FarmLink welcomes Jacob Shapiro to our guest blogger series
This week, Jacob Shapiro, geopolitical analyst and owner of Perch Perspectives, is answering our questions about geopolitics in relation to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). We sincerely thank him for his time and incredible insights.
You might remember Jacob Shapiro’s geopolitical presentation from Grain World 2019. The world he described then has become somewhat a reality now. At the time of Grain World, no one had heard about COVID-19 or knew the impact it would have on the economy. We’re living in a different world and who better to shed some light on what is going on than Jacob Shapiro.
Mr. Shapiro, what were the biggest “mistakes” that fueled the pandemic?
It is strange to think that while we were all gathered at Grain World in Saskatoon, COVID-19 was already brewing half-a-world away in Wuhan. The Chinese government has not identified “patient zero” yet – and at this point, it may never find that person – but they have subsequently traced back the earliest confirmed COVID-19 case to November 17th. Personally, I did not become aware that something was going on until December 30th, when Wuhan’s Municipal Health Commission reported cases of “pneumonia of unknown origin” and Chinese social media started to buzz. The Chinese government officially notified the World Health Organization of what they were dealing with the next day.
Herein lies the original sin of the crisis in which we find ourselves. On January 5th, the WHO released the following statement: “Based on the preliminary information from the Chinese investigation team, no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission and no health care worker infections have been reported.”
Let’s break this apart a bit. We know now that Chinese doctors in Wuhan on December 30th believed they were dealing with SARS – a more deadly, less contagious cousin of COVID-19. Chinese police rounded up these doctors, accused them of “disturbing public order,” forced them to recant their assertions, and issued formal reprimands. One of these doctors – Li Wenliang – later contracted COVID-19 and died in February at the age of 34. In other words: China knew the situation was more serious than it let on to the WHO.
Whether because it was afraid of dissent, or of sowing domestic unrest, or of the West taking advantage of yet another crisis (remember China was and is still reeling from African Swine Fever), China was not willing to be honest with the WHO or even its own people about the scope of the problem. That’s mistake number one.
Mistake number two: the WHO took it for granted based on the preliminary information provided by the Chinese investigation team that COVID-19 was not a cause of great concern. The WHO’s conclusion was its public health recommendations for managing the flu were sufficient going forward and that travel or trade restrictions on China were inadvisable. This started a chain reaction of government failures, as basically every country in the world except Singapore and South Korea failed to treat the situation with the appropriate level of concern and scrutiny.
This is the most maddening thing about the pandemic. It was completely and totally preventable. I am not saying that we needed to shut down the global economy on January 5th, but we could have very well put precautionary measures in place and attempted to find out as much information about COVID-19 as possible. A simple reading of Chinese social media would have told the WHO that this could be serious – I’m not an epidemiologist but even I was worried as far back as December 30th. Instead, the WHO became irrelevant and reactive, upping its alerts in response to outbreaks around the world rather than advising countries on how to stop the spread of the virus in the first place.
It’s so important to understand this because COVID-19 is going to happen again – and next time, the disease might be far worse than this one. It may not be for 5 years, 10 years, even 100 years – but it will happen again, and if we live in a world where countries are not willing to be honest about issues affecting global health, and where the institutions we have created to monitor and prevent pandemics do not function as they should, the results, as we have seen already, will be catastrophic. Viruses don’t care whether we are American, Canadian, or Chinese; whether we are white or black, Christian or pagan. We – China, the WHO, Canada, the US, all of us – failed in the end because fear and suspicion of “others” meant more to us than protecting the species as a whole even in the face of a virulent and undiscriminating enemy.
Mr. Shapiro has been busy since Grain World: he recently launched a new business and political consulting firm called Perch Perspectives. You can also contact Mr. Shapiro directly via e-mail ([email protected]com) or on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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