Saturday, March 14, 2020

Apocalypse Now

Last night, Denmark closed its borders in an unprecedented move. To score some extra “apocalypse points”, the Danish Prime minister Mette Frederiksen added that the country’s armed forces will be used to strenghten the border. Shortly after, Poland followed with a similar ban on all international travel while Turkish Airlines announced that it will stop all flights to Scandinavia, Germany and a number of other countries in Europe.

To say that these are strange times is clearly an understatement. Like many others, I have been reading up on the Spanish flu of 1918 and the lessons that can be learned from it, including the limited value of closing borders. Over the last weeks, my thoughts have otherwise often been with former students and colleagues back in Seoul. A friend who is a French journalist stoically summarized it as “another crazy story we can add to our memoirs of our time in Korea”. Somehow, I can imagine that the universal use of facial masks must make it impossible to forget even for a moment what is going on as it brings constant visibility to an otherwise invisible disease.

Unlike SARS which was contained and then died out, my impression from articles in The Lancet and elsewhere is that it seems likely that SARS-CoV-2 will be circulating around the world for the foreseeable future. However, as immunity in the population increases over time, its effects will become less pronounced. For now, it is all about “flattening the curve” (but see this!) as illustrated by the first ever animated gif on Rawls & Me.

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