A respiratory virus, originating in Wuhan, China, closing down three-quarters of the world’s population, is globalisation.
5G technology, providing a frictionless communication and transactional future, is also globalisation.
On October 12th,1492, the Taino tribe gathered on the shores of San Salvador Island, to welcome a party of foreign sailors. The sailors were Christopher Columbus and his crew; the tribe put down their weapons and gave the sailors cotton, stones and parrots, among other tokens of friendship.
A year later, Columbus built his first town on the island of Hispaniola, where, at the time, there were between 100,000 and 4 million members of the Taino tribe (no ONS in those days). By 1548, their population had been reduced to under 500. They lacked immunity to the Old World pathogens carried by the Spanish and had fallen victim to the plagues of influenza and other viruses.
Globalisation has always had consequences.
Back to today:
A recent article in the Economist said that, even before the pandemic, globalisation was in trouble, but the current situation is this: the number of passengers at Heathrow has dropped by 97% year-on-year; Mexican car exports fell by 90% in April; 21% of transpacific container-sailings in May have been cancelled.
As economies gradually open, activity will restart, but there won’t be a quick return to a world of unfettered movement and free trade. The pandemic will politicise travel and entrench a bias towards self-reliance. This inward-looking shift will weaken the recovery, leave the economy vulnerable and spread geopolitical instability.
But, there is another, often overlooked facet to globalisation, and that is the ability to look at best practices across the globe. How are different countries dealing with coronavirus and how connected and cooperative are we all?
The first thing to note, is that America has not taken a leading role, as might have been expected, and China, with its state-enforced secrecy and ambition, has proved itself unfit for such a role; so are we rudderless, or is there, in fact, some global coordination in operation?
Donald Trump says that the US (91,291 deaths) is ‘leading the world’ with its response to the pandemic, but the world certainly doesn’t want to follow his ramblings on injecting disinfectant. The world is looking on with something approaching pity.
The actor, Christopher Ecclestone, said the other day; “I think it’s fair to say that without Donald Trump there would be no Boris Johnson. The idea of a celebrity moron becoming the most powerful person in the country was patented by the US.” Brilliantly put sir.
Other world leaders have been shocked at the lack of cooperation shown by Trump. On 12th March, he simply banned travel from Europe to the US, without informing Brussels and even offered loads of money to a German firm to relocate its vaccine research to America, as well as severing funding to the WHO.
A poll in France found Merkel to be far and away the most trusted world leader. Just two percent had confidence Trump was leading the world in the right direction. Only Boris Johnson and Xi Jinping inspired less faith.
Dacian Ciolos, former Romanian PM, now leader of the Renew Europe group in the European parliament, said: “Post-truth communication techniques used by rightwing populism movements simply do not work to beat Covid-19. And we see that populism cost lives.”
After Trump’s disinfectant comments, Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera, said: “Trying to get into Donald Trump’s head is more difficult than finding a vaccine for coronavirus. First he decided on a lockdown and then he encouraged protests against the lockdown that he promoted. It’s like a Mel Brooks film.”
The latest figures (20th May), from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports that in Europe, there have been 164,349 deaths, with 35,341 in the UK, 32,169 in Italy, 28,022 in France, 27,778 in Spain and 9,108 in Belgium.
European countries have differing demographics, living habits and densities, as well as health and dietary habits, so a broadly differing level of fatalities would be expected, if they all followed the same approach to the pandemic.
It is hard to argue that the EU has taken any sort of control; countries have gone it alone and observed their neighbours and others for any best practices that might arise.
Germany, led efficiently by Angela Merkel, has seen only 8,090 deaths, so must be doing something right. They were put in lockdown, on March 22nd, and have now started lifting the restrictions on a state-by-state basis. People are meeting, drinking and eating outdoors and the Bundesliga has restarted, behind closed doors.
Since the Second World World War, Germany has decentralised power to its 16 federal states, with guidance from the centre, (Merkel in the Middle, if you will) and this, allied to a generally affluent and healthy population, has greatly helped.
The contrast with the UK is striking. The UK entered lockdown one day later, control has been totally centralised, very little power given to local authorities, who must beg the government for funds, and unlimited car travel has now been permitted, allowing the virus to travel wherever it wants. Allied to a complete lack of joined-up thinking between the NHS and care homes, this has been a UK catastrophe.
Put bluntly the figures are stark:
German population: 83.02 million
Deaths attributed to coronavirus: 9,090
UK population: 66.65 million
With a population 20% lower than Germany, the UK death rate is 350% higher.
Something led by politicians and scientists is never going to be very inventive, but simple, thought-through measures, allied to a strong leadership and a broadly compliant population can work wonders.
Scandinavia is interesting; Sweden relied on its people to distance socially, to stay at home where possible and kept its economy (bars, shops and restaurants) open. With a population of 10.23 million, it has had 3,743 Covid-19 deaths. Its neighbours, Denmark (population: 5.8 million) has seen 551 deaths and Norway (population: 5.36 million), 354 deaths.
So; lockdown, in Scandinavia, has worked in curbing deaths, but the economy has to be restarted, with the danger of further spikes in infection in Denmark and Norway, and perhaps, in a year’s time, Sweden will emerge with fewer overall deaths, a happier population and better economy than its neighbours.
I don’t know about you, but, in my limited travels, every road has been, or is being, dug up and fibre optics installed. When a population is in lockdown, it is a great opportunity to sort out a country’s technical infrastructure, but I can’t help questioning how local authorities are suddenly so coordinated and busy. This started, in my neighbourhood, on day one.
There are obviously loads of conspiracy theories concerning 5G, and it is worth noting that, in order to work, a 5G network relies on fibre optics. Put plainly: leveraging the full potential of wireless 5G will require vast amounts of transmitters to relay the data across the network through fibre optic cables.
Maybe the global lockdown is a huge coordinated strategy by governments to sort out their fibre optic networks, to facilitate 5G, using an outbreak of flu as cover and the countries that complete their infrastructure soonest, free their citizens first.
Or maybe not.
Perhaps coronavirus is a concerted effort by governments to crack the problem of the environment.
Let’s face it; a pandemic that sees off the economically unprofitable, cripples the automotive and airline industries, while sparing the children and saving the environment, looks like the acts of a benign(ish) dictator.
But, if there is a coordinated ‘global strategy’, the UK obviously didn’t get the email.
Their ineptitude has pretty much proved that there is no viable globally coordinated conspiracy, or, at least not one they, and the US, have been asked to join.