phenomenon of this time: video calls via Skype, WhatsApp, Webex, Houseparty and Zoom.
Little known until now, the Zoom video calling application has experienced, in the last two months, a growth never known in the history of the Internet ... Since the pandemic began, it is the Whatsapp most downloaded for iPhone. Last March, your traffic increase diario it was 535%… It has been adopted by world leaders for their video conferences; companies to organize telework; universities to offer courses online courses; musicians and singers to create, as a group, their crown clips ; friends and families to remain virtually reunited during confinement ...
The numbers are staggering. Zoom has gone from having 2019 million active users at the end of 10 to over 200 million at the end of March ... To get an idea of what this means, let's remember that Instagram took more than three years to get that number of followers. Before the coronavirus spread, Zoom shares cost $ 70. On March 23, they were worth $ 160, that is, a total capitalization of more than $ 44 billion. The virus is global but its effects are not exactly the same for everyone… In particular for Zoom's main shareholder, Eric Yuan, who is now on the list of the “richest people in the world” with an estimated fortune of 5 millions of dollars…
Another "winner" of this crisis is the very popular application among teenagers TikTok, which also registered a phenomenal increase in users. Created by Chinese technology firm ByteDance, TikTok is an app for SOCIAL MEDIA similar to Likee or MadLipz, which allows you to record, edit and share short videos -from 15 to 60 seconds- in loop (ie repeated in a loop like GIFs) with the possibility of adding musical backgrounds, sound effects and filters or visual effects.
The global quarantine is threatening, across the globe, the economic survival of countless entertainment, culture and leisure companies (theaters, museums, bookstores, cinemas, stadiums, concert halls, etc.). Instead, digital mastodons like Google, Amazon, Facebook or Netflix, which already dominated the market, are experiencing a great moment of commercial success. The huge injection of money and especially of big data that they are receiving are going to allow them to develop in an exponential way their control of algorithmic intelligence. To further dominate the digital communication sphere globally. These gigantic technological platforms are the absolute winners, in economic terms, of this tragic moment in history. This confirms that, in capitalism, after the era of coal and steel, that of rail and electricity, and that of oil, the data time, the new dominant raw material in the post-pandemic era. Welcome to digital capitalism ...
ECONOMY: A BATH OF BLOOD
For the rest, capitalism is going wrong ... Because the prospect of an unparalleled economic disaster looms. The economy of the entire planet has never been seen to slow down. The territories most affected -for now- by covid-19 are China and East Asia, Europe and the United States, that is, the central triangle of world development. Millions of companies, large and small, are in crisis, closed, on the brink of bankruptcy. Several hundred million workers have lost their jobs, totally or partially… As on so many previous occasions, the lowest-paid wage earners and small businesses will pay the highest price. Five hundred million people could be dragged back into poverty. This global economic crisis is unprecedented and will exceed in depth and duration that of 1929. It also exceeds in severity the financial crisis of 2008. The pandemic produces a general rejection of anarchic hypercapitalism, which has allowed obscene inequalities such as that 1% of the world's wealthy own more than the remaining 99%. The excesses of economic globalization are also questioned.
The Stock Exchanges, with ups and downs, have sunk: «¡¡It is a real bloodbath ! »Shouted the broker of a wealth management company to the historical losses of its investors. Oil prices have fallen into unknown chasms. Last April 20, in the Chicago commodity market, the reference barrel, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), came to cost -37 dollars… Yes, less 37 dollars, that is, that the seller I paid him to the buyer 37 dollars so that he could take a barrel of oil ... A collapse never seen in history ... Which is excellent for importing countries: China, Japan, Germany, France, South Korea ... But disastrous for exporting states very towns: Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, Venezuela ... Another negative consequence: such cheap oil can delay the necessary ecological transition as it automatically increases the price of alternative energies (solar, wind, biomass, etc.) ... The world economy is moving in unknown territory. No one has a precise idea of the dimensions of the cataclysm. As Kissinger has said: « The current economic crisis is of unprecedented complexity. The contraction unleashed by the coronavirus, due to its high speed and global amplitude, is different from anything we have known in history.. "
The European Union (EU), for example, initially proposed a 25 billion-euro plan to help member countries. Then the European Central Bank spoke of 750 billion…! Such gigantic amplitude gives an idea of the dimension of the confusion ... It is estimated that the GDP of the developed countries could collapse by 10% ... Much more than in the crisis of 29 ... A brutal shock. Feverish, panicky, governments practice a kind of "war Keynesianism." They must help wage earners, peasants, families, companies. And they urgently unlock astronomical sums to inject into the financial circuits in order to avoid the implosion of the economic system. To also prevent, as far as possible, that the coronavirus ultimately causes more poor than dead ...
