Yesterday, on my government-allowed walk around the local field boundaries, I elected to listen via my iPod to Act III of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. The opera, Twilight of the gods, details the fall and destruction of the gods and their fortress Valhalla, built up and finally annihilated by Wotan’s hubris, arrogance, greed and selfishness. It seemed to me a perfect metaphor for what is happening to us all – particularly governments around the world – made all the more apposite by the latest comments from WHO, to the effect that a vaccine for Covid-19 might not be possible. And to rub salt into the wound, recovery from an infection could be no guarantee against re-infection.
No doubt this news was greeted by most people with considerable dismay; none more so than those in the ‘at risk’ category like me. But how bad is this really? Around a third of the population of Europe was thought to have died from the Black Death in the 14th century. Bubonic plague killed 100,000 in London alone in 1665/6. The Spanish Flu outbreak at the close of Word War I was responsible for between 20 and 50 million deaths.
Until the 1940s when antibiotics were developed, the majority of people not massacred by human agency died from infectious diseases. Victorian literature is crammed with people expiring from consumption (tuberculosis), smallpox and ‘fever’ (probably typhus or typhoid). Regular outbreaks of cholera killed tens of thousands, including my gt-gt-gt grandmother in 1849. For none of these conditions was there any cure. Throughout the entirety of human history, humans have lived (and died) with infectious disease.
Nevertheless, it is a wake-up call. Perhaps it’s a warning. If I believed in divine retribution, I would say it was a judgement on our own arrogance and contempt for the planet; our incessant plunder of the world’s resources and headlong craving for profit above everything.
It will certainly stress-test the government of practically every country, particularly ours. See the Sunday Times story ‘38 Days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster’. This piece is from one of the Dirty Digger’s organs, and he is a newspaper proprietor not noted for his hostility towards Conservative governments.
Charles Darwin identified the process of evolution by natural selection, but he had no idea of the mechanism that caused organisms to change and evolve. Subsequent research has proved beyond doubt that random mutations in the DNA sequence are responsible for alterations in living things, and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to stop it. The process is built into the very structure of life on earth. In fact without it, humans would never have evolved.
There is, therefore, an ever-present risk of new infectious diseases emerging as existing viruses and bacteria continue to mutate. Already, bacteria are evolving immunity to existing antibiotics, a matter of considerable concern to the medical community.
We must hope that a vaccine can be developed and drugs found to mitigate the disease symptoms of Covid-19. Alternatively, we may just have to balance our innate gregariousness and wish to socialise, with the ever-present risk of catching the disease. Without a vaccine, life will never be the same again, that is until the next mutation …
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs