Information is going around talking about how some third world countries have been the fastest to contain the spread of the Coronavirus or COVID-19. Have you heard it? Countries like Colombia and Argentina have been faster than Spain, Italy, USA, China or South Korea. They should be fucking proud! They were faster than everyone in closing ports, air traffic, educational institutions, as well as voluntary and mandatory quarantine. Plausible. But in the midst of all the national pride and all the fiery brotherhood that this has awoken from within us, it is worth asking: how and why did a third world country manage to be better at this than the others? Are we doing the right thing?
From our dignified four-wall trenches into which we have rammed up to keep away the microscopic murderous monster on the loose, we see with amazement the irresponsibility of the American government filling beaches and streets when there are clear voluntary and even mandatory restrictions dictated by local governments. Outrageous. They seem like irresponsible teenagers who feel entitled to everything. And worst of all, it seems that the fact that this microscopic killer has been living in the US is not intimidating them. The UK has already been spooked; They entered the ring feeling powerful and quickly got sucker punched, realizing they had to sit down and start a lockdown. The US, nothing…yet.
Although one clearly blames this behavior as absolute irresponsibility and beastly ignorance, it is inevitable to think how can this be happening to the world's leading country, the one with (by far) the largest number of PhDs and universities The most prestigious in the world, the one with the largest budgets, the one with the most advanced and abundant cutting-edge technology, and the sharpest specialists in the world, fall into this evident and virulent error. Is it Trump's fault? Could be. But Trump is nothing more than the reflection of American society when he looks in the mirror. To the point, that just a few days ago it was established that 60% of Americans approve of their president’s management during the epidemic, and now, according to Gallup, he has the highest level of approval since he led the country -49 % - (Ipsos Poll increases it even more: 55%). So, is there something we’re missing here?
We’ll return to the US in a moment. Before, take a look in the mirror. Yes. People born in a third-world country. But not the one who lives in an affluent neighborhood. I’m talking about everyone. What do you see? According to multiple anthropological, historical and linguistic studies that have been carried out in the last few years, I can confirm, that what you see is a hard-working person, strong, with inventiveness, a hustler, who’s always trying to see the bright side of things, humble and very attached to some type of God. On the other hand, you also see someone who finds it hard to trust, that the thrashing of life has taught him that when too many good things happen on a row, it’s because a really bad one is coming his way, he knows that bad things can happen very quickly, and that, therefore, it’s better to be cautious. A person who’s had to face hard situations, suffered, and who knows that one day he’ll overcome it and eventually will laugh about it; Although deep down, he’ll always have wounds, deep wounds, like a memory of the misfortunes life brings, memories that end up drawing tears when alone at night, or drawing violence when he can't take it anymore. Some people say: "life’s made for suffering". And it is something grandmothers used to say, but which is still impregnated in the cultural imagination, more dissolved, with other tones and other lines, but it still runs through, it’s alive and kicking.
So then, it is evident that suffering is a given. In preparing for the bad stuff. In expecting the worst. In having trust issues. And there are many examples to show that this has been the case. Politicians cheat right and left, without the slightest remorse; a blatant and oppressive mockery. In Colombia for example, The FARC guerrillas, a terrorist group that has been shaking the country up for more than 60 years, signed a peace initiative, but half of the leadership backed down and now lead, in congress against the government, which continues to wage war. Another taunt against the country. A few years ago ... thanks to the guerrillas, the country was kidnapped because people feared they could go into their homes and get pulled from the legs to be kidnapped and thus end their dreams, families and even life itself. In Argentina, unrest has been at its core. From Evita Peron to Kirchner, the country has been divided between socialists and democrats, building economic unrest, instability and a lack of confidence within citizens. What I’m trying to say is that when born in a third world country, the ballot box is already drawn, and without having to see the ballot, your fate was already doomed, and it wasn’t pretty because of your past, your surroundings. In a country like that, you could die, you could be hurt, or you could break. In recent years that has undoubtedly improved. But the urn is still embedded in your bedside, only with some extra lucky ballots.
The Coronavirus is then one of those tests in life that tends to be secretly enjoyable because of the suffering it entails. It brings out the best in people, because life has trained them for that. On social media we send love to each other, we help with what we can, and the news, actors, companies and, of course, influencers, relentlessly repeat the importance of washing hands, keeping distance and, above all, to stay home. We have approached people with whom we did not have any contact with in years, we Facetime with our families more often, we’re looking out for friends, for colleagues at work ... a beautiful scene in which the love of God has spread over the internet (which now everyone is faithful to) to fill us with his mercy. So, despite the fact that in Colombia there were only eighty COVID-19 cases, which meant that the probability that one would get infected at that point was 1 in 625,000 (the probability to get violently killed in Colombia is 1 in 4,130), people decided to absolutely confine themselves; They closed everything: from restaurants to malls, and they ask their families to pray, to pray for everyone, because this is going to be the end. Maybe it will… who knows. Maybe everyone should be terrified. But it’s very interesting how people react to this monstrous microscopic bug that’s on the loose, because it’s a survival instinct that invites us to be careful, because it is known that bad things happen, and they go hell-wire fast. But we don’t really know for sure what the best measures are. We assume them, we make them logical, and we corroborate them with a sharp reasoning, thanks to our intelligence, but we get carried away by our cultural instincts.