But the cost will be unimaginable. With the aggravating factor for the State that its tax revenues will be drastically reduced. The deficit will be galactic. At the level of the euro zone, for example, according to the French economist Jacques Sapir, the deficit will reach, at the end of this year, one and a half trillion euros (that is, 1 billion). Never seen. In the case of the United Kingdom - which is no longer in the EU, nor in the euro zone - the Bank of England will solve the problem simply by manufacturing currency ... What neither Italy, nor Spain, nor France can do, which are the states that more liquidity they will need. And that they are already over-indebted ... In these three nations, leaving the Union or the euro zone is going to be strongly raised. Because Germany, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands refused, for weeks, to allow them to obtain credit without any conditions (the famous "coronabonos") ... When, in part, the problems of the health systems of Italy, Spain and France are the A direct consequence of the austerity policies and cuts in public service budgets demanded by these four "austericidal" partners from the north. Remember that southern Europe, before being the epicenter of the current pandemic, was the epicenter of the most sadistic austerity policies after the 500 financial crisis. One led to the other.
Europe, as a protective union, has failed. The community club has been unable to respond jointly and multilaterally to the human and social drama that befalls the Old Continent. People - particularly family and friends of the thousands upon thousands of deceased - will not forget it. « It is an economic model soaked in blood says Naomi Klein. And now people are beginning to realize. Because they turn on the television and they see the commentators and politicians telling them that maybe they should sacrifice their grandparents so that the stock prices can go up… And people wonder: what kind of system is this?»
At such a tragic and delicate moment - with the first secession of the European Union (the Brexit from the United Kingdom) just released on January 31 - and in the face of such a crucial health challenge, the European dream has not worked. And it was probably the last chance ... What fate awaits, after the pandemic, that European Union unsupported with its most fragile partners, and eaten up inside by right-wing populists and extremists?
International trade has been reduced to its level of a century ago. The prices of raw materials have plummeted. Not just oil, but also copper, nickel, cotton, cocoa, palm oil, etc. For the economies of the exporting countries of the South - where two-thirds of the planet's inhabitants live - it is a devastating situation. Because, to the collapse of exports, we must also add: the cessation of contributions from tourism, and the drastic decrease in remittances from emigrants affected by the generalized loss of employment in rich countries paralyzed by the plague. In other words, the three main resources of the countries of the South are collapsing ... Millions of people who, in recent decades, had managed to integrate an incipient planetary 'middle class' are now in danger of falling back into poverty ...
But in addition, in this very discouraging context, capitals have also begun to defect en masse from developing countries. It is estimated that from February 21, 2020, the date of the first death in Italy from covid-19, until the end of March, some 59 billion dollars fled those nations. As a result, many currencies have sunk: the Mexican peso lost 25% of its value against the dollar; the Brazilian real and the South African rand 20%. And all imports, in those countries, will now be worth more expensive ...
