“May you live in interesting times.” – Chinese expression
“May you live in interesting times” is an English expression which purports to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. While at first glance it might appear to be a blessing, the expression is typically used ironically, suggesting that life is better in “uninteresting times” of peace and tranquility than in “interesting” ones, which are usually characterized by trouble and turbulence.
This past week has been like no other, not only for The Bahamas but for the entire planet and its billions of inhabitants as it circumnavigates the sun at an orbital speed of 67,000 mph. Virtually no one has escaped the fear of the COVID-19 crisis that will persist in perpetuity, much like the Black Plague that claimed between 75-200 million European lives between the years 1331 and 1353, and the Spanish flu that erased up to 100 million souls between 1918 and 1920.
This week we would like to consider this… just how interesting are the times in which we are living?
At the dawn of the new decade, the world witnessed the arrival of COVID-19. On December 31 last year, China alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) about several cases of atypical pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people. At that time, the virus was unknown and unnamed.
On January 5, Chinese officials dismissed this illness as a recurrence of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus – the illness that originated in China and killed more than 770 people worldwide in 2002-2003.
On January 7, the WHO announced they had identified a new virus. The novel virus was named 2019-nCoV and was recognized as belonging to the coronavirus family, which includes SARS and the common cold. Coronaviruses are common and spread through being in proximity to an infected person and inhaling droplets generated when they cough, sneeze or by touching a surface where the droplets land and then touching one’s face or nose.
On January 11, China announced its first death from the virus, a 61-year-old man who had purchased goods from the Wuhan seafood market. Treatment did not improve his symptoms after he was admitted to the hospital and he died of heart failure on the evening of January 9.
On January 13, the WHO reported a case in Thailand, the first outside of China, in a woman who had arrived from Wuhan. Three days later, on January 16, Japan’s health ministry reported a confirmed case in a man who had also visited Wuhan. On the next day, as a second death was reported in Wuhan, health authorities in the United States announced that three airports would start screening passengers arriving from Wuhan.
On January 23, Wuhan, which was designated as ground zero for the novel coronavirus, mandated its residents to shelter in place, an expression for staying at home, resulting in the shut-down of the entire city.
On January 30, the WHO declared that this virus was a global health emergency. On January 31, the United States reported its first case, a 35-year-old man in Washington State who also had returned from Wuhan just five days before his diagnosis. Authorities in Nepal, France, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan confirmed cases over the following days.
On February 11, the WHO announced that the new disease would be called COVID-19. Over the next few days, COVID-19 cases spiked in South Korea and the disease began its outbreak in Iran and Italy.
One month later, on March 11, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Two days later, a United States federal national emergency was declared over the COVID-19 outbreak. Shortly after that, a leaked federal plan warned that the COVID-19 pandemic “will last 18 months or longer” and may come in “multiple waves” of infections. Today, nearly all U.S. states in that country have declared a state of emergency.
On March 17, Italy recorded 475 COVID-19 deaths, at the time the highest single-day death toll for any country since the outbreak began two-and-a-half months earlier.
On March 18, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, in a letter to U.S President Donald Trump, wrote: “We project that roughly 56 percent of our population – 25.5 million people — will be infected by the virus over an eight-week period.”
Last Saturday, Italy surpassed its record death toll for a single day, with 793 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours.
At the time of this writing, authorities reported more than 240,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, with roughly 85,000 recoveries and 10,000 deaths. In the United States alone there have been 26,779 cases and 344 deaths, with the infection affecting every state in the Union. Many states have issued stay at home orders to its citizens to attempt containment of the pandemic.
It is an understatement that we are indeed living in very interesting times.
The Bahamian experience
On Sunday, March 15, the Bahamas government confirmed the country’s first case of COVID-19. Immediately thereafter, the governor general issued a proclamation declaring a state of emergency until March 31, 2020 because of COVID-19. The government subsequently issued a resolution on March 17, affirming the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations 2020 pursuant to Article 29 (5) of the Bahamas Constitution.
On March 19, 2020, the government issued the first order under the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations 2020, which, among other things, detail protocols for limiting the country-wide movements of persons to contain COVID-19 infections among the population. The order prescribed businesses that would be allowed to remain open (exempted businesses), primarily essential services including medical facilities, security services and the uniformed forces. The order also restricted the business hours of exempted businesses, subject to social distancing recommendations of three to six feet.
The order also imposed a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and that non-essential persons in businesses should stay at home. This order expires on March 31, 2020.
At the time of this writing, four cases were confirmed in The Bahamas, all of them within the same family group.
There is no question that the government took all the right steps in response to this crisis. We can only pray and hope that the prudent measures that were taken will assist in minimizing the number and severity of future infections and deaths.
One of the biggest unknowns is the extent that this crisis will affect our economy. There is no doubt that the fallout to the Bahamian economy and Bahamian households are presently unquantifiable. Similarly, the fiscal implications resulting from COVID-19 are currently indeterminable. Only time will tell. In a future column, we will address the likely economic fallout from this crisis. For the moment, however, our attention, energies, and resources must be laser focused on public health and safety considerations. Interesting, unparalleled and unprecedented times, indeed.
The unintended benefits
Growing up, my parents often admonished that “Behind every dark cloud is a silver lining.” I read an interesting article this week that reminded me of that admonition. The article was written by Denise Chow and entitled, “The Unintended Benefits of the Coronavirus Crisis”.
She observed: “In Venice, the often murky canals recently began to get clearer, with fish visible in the water below. Italy’s efforts to limit the coronavirus meant an absence of boat traffic on the city’s famous waterways. And the changes happened quickly.
“Countries that have been under stringent lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus have experienced an unintended benefit. The outbreak has, at least in part, contributed to a noticeable drop in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in some countries.”
In her article, Chow quoted Christopher Jones, lead developer of the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the University of California, Berkeley. Jones noted: “Carbon dioxide is tied to industrial activity, electricity production and transportation, so anything that affects those sectors will impact greenhouse gases as well.”
Chow also observed: “Although grim, it’s something scientists said could offer tough lessons for how to prepare — and ideally avoid — the most destructive impacts of climate change.”
In the final analysis, when we have time to fully reflect on the COVID-19 crisis, I believe that there will be many lessons that we will learn from the most interesting times in which we are living.
Throughout history, crises of different forms have challenged humanity. Some are political or economic crises; others are natural disasters or social emergencies. How we interpret, react and bounce back from today’s COVID-19 crisis will define how we survive the crises of tomorrow.
Jose Marti, the Cuban nationalistic liberation hero, reminded us that: “In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.” That observation is apropos for the interesting times in which we live.
One of my favorite quotations by John F. Kennedy is: “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.”
As we endure the immediacy of the COVID-19 crisis in which we are all extremely ensconced, let us boldly face the danger of this insidious intervention, but, equally, let us embrace the opportunity to care for and resolve to know each other better. This is a golden opportunity for us to reconnect, re-engage and restore our long-lost sense of community.
Above all, let us recognize that, as we live in these most interesting times, surrounded by what might appear to be an existential threat to life and our way of life, we can take supreme solace in the enduring spirit of the human species and reaffirm our humanity with complete reassurance that “this too shall pass”.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.