The eyes of darkness Like a raven-black, man-killing zombie, the terrible virus which emerged from Wuhan this past Christmas has marched out of China’s borders to infect more than 65,000 people around the world and kill 1,523 innocent souls as of Feb. 14.
So many dead bodies so suddenly. Where could they all be buried? Who would be there to attend the funerals? What dark eyes will be left to cry the farewell tears?
A wise local dentist told me recently that from outer space, the grey, gauzy, gossamer smoke over the city of Wuhan looks like a delicate, translucent burial shroud for the 1,500 cremated victims of the coronavirus.
Once upon a time in a similar era of terror, a mysterious virus arose out of a rural Kansas breeding pit filled with pigs, humans, and migratory birds to stomp its way with World War I soldiers across the planet.
In 1918, the Spanish flu or influenza virus killed 50 million people around the world including 638 people here on Guam. As a helpless island watched, 70 percent of the people who died on Guam that year were killed by the influenza virus.
The Spanish flu killed its victims with terrifying velocity. In the America of President Woodrow Wilson and a young Babe Ruth, people would wake up in the morning sick with a cough and fall cold dead by the time they got to work. Victims would be feverish, weak, and short of breath. Their faces would turn blue from the lack of oxygen. Their noses would bleed and their lungs would fill up with blood. Death would come painfully with patients drowning in their own vomit and blood.
The most obvious difference between novel coronavirus and influenza is that coronavirus is considerably more deadly. The case fatality rates for most flu strains tend to be in the region of 10 or 20 deaths for every 100,000 infections. Coronavirus appears to be several orders of magnitude more dangerous, with the equivalent of 2,359 deaths per 100,000 confirmed cases so far. Just in case you were wondering, that would equate to about 3,000 dead on Guam if it were to infect everybody this year.
While anxious nations across the world this week mobilize military assets to combat an emerging global pandemic, Chinese military forces in Wuhan have been conspicuously out of sight and their unquestioned leader Xi Jinping has been strangely invisible behind his powder blue surgical face mask.
Just last month before an applauding crowd of sycophants in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, President Xi celebrated the Lunar New Year of the Rat by proclaiming, “Every single Chinese person, every member of the Chinese nation, should feel proud to live in this great era… Our progress will not be halted by any storms and tempests.” If any nation had the right to be confident about its pandemic preparedness, the China of Xi Jinping did.
Over the past 4 weeks, all the might of the Chinese state has been directed to enforce an unprecedented quarantine of 50 million people. Quarantines of the level China has instituted in the afflicted Hubei province trap the sick and the healthy together. These quarantines breed doubt in a population already anxious about the sickness and death all around them. Despite the breathtaking imposition of the largest quarantine in human history, China’s contingency plans appear to be overwhelmed by a murderous virus that respects no borders. As the world now knows, the virus has already left China and has spread to more than 25 other countries around the planet including Russia and South Korea, the other two countries that share a land border with North Korea. In fact, every country and territory within a 1,500-mile radius of North Korea has confirmed the spread of coronavirus.
North Korea has a notoriously corrupt government that puts itself before public service. While its beloved leader feeds his fat face, the healthcare system in North Korea is weak and in shambles. Its people are starving, especially in the rural areas away from the tourist center of Pyongyang.
Although the threat of pandemic has long been recognized, the country has continuously suffered from severe shortages of medicine, nursing supplies, and hospital beds. In essence, North Korea has taxed food and medicine so that its government officials can live like gods. Like Guam, North Korea lacks the sophisticated laboratory materials to carry out adequate coronavirus testing and surveillance.
Last week, a North Korean government official got fed up with being placed in 14-day isolation after travelling to China with the country’s leader Kim Jong-un. He decided to leave his cramped quarantine accommodations and go to a luxury spa to freshen up. The asinine economic development special assistant was immediately arrested and shot dead. He is said to have ignored the beloved leader Kim Jong-un’s promise to ‘rule by military law’ if anyone threatens to spread the coronavirus in North Korea.
Back in China, while Wuhan military forces have been conspicuously inconspicuous, the Chinese private sector has stepped in to fill the void. In the face of medical supply and health services gaps, there are numerous examples circulating of private citizens donating relief supplies or helping those in need. On a corporate level, E-commerce giant Alibaba has been directly purchasing medical supplies from home and abroad and sending them to hospitals in Wuhan and Hubei on a regular basis.
In the spirit of nothing being common about common sense, we on Guam can learn an important lesson from the China experience. Even in an Asian communist country, private-public cooperation is critical to respond effectively to a global pandemic. The government of Guam would do well to learn that lesson and immediately begin the lateral transfer of 300 administrative hospital staff to the Guam Visitor’s Bureau in order to prioritize patient safety hospital expenditures rather than political patronage. Unlike North Korea, GovGuam must put service before self and swiftly regain national Joint Commission accreditation at the Guam Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Vince Akimoto practices Family Medicine at the American Medical Clinic. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org