In such a gloomy context, the most foreseeable thing is that, when the pandemic passes, several of these states, fragile, bankrupt, indebted, experience strong social shocks ... There could also be bloodbaths there ... We are also likely to attend, in certain regions, to a desperate stampede of wild emigration to the North ... Whose countries will be, at that precise moment, dealing themselves with the painful consequences of the worst crisis in their history. Needless to say, new immigrants, turned scapegoats, will not be well received ... They will fuel xenophobia and hatred of rising right-wing groups in both Europe and the United States ... History warns that disasters fuel chauvinism and racisms ...
To avoid such nightmarish scenarios, many voices are being raised calling for the adoption of various urgent provisions. Among them, the cancellation of the debt of developing countries that, before the crisis, already had a very high external debt. And they had to pay, between now and the end of 2021, according to the UN, some 2,7 billion dollars of interest on their debt ... Many personalities and institutions are demanding a moratorium on the payment of the debt in favor of the most affected nations. Pope Francis himself has claimed that, « considering the circumstances, the great needs of the moment are faced by all the countries, reducing or even forgiving the debt that weighs on the budgets of the poorest ». Also, in this critical context, the lifting by the United States of the unjust "unilateral coercive measures" against Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua, Syria, etc. is being demanded.
The pandemic also forces us to ask ourselves about the dominant economic-commercial model. For forty years, neoliberal globalization has spurred trade, and developed transnational supply chains. The health crisis has shown that the logistics supply lines are too long and fragile. And that, in an emergency like now, remote providers are unable to respond to the emergency. All this has shown that, in many cases, the sovereignty of States is very relative.
Due to neoliberal ideological extremism, the world has undoubtedly gone too far in the delocalization of production, in deindustrialization and in the doctrine of "zero stock." Now, in a situation of life or death, many societies have discovered, astonished, that for some essential supplies -antibiotics, tests, masks, gloves, respirators, etc.- we depend on manufacturers located in the antipodes ... That in our own countries they are manufactures very little ... The "war of the masks" has left a very painful impression of helplessness.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, right-wing nationalist and populist groups - to which, for example, the voters of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Viktor Orbán and Jair Bolsonaro - have been expressing their rejection of economic globalization. On the other hand, since the late 1990s, anti-world militants, from leftist and humanist points of view, have also been strongly criticizing the eco-predatory financial globalization, and calling for 'another possible world'.
These two already considerable forces will now be joined by the masses of people dissatisfied with the dependence of their countries on facing the cataclysm of covid-19. There is a feeling that, with globalization, many governments have renounced fundamental dimensions of their sovereignty, independence and security.
Anti-globalization pressures are going to be very strong after the pandemic. In many capitals the principle of an import-based economy is questioned. Various industrial sectors will undoubtedly be repatriated, relocated. The idea of planning also returns. Recourse to a certain dose of protectionism no longer scandalizes. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, a former banker, has finally admitted that « our world will surely fragment », but that is essential « rebuild French agricultural, health, industrial and technological independence. We will have to develop a strategy based on long time and the possibility of planning. "
Rather than unifying peoples and encouraging their mutual understanding, globalization has favored selfishness, fractures and ultra-nationalism. The widespread closure of borders and national withdrawal, in the name of protection against covid-19, are reinforcing unilateral and nationalist tendencies fueled by the White House by Donald Trump and seconded, for different reasons, from other capitals such as London, Budapest , Brasilia, Manila, etc.
Since the reforms promoted by Deng-Tsiao Ping in 1979, the power that has benefited the most from economic globalization is undoubtedly China. Turned into the "factory of the world", this country is today the only superpower capable of counterbalancing the United States on the world board. Along with the European Union, Japan, and South Korea, Beijing remains one of the biggest advocates of globalization. Especially since its accession, in 2001, to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Chinese authorities believe that anti-globalization will solve nothing and that protectionism is a dead end because, ultimately, no one can export and everyone is blocked. What President Xi-Jin Ping has expressed in the following words: “ Wanting to divide the ocean of the world economy into a series of small lakes well separated from each other, is not only impossible, but also goes against the tide of history. "
In any case, neoliberal hyperglobalization seems seriously wounded and it is not unreasonable to predict its weakening. Even the continuity, in its ultra-liberal form, of capitalism itself is questioned ... The need for a sort of colossal global Marshall Plan is also evoked ... In any case, this tragedy of the covid-19 will undoubtedly push nations towards a new economic order world.