Meanwhile, in Santa Monica beach and Malibu, more than twenty thousand people sunbathed and enjoyed life when the monster had already eaten five hundred people for lunch in the US and the rate of infection was increasing by nine thousand a day. As of today, it already increases by twenty thousand, and in a week it will be increasing by sixty thousand. Right now, for example, the probability that you will get infected in the United States is 1 in 3,150; quite worse than in LATAM, as you can see. It is evident that life has treated these monkeys differently. People in the US do not expect really bad things to ever happen to them. The worst thing that ever happened was 9/11, when more than 3,000 people died. More than 260,000 have died in Colombia’s recent conflict. So then, who’s damage control approach is correct? Is Latin America’s intuitive way of looking at disaster wiser than the American science scholar and screeching academy?
Today, it seems clear that there are two approaches. We could call them humanistic and pragmatic. The first one, influenced by religion, is that of Colombians and Argentinians by nature; That is why fear overcomes their life and total isolation is the only answer (with only 60 to 80 confirmed cases). Their approach is to preserve life above all else. Meanwhile, the latter prioritizes economy, progress, and the future well-being of the nation or the world. The first thinks more about the present, and the second a little more about the future. The former seems to gain an advantage in containing the virus's indiscriminate escalation. Studies already show that a total confinement in the early stages of the virus manages to contain it and offer a better scenario to later have to deal with. But we must admit that not demanding total confinement from the population at 20,000 cases a day in the country seems clearly cataclysmic brutality, Trump's reflection makes sense when he affirms that “the medicine can’t be worse than the disease”. When you are in the horns of a dilemma, you have to choose who to save: either precious lives or the world’s economy. There are no other choices. As Mexico said it: “it is necessary to choose if we die because of the virus or we starve to death”. In war, it comes to a point in which the special ops officer has to decide between less fatalities or a better quality of life scenario for the team. The humanistic approach prioritizes life even if the country breaks down. In their point of view, It’s better to preserve the lives of, maybe 200 to 400 people who could die (the product of between 20,000 and 40,000 cases that some forecasts indicate in a couple LATAM countries after total lockdown since the early stages of the spread), even though hundreds of thousands of people could be left without work and fall into complete poverty. Of course, if total lockdown doesn’t get implemented, there could be more than 500 deaths, and perhaps they could even reach 5,000 or 20,000 deaths if 2 million people were to be infected. Nobody knows for sure.
On the other hand, the pragmatic approach, the Trump Style, would say a couple deaths are the preferable evil, and that saving the economy from a cataclysmic recession is out of the question. A scenario that could leave millions out of work and bankrupt; painting a difficult panorama for families and businesses for several years. Top that with the dead in their vast majority being the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions. So, what's worse? For several thousands to die, or for several million people to fall into poverty? (Goldman Sachs forecasts a decline in the United States' gross domestic product of 24% in the second quarter; unprecedented. In addition, some 6 million 600 thousand people have already enrolled as unemployed in the country, a historical number). That would mean thousands of families mourning their loved ones, or that millions of families go through really hard times seeing their quality of life dramatically diminished for a few years. What a fucking decision.
It is obvious that neither of the two scenarios is desirable, but it seems necessary to choose one of the two. Of course, unless governments reach deep into their pockets and make an unprecedented corporate rescue, which ends up protecting almost every job while there is a mandatory lockdown for months in order to contain a large number of deaths. Thus, most deaths are avoided and future quality of life is saved. But that doesn't seem very realistic either, at least not in a country like Colombia or Argentina, where reserves are not close to the size of the problem.
We then come to the climax: how many dead are we going to tolerate? How many unemployed and bankruptcies are we going to allow? How far are we going to lock ourselves up to avoid deaths? How far will we go while thousands and thousands of jobs are destroyed, with their known psychological, emotional and social consequences?
Japan has started to verify that they can live with the virus, amid restrictions, not absolute, but being disciplined in terms of social distancing. The curve has flattened and, despite the fact that the virus appeared there two months ago, there are no more than 1,500 cases and 50 deaths to date. They have managed to contain it thanks to a decision that seems to include the best of both worlds: a humanistic one and a pragmatic one. It’s working. Therefore, the point must come, sooner rather than later, when we will have to be aware that while many will die (especially the elderly and patients with pre-existing conditions), the economy will have to keep going, so that the collateral damage of medicine doesn't end up killing the patient. Everyone will eventually have to go to work and make money, and be responsible for those who he can infect and those who he can end up killing for not following the necessary requirements of social distancing and hand washing. Today, we can do basic math: each COVID-19 patient ends up infecting 3 people on average, within about 13 days before going into isolation. If governments are spending about 70 days in reducing cases to almost zero (like China), then it means that each person with the virus is transmitting it on average, from 3 to 466 people, that is, 369 people. And, if we know that between 1% and 5% dies, then that one person will be killing (yes, killing) between 3.6 and 18 people. Indirectly. So our responsibility is colossal. The decision to transmit the virus and kill people is literally in our hands. It's a choice. But again, collateral damage can be the same or much worse, but never less. It is because of this, that, after a month or a month and a half of absolute and mandatory lockdown imparted by the governments, could mean that the measures could relax (without being completely eliminated), in order to live between the best of both worlds: the preservation of as many lives as possible (although knowing that there will still be deaths), and the pragmatic one, which will prevent a catastrophic number of people from sinking into the hardships of bankruptcy.