As Ed Morrissey predicted yesterday when major air carriers announced the cancellation of flights to China, the White House has geared up more actions to combat the spread of the WuFlu. We’ve officially declared a public health emergency and Trump is implementing a travel ban to and from China starting tomorrow. Exceptions will be made for diplomats and other American citizens, but they will need to undergo a two week quarantine upon arrival. (Associated Press)
The United States on Friday declared a public health emergency and took drastic steps to significantly restrict entry into the country because of a new virus that hit China and has spread to other nations.
President Donald Trump has signed an order that will temporarily bar foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China within the last 14 days. The new restrictions, which take effect at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, were announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who is coordinating the U.S. response.
As I’ve written here previously, while these steps seem to be smart policy, it also feels like it could still turn out to be too little and, more importantly, too late. Everyone was slow out of the blocks and we’ve already seen more than a half dozen cases in the United States, with at least one of them being confirmed as being a case of person to person transmission to someone who hasn’t traveled to China. Until we’ve seen zero more cases for the full two week incubation period of the virus, we won’t know for sure if we’re out of the woods yet.
All of this could reasonably leave you wondering why nobody was able to predict this so we could be better prepared. As it turns out, however, somebody did predict the WuFlu virus more than a decade ago with shockingly specific details. In the original version of her book Pandemic, author Sonia Shah nailed almost every detail of the next widespread coronavirus outbreak, including where and how it would be most likely to happen.
The book is rather dense, so if you’d prefer an audio summary of her amazing abilities of prognostication, I’d suggest listening to this week’s episode of the Mysterious Universe podcast, where the hosts break it all down. They also provide some of the most chilling worst-case scenarios, just in case you didn’t have enough to worry about already.
The first half of the book covers the history of cholera, describing how it evolved to become such a scourge. The originally harmless virus had been around forever without any impact until human beings in India moved into the coastal regions around the Bay of Bengal in the late 1700s. There, they introduced new plants to the environment and began eating a variety of different seafood. Having this variety of wildlife and non-native plants stacked up on top of each other created the conditions for viruses to begin crossing from species to species, mutating as they went. This eventually led to what we now know as cholera to make the jump to human beings, wiping out a decent chunk of the global population.
Back in 2009, Sonia Shah visited one of the so-called “wet markets” in China where she observed the staggering variety of wild, exotic animals mixed in together and being butchered and served up. Unlike livestock raised on farms, the wild game always comes with viruses aplenty, but they usually don’t bother human beings. Shah noted that the coronavirus has been around forever, but rarely gets out of hand. But with all the strange animals and meats in the wet markets comingling, she foresaw a time when, much like cholera, those viruses would begin evolving and jumping from species to species until something really nasty that was capable of making the leap to people emerged. Enter WuFlu, now believed to have been spawned in those Chinese wet markets in the form of an evolved coronavirus.
Shah also noted that the death toll from such a pandemic wouldn’t be sufficient to wipe out the entire human population, but the plague would only be the beginning of our problems. After a pandemic of that magnitude, the global economic recession that followed would be a disaster, wiping out literally trillions of dollars in capital. That’s not hard to believe. Already this week we saw the markets contract, largely over concerns about reduced travel and trade as a result of the virus impacting business.
I realize I’ve said this before, but we need to be hammering this home to our elected leaders. It’s still possible that we’ll get through this WuFlu outbreak without a full-blown pandemic crushing us. But even if we do, we need to be better prepared for when the real Captain Trips arrives (and it’s going to happen sooner or later) and be ready to move much more quickly and effectively. We were too slow out of the gate this time and one of these days our luck will run out.