Most governments have failed. Shaken as never before in times of peace, they have failed to rise to the daunting challenge. Nor assume one of its main constitutional powers: the responsibility to protect its population. Examples abound of leaders like Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who, at first, before becoming infected and hospitalized in an ICU, minimized the threat ... Johnson initially opted for the theory of 'herd immunity' , letting the British population get infected ... Starting from the idea that, if 60% or 70% of the population is infected, that would work as a firewall and stop the spread of the virus. Until he understood that if 'only' 3% of the population died, it would mean, for the United Kingdom, some two million deaths ... Other leaders, such as Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, continue to exhibit a denialist attitude and describe the pandemic with giggles murderer of « small flu “… Perhaps, when the coronavirus is defeated, some officials will be held accountable before a justice similar to the Nuremberg Tribunal…
Many leaders have focused on providing local, national responses, managing the pandemic independently, without true international coordination. When it is obvious that no country, no matter how powerful, can defeat the pandemic in an exclusively local endeavor. The great powers have shown themselves incapable of coordinating at a global level (what a disaster the UN Security Council!) To constitute a common planetary front and collaborate in the search for solutions and collective solutions to the crisis. No voice - not even that of the United Nations Secretary General, the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Laureates or the Pope himself - has managed to make itself audible above the general din of fear and fury of this unprecedented shakeup.
If it is true that in bad times it is when the great historical leaders emerge, this pandemic moment of stress, confusion and lack of control has been characterized, on the contrary, by the absence of great leaderships at the head of the main western powers. The zafarrancho has particularly tested the mettle of some of them. In particular, we have already underlined it, Donald Trump who has earned, for his lousy management, the distinction of « worst American president of all time». For him and for us, the new coronavirus has acted as a kind of Peter's Principle, stripping them of their masks, exposing their imposture and their resounding level of incompetence ...
In this volatile scenario, other leaders have instead shown long-term vision, anticipation of events and the decision to act quickly. Two are women, and both are progressives: Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, a Green Party feminist and environmentalist; and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, leader of the Labor Party.
Iceland has followed a unique strategy in the world, offering free and massive covid-19 tests to the entire population. When the first case of coronavirus was detected last February, the country had already been testing for the germ for weeks in tourists or travelers returning home. Katrin Jakobsdottir and her government asked those entering Iceland to report to health centers to be tested even if they had no symptoms. That proactive method of trying to identify SARS-CoV-2, even before it appeared, was decisive.
In New Zealand, Jacinta Ardern also made more aggressive decisions very early than in other developed countries, such as the confinement of its entire population for a month, and the total closure of the archipelago's borders. Their objective was to seek the "elimination" of the disease, rather than the "mitigation" that was applied in many other countries. The idea was to destroy the curve, not just flatten it.
Iceland and New Zealand, along with South Korea, are considered by many experts to be the nations that have best faced the pandemic. But we must add the case of Venezuela. Although the mainstream international media refuses to admit it, President Nicolás Maduro has been, in South America, the leader who sooner understood how to act drastically against the pathogen. Thanks to the battery of measures (confinement, closing of borders, house-to-house voluntarist investigation, hospitalization of all positives) decided by your Government - despite the illegal economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the United States, and military threats Venezuela has been able to avoid the mistakes made in Italy, Spain or the United States and save hundreds of lives. The WHO recognized that the number of infected in Venezuela is lower, in Latin America, than in Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Honduras and Bolivia.
