In the beautiful Tuscan town of Volterra there is, in an out of the way piazza, a small one-room museum. We stumbled upon it quite by accident.
It contains items of torture; chairs, racks, chains and all manner of things unpleasant. The museum was also witness to plague and pestilence. I recall the written details of the devastation of the Black Plague. There was for example a push-barrow big enough for just a single body, unless things got busy. It had a canopy and curtains and two big wheels. A couple of days ago there was an online photo of a current model being utilised in today's crisis, not very different from its ancestor. The curtains were replaced by clear plastic.
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That visit provided some small perspective of what that same country is experiencing today. It has happened before, more than once and it will happen again. This Covid-19 virus will not be the last.
There are accusations and controversies over leadership in almost every democratic country, especially Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Less so here but that reflects our ranking. They are but irrelevant noise at the moment. To state the obvious, winning the war is all that matters. And here we are up the creek without a paddle. The paddle being a vaccine.
There is one word to explain the crisis. Stupidity, on multiple fronts.
In an interview last week, Rosemary Gibson, author of the book, China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America's Dependance on China for Medicine, provided the reasons. But you can remove America from the title because the principle is almost universal. China and America signed a free trade agreement October 10, 2000 and China, after long negotiations, joined the World Trade Organisation on December 11, 2001.
Gibson told me that if China cut exports, pharmacy shelves in the US would be bare and hospitals would be unable to function. There is a long list of medications but what shocked me was penicillin. The last US manufacturer of penicillin went out of business in 2004. America, the world's biggest economy does not make its own penicillin. It has been undercut on costs. How? Globalisation.
Let me quote Victor Davis Hanson, classicist and military historian for whom I have considerable admiration: "Covid-19 itself has raised fundamental questions about the merits of globalisation in general, and in particular the wisdom of any sovereign nation outsourcing key industries like high-tech, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and food processing to an autocratic, non-transparent- and dangerous- nation like China."
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The US has company. The London Times ran a story under the banner "Reliance on foreign vaccines 'is a risk to national security'". Britain "has nowhere capable of manufacturing a coronavirus vaccine when one is found", according to scientists.
Hanson, in a default endorsement of Rosemary Gibson's observations, "Donald Trump was ridiculed for taking on the Chinese juggernaut in 2017, even though he was not wrong that China was a serial world trade cheater — manipulating currencies, dumping products below the cost of production, appropriating technology, infringing on patents and copyrights, and running up huge asymmetrical trade surpluses".
Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey believes that a free nation has to agree to temporarily sacrifice a freedom or two for the sake of a greater freedom, the hope of life. While he is not wrong about sacrificing a freedom or two, that must not mean permanently.
A crisis has a limited existence by definition. At the end of the crisis, impositions, restrictions or other changes to the norm must cease. That should be stated emphatically at the time of introduction. All too frequently, we hear reference to the "new norm" as a matter of fact. It would be all too easy to introduce changes under emergency and have them endorsed through lack of withdrawal. Dare I mention activist judges. And yes, they do exist.
"Never let a serious crisis go to waste", being the words of an Obama henchman.
Speaking of which, there are those who have attempted to exploit this crisis for their own purposes, including politicians. The Democrats in America pushing for legislative inclusion of pet pursuits in emergency legislation; politics as usual versus statesmanship. But as the magnitude of this crisis becomes ever more evident, hopefully partisanship will minimise.
While attention is focused especially on the elderly, there will be increasing concern for youth. Having already been moulded for another crisis, they are now confronted with the possibility of a real human catastrophe. Nothing has prepared them for this and it's not their fault. Lack of historical context, while living in a fantasy world will be extremely challenging.
My conversation with Gibson concluded with one determination. That this country should urgently establish its own pharmaceutical manufacturing ability. No matter the cost.