Journal of the virus year: Chapter 11

August 2020: the local and the global

From here in El Parral to the pretty multicoloured facades of the beach front of La Vila Joiosa it is 12.5 km (seven and a half miles), which is mostly downhill. Descending from 260 metres above sea level to the beach takes 35 minutes on a bicycle. Driving into the underground car park of Consum supermarket for the weekly shopping takes just 15 minutes.

Two hundred metres walk from the supermarket, a bottle of Estrella Galicia beer in my favourite back-street bar (usually served with a wedge of complementary tortilla española which is a free lunch) costs 1.50 euros; the same price as the Información de Alicante newspaper which I can linger over for an hour while drinking the beer. (It used to be complimentary in the bar, but customers are no longer allowed to share a newspaper. Goodbye Gutenberg.) I’ll have to say goodbye to supermarket and bar and all of La Vila Joiosa for a while.

La Vila Joiosa is in the early stages of a new Covid-19 outbreak and a new local lock down may be imposed imminently, according to the mayor of the town. The reason? Although the town’s annual lively July fiesta of Moors & Christians was banned to avoid Covid-19 risks, various private parties took place including a party involving many waiters. A lot of them went down with Covid-19 infection (so their bars are all closed: serves them right for their antisocial behaviour!) and La Vila Joiosa is now a place to avoid. Again.

There is enough in the freezer for a week, while I re-think the shopping strategy (again!) And so the summer of 2020 goes on, here at the local level.

On the global level we are in a new cold war with China. If, like me, you were in military service during the last cold war, you will recognize the familiar rhetoric and low-level aggression. Previously it was Russia, now reduced to a bankrupt dictatorship more often associated with banana republics. Now our cold war is with China, the origin of the viral outbreak which now affects every aspect of our lives, including the possibility to enjoy a beer and eat a slice of tortilla in La Vila Joiosa without being in mortal danger.

What powerfully connects the local with the global and stops the global adversely affecting our local lives is the efficiency and diligence of our security services. Their failure cannot be emphasized strongly enough. The intelligence community is meant to protect us from military aggression, terrorist threat, and amongst other things biological threats. This includes the assessment of intelligence about emerging pandemics.

China has now released figures doubling the number who died of Covid-19 in Wuhan (Hubei province), rounding it off to a suspiciously neat 50% increase, having concealed the real figures for months. It is also clear that the outbreak began several months before the time they admitted to the world they had a problem. US intelligence was already tracking the viral outbreak in China in November 2019. But a little-known medical intelligence failure happened months earlier in July 2019 when the Trump administration axed a medical epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency, (Health News, 22 March 2020).

According to this article, “The American expert, Dr. Linda Quick, was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases. As an American CDC employee, they said, Quick was in an ideal position to be the eyes and ears on the ground for the United States and other countries on the coronavirus outbreak, and might have alerted them to the growing threat weeks earlier.”

Apparently Dr Quick left amid the bitter U.S. trade dispute that Trump had launched against China, and the loss of this key American epidemiologist embedded in the Chinese disease control agency meant a vital medical intelligence link to the equivalent US agency was lost.

Medical intelligence is only part of the story. What about the main intelligence services? If we are to believe the narrative of the very credible John Le Carré, our foreign security service became both compromised and incompetent a long time ago. The fact that we were so unprepared suggests that the barbarians are no longer at the gate but have been running our affairs for quite some time.* Unlike earlier failures we can now expect to experience this in direct threats to our personal safety, even as we enjoy a beer and a slice of tortilla. Or not.

*Alasdair MacIntyre wrote – in After Virtue (1981) – “the new dark ages are already upon us.” I read it while living in the mountaintop abbey of Saint Martin-du-Canigou in the Pyrenees in 1991. I found it a compelling book – as did many people in those days – but thirty years later his prophetic wisdom is now clear.

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