With regard to leadership, a controversy has arisen over which type of leadership has best faced the pandemic, whether democratic governments or 'authoritarian' governments. It is a false debate. In the heat of the fight against the virus, with masses of sick people attacking hospitals, and funeral systems collapsed due to excess deaths, all the rulers, no matter how clumsy they have been, have been daily on the media screens leading the offensive against the deadly enemy. Like a staff general captaining the final battle. It has not been a 'democratic moment'. But the time for firmness and determination. And that has pleased public opinion. Can it be deduced from this that the post-pandemic era will necessarily see the triumph of authoritarianism in the world? Is not safe. Many authoritarian leaders have been slow and clumsy in the face of the coronavirus, disappointed, concealed information or lied: for example, Donald Trump in the United States, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro in Brésil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Narendra Modi in India, Jeanine Áñez in Bolivia, etc.
In any case, on a planetary scale, the new pathogen could not be immediately contained and cloistered in the area where it appeared. And those first days of indecision and confusion were decisive. The germ was thus able to escape from its birth zone and, with unusual speed, to conquer the world. Not even the most convinced adherents of the theories of collapsology imagined that all of humanity would be hit with such force in such a short time. Hardly four months have passed since the moment (December 2019) that the first cases of this new infectious pneumonia were identified in Wuhan. And in such a short interval, the plague has caused a real systemic crisis and an interrogation about the very meaning of human civilization.
The nightmare we are living has already changed our societies. Disturbances of all kinds - inconceivable just a few weeks ago - are occurring in multiple aspects of social life, in interpersonal relations, in politics, the economy, health systems, the role of the State, technologies, communications, international relations ... Dozens of States -even within the European Union- have closed indefinitely their borders or have militarized them. Many countries and hundreds of cities have introduced a curfew for the first time in peacetime. Millions of people have given up freedom of movement. Democratic life has been completely disrupted. Dozens of electoral processes have been postponed or suspended. The most powerful Armed Forces do not escape contagion. They are withdrawing combatants, withdrawing ships and confessing inoperative in this strange war against an invisible enemy. The main airlines have closed their flights, leaving hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded in the four corners of the planet. The most important sports competitions - including the Olympic Games, the UEFA Champions League, the Tour de France - have been suspended and postponed. Half humanity is now wearing a protective mask while the other half also wants to put it on ... but cannot find them.
What will the planet be like when the pandemic ends? The world is going to need authorized voices, with charisma and symbolic strength, that show the collective good path to start a new stage, as it did after the Second World War. The UN will have to reform and give entrance, like permanent members from the Security Council, to new nations such as India, Nigeria, Egypt, Brazil and Mexico, more representative of the reality of the contemporary world.
With the failure of the US leadership, a dangerous power vacuum opens. The game of thrones is dangerously relaunched. The European Union, as we have seen, has also fared badly for its disappointing lack of cohesion during the pandemic. China and Russia, on the other hand, have consolidated their international role by providing assistance to many countries overwhelmed by the collapse of their health system. They have even helped the United States! We have seen unusual images: Russian military planes landing in Italy, offering doctors and distributing health supplies. China has donated millions of detection kits, masks, lung ventilators, protective helmets and all kinds of health logistics to a hundred countries. «We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, flowers from the same garden.»Said beautifully the containers that China has offered to a good part of the world. Beijing's international influence has grown.
Every country on the planet continues to face -at the same time y first- The onslaught of some kind of alien ... The pandemic is going on for a long time. And it is possible that the virus, after mutating, returns. Maybe next winter… Given the enormity of what is happening, changes are coming. Although nobody knows what the possible scenarios will be imposed. The uncertainties are numerous. But it is clear that it can be a moment of resounding transformation.
Things cannot continue as they were. A large part of humanity cannot continue living in a world so unjust, so unequal and so ecocide. As one of the memes that have circulated the most during the quarantine: « We don't want to go back to normal, because normality is the problem. »'Normality' brought us the pandemic ...
This traumatic experience should be used to reformulate the social contract and move towards higher levels of community solidarity and greater social integration. Across the globe, many voices are now calling for more redistributive, more feminist economic and political institutions and greater concern for the socially marginalized, discriminated minorities, the poor and the elderly. Any post-pandemic response should be supported, as Edgar Morin suggests, in « the principles of a truly regenerative economy, based on care and repair ».
