The march of the living


    NOT “Mits’ad HaKhayim” (the annual international educational program to commemorate Yom HaShoah), not the game. This is about the virus that was first reported in China’s Wuhan (triggering a pandemic) and human survival (past and present). No guarantees despite human location in the Goldilocks Zone and belief in the Anthropic Principle.

    Not a new threat. The Filipino Chief Executive himself said: “Well, anyway in the past, I remember when I was young, there was this flu. Alam mo ang totoo niyan there’s a cleansing — not really a cleansing but hindi magtagal ito eh kagaya ng the first one is the Bubonic plague, the Black Death. Merong maraming namatay. Then ‘yung Spanish flu, just after or before World War I.” [Press Conference of President Rodrigo Duterte following the Inter-Agency Task Force Briefing on COVID-19, March 9, 2020]

    “Sabi ko nga, in every — not generation — but epoch, maybe meron ‘yung noong una, Bubonic plague, ‘yung sa Middle East pa noon, kasi mga g*** ang tao noon parang tamang-tama lang. Tapos ‘yung Spanish flu right before or after the war — Second World War. Kawawa ‘yung mga tao. Pero mas kawawa ‘yung sa Middle East. The so-called Roman Empire. You have read the inquisition? Kung may birthmark ka, you are a witch and you are born at stake.” []

    Thus, we now check the records of literature and the social sciences. Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” begins with a warning: “Yea, Oedipus, my sovereign lord and king, Thou seest how both extremes of age besiege, Thy palace altars – fledglings hardly winged, And greybeards bowed with years, priests, as am I.”

    “A blight is on our harvest in the ear, A blight upon the grazing flocks and herds, A blight on wives in travail; and withal, Armed with his blazing torch the God of Plague, Hath swooped upon our city emptying, The house of Cadmus, and the murky realm, Of Pluto is full fed with groans and tears.” [Translated by F. Storr]

    Allegory, anyone? “Quite suddenly, however, it launched a new attack and established itself in the business center. Residents accused the wind of carrying infection, ‘broadcasting germs,’ as the hotel manager put it. Whatever the reason might be, people living in the central districts realized that their turn had come…” [Albert Camus. The Plague. Translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert. New York: The Modern Library, 1948]

    Or existentialism. It is what it is. “As various significations have been attached to the words Infection and Contagion, I think it best to declare what I mean by the latter of these terms I would denote a substance produced on the body of an animal diseased, which will, if applied in considerable quantity to the body of a healthy animal of the same species, give rise to a similar disease. That such a substance is the cause of Small-pox, Measles, the Venereal Disease, Itch, and Cow-pock, cannot be doubted.” [Whitley Stokes, MD. Contagion. Dublin: Graisberry and Campbell, 1818]

    Social distancing? In 1546, Girolamo Fracastoro reasoned that “seminaria” (seeds of disease) attacked by direct and indirect contact and at a distance. [De contagione, contagiosis morbis et eorum curatione (On Contagion, Contagious Diseases, and Their Treatment)] Practical application of the contagionist theory of human-to-human transmission? Quarantine and strict segregation. Italian model (lazarettos, policies of Giangaleazzo Visconti and Galeazzo Maria Sforza). []

    Butcher’s bill. Two of the most devastating pandemics the world has ever experienced— the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death. “Astrologers blamed the Black Death on a malign conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. Epidemiologists have traced the cause of epidemic plague sto a catastrophic conjunction of Yersinia pestis, fleas, and rats. A brief overview of the complex ecological relationships of microbes, fleas, rodents, and human beings will help us understand the medieval pandemics, the waves of plague that continued well into the 17th century, and the status of plague today…Even today, despite streptomycin, tetracycline, and chloramphenicol, many plague victims succumb to the disease.” [Lois N. Magner. A History Of Medicine, 2nd edition. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis Group, 2005]
    The Third Pandemic of 1894. “The plague re-emerged from its wild rodent reservoir in the remote Chinese province of Yunnan in 1855. From there the disease advanced along the tin and opium routes and reached the provincial capital of K’unming in 1866, the Gulf of Tonkin in 1867, and the Kwangtung province port of Pakhoi (now Pei-hai) in 1882. In 1894 it had reached Canton and then spread to Hong Kong. It had spread to Bombay by 1896 and by 1900 had reached ports on every continent, carried by infected rats traveling the international trade routes on the new steamships.” [The History of Plague – Part 1; ( Volume 20, No. 2]

    The newest threats. Malik Peiris and Guan Yi (working for 10 years on avian flu, under the supervision of Robert Webster, Kenneth Shortridge, and Kwok-Yung Yuen) were the first to show that SARS was caused by a coronavirus (21 April 2003) and that it had been transmitted to humans by civet cats sold in the markets of Guangzhou (23 May). Beating the hypotheses of other scientists (Chinese authorities, Chlamydia bacteria, Chinese University of Hong Kong, metapneumovirus, Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, paramyxovirus). [Frédéric Keck, “Karl Taro Greenfeld, China Syndrome. The True Story of the 21st Century’s First Great Epidemic; Thomas Abraham, Twenty-First Plague. The Story of SARS,” China Perspectives, 2007/4;]

    Lessons from SARS for future outbreaks. “Efforts to address microbial threats should encompass and be enriched by existing strategies for defense against bioterrorism…Authorities do not know until well into an outbreak if it is a naturally occurring or manmade threat—in either case a robust and prepared system will be able to respond rapidly and effectively to contain disease spread.” []

    On a different note, with March being International Women’s Month and March 10 being the 101st birth anniversary of Renato Constantino, we share this quote from the nationalist historian: “In the upper classes, our women exist for decorative purposes. We hear of them now and then in society or in social work. If we see them working for social ends, it is because their husbands and fathers allow them to do so, as Thornstein Veblen would put it, the better to exhibit their vicarious leisure – that is, indirectly to give evidence of the wealth of the menfolk by showing that their women do not need to work.” [“Wasted `Man’ Power,” The Sunday Times Magazine Section, December 9, 1945, p. 9]