The concept of 'national security' should include, from now on, the redistribution of wealth, a fairer tax system to reduce obscene inequalities, and the consolidation of the welfare state. You want to move towards some form of socialism. It is urgent, at a global level, to create a basic income that offers protection to all citizens in times of crisis ... and in ordinary times.
Health systems must be public and universal. Having managed hospitals like companies has led to treating patients as merchandise. Result: a disaster both human and health. In any case, there is unanimity to ask that the vaccine against covid-19, when discovered, be considered a 'global public good', and be free and accessible to all humanity. The new coronavirus has shown us that, when push comes to shove, doctors, nurses and healthcare personnel are infinitely more valuable than brokers or financial speculators.
It would be smart to anticipate the next climate crisis as well, which might surprise us soon just like SARS-CoV-2 did… Stop raging consumerism and end the idea of infinite growth. Our planet can't take it anymore. Dying. We are dying in our arms ... It is imperative to accelerate the clean energy transition and to rush to implement what ecologists have long claimed, a « Green New Deal », An ambitious Green Agreement that constitutes the new world economic alternative to predatory capitalism.
But immediately, as Naomi Klein warns, it must be avoided that under the effects of 'shock capitalism', the defenders of the system - ultra-liberal governments, speculative funds, transnational companies, digital mastodons - consolidate their domination and manipulate the crisis to create more inequalities, greater exploitation and more injustices ... It is necessary to prevent the pandemic from being used to establish a Great World Regression that reduces the spaces of democracy, destroys even more our ecosystem, diminishes human rights, neocolonies the South, trivializes racism, expels migrants and normalize mass cyber surveillance.
For the moment, entire societies remain confined to their homes. Docile, scared, controlled, silent. What will happen when the lockdowns are lifted? What have the peoples been ruminating during their unprecedented "social isolation"? How many reproaches have they been accumulating against some rulers? It is not improbable that we will witness, here or there, a kind of unruly stampede of outraged citizens - very outraged - against various centers of power accused of mismanaging the pandemic ...
Some leaders already feel the popular fury rising ... And after having adopted and defended the neoliberal model for many years, they are becoming aware of the flawed mistakes of neoliberalism, both political and social as well as economic, scientific, administrative ... Now these politicians are promising to its citizens that, once the pandemic has expired, everything will be amended to build a sort of 'just society'. They propose a new model that is definitely fairer, greener, more feminist, more democratic, more social, less unequal ... Surely, driven by the situation, they sincerely think about it.
It is very unlikely that, once the scourge is overcome, they will maintain such intentions. It would be a real revolution ... And a virus, however disturbing it may be, is not a substitute for a revolution ... We cannot be innocent. Social struggles will continue to be indispensable. After the shock, the ruling powers, no matter how much they have staggered, will strive to regain control. With greater violence, if possible. They will try to bring us back to the old 'normality'. In other words, the State of permanent inequalities. Let's think about what happened with the pandemic of the "Kansas flu" (misnamed "Spanish) that spread to the entire planet between January 1918 and December 1920. Who remembered it before the current plague, apart from some historians ? We had all forgotten it ... Despite the fact that it infected some five hundred million people - a third of humanity at the time - and killed more than fifty million sick people ...
And what happened next ? Did Europe and the United States build the 'just society'?… The answer is: no. The promises faded. Most survivors of the deadly flu were quick to forget. A cloak of amnesia covered the memory. People preferred to jump into life with a rampant appetite in what was called the 'happy twenties' (the roaring twenties). It was the era of jazz, tango, charleston, Hollywood's triumph and mass culture. An artificial and alienating euphoria that would end up crashing, ten years later, against the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression ...
At that very moment, in Italy, a new doctrine came to power. It was destined to be very successful. Its name: fascism ... Will history repeat itself?