Category Archives: coronavirus

Return of industrial action lifts the spirits

On the slight relaxation of the lockdown in Paris, Dalrymple writes:

No sooner were people allowed a little more freedom than the rail union, controlled by the communist CGT, went on strike. Yes, life is definitely returning to normal in Paris.

Our élites man the rudder of state like drunken sailors

In Paris, writes Dalrymple,

the population was at first informed that wearing masks was not necessary because doing so served no useful purpose.

It turned out that this advice was given

not because it was believed to be true but because there were not enough masks. Now the wearing of masks is compulsory on public transport.

Dalrymple remarks:

Children are acutely aware of injustice; adolescents and young adults, susceptible already to rebellion, are acutely aware of the hypocrisies and contradictions of authority. Why, then, should they obey those who have lied to them and to everyone else?

China flu and the persistence of illusion

The Wuhan virus is of relatively minor consequence for the mortality of the world population

Follow the science.

On this view, writes Dalrymple, science

speaks with one voice, ex cathedra. It lays down doctrine that humanity, most of which is not scientifically minded, must humbly accept. Neither the world nor science is like this.

Epidemiology, he points out,

is not only an inexact science but can be a powerful tool for the regulative bullying of the population by ­bureaucracies.

The Wuhan flu is

not the Black Death, which killed between a third and a half of the population of Europe. The 1957 Asian flu was said to have killed up to 2m people and the 1968 Hong Kong flu 1m, yet they have passed from collective memory, perhaps without having entered it.

The illusion that the risk of epidemic default on mortgage obligations had been eliminated

There is an increasing unfamiliarity with death as the natural end of life, and

assuming that this is an epidemic of relatively minor consequence for the mortality of the world population, the panic must be in part because of the apocalyptic nature of death from the disease.

The China pandemic

will no doubt be mastered in time; there will be a vaccine, perhaps a treatment. But it will have dented mankind’s illusion that it has everything under control — give or take a blip — on the upward ascent to a life without suffering, the unpleasantly untoward, or the unforeseen.

Dalrymple reminds us of the time before the collapse of Lehman Brothers,

when mathematicians claimed to have developed a model that eliminated the risk of epidemic default on mortgage obligations. This proved illusory and was always foolish; but it suggests that the illusion of control will return soon enough, once the epidemic is over.

What is it, this ‘coronavirus’ they keep talking about?

Le coronavirus c’est quoi?

So asked a young Frenchman, who has lived for the past three years in Australia, during a chat on the phone with Dalrymple’s wife in March. There was, writes Dalrymple,

a delightful freshness to the question. Talk about the lucky country, I thought to myself: or talk about a lucky young man, not to have heard of coronavirus.

O lucky man!

It had, he says,

a heroic quality — or indicated a sure sense of navigation through the world without taking any notice of the dispiriting flux of news and daily events. You need finely-tuned antennæ to be able to avoid the temporary obsessions of the news media, so ubiquitous are they, and an ability to slide away mentally.

Ce pays chanceux

The vice of outsourcing everything to China

Dalrymple notes that Wuhan flu and its consequences have been rather revealing about the West’s condition. On the matter of supply chains and interdependence,

the economy, as we have constructed it, hangs by a thread.

Western folly

The speed with which so much unravelled came as a surprise —

untune that string, And, hark, what discord follows!*

If we had stopped to think,

we might have realised how unwise it was to outsource production of almost everything to distant and not necessarily benevolently-disposed foreign powers.

Ponzi scheme

Yet, says Dalrymple,

our habits — spending more than we earned for decades — required it. To maintain the illusion of solvency, money had to be created and interest rates kept low. But to avoid the appearance of inflation, prices (except for property and financial assets) had to be kept low. The only way was to outsource manufacturing to low-cost economies, and voilà, with the able assistance of the coronavirus, the economic situation that we are in.

Will we ever learn?

We discover when shortages arise that

most of the things of which we go short are not necessary to our happiness; materialism, that the good life is ever greater consumption of material goods, whether refined food or sophisticated electronics, is false, and we have run after false gods.

But

as soon as normal service is restored in the form of endless supply and huge choice of material goods, we revert to our materialism.

We were probably sincere in declaring that consumption of material goods was not all-important or necessary to happiness. It was just that

the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

*Troilus and Cressida act I, sc. 3
†Matthew 26:41

Proclamation of victory over Chinese flu

Dalrymple writes that he suspects that victory over the Wuhan virus

will be proclaimed sooner than we have been led to believe.

This is so that

politicians may reconcile the need to protect the public health with that to restart the economy.

Getafix

When infectious disease doctors are more famous than footballers, you know an epidemic is serious

Professors of medicine, writes Dalrymple,

don’t usually look as if they were the drummer of a 1960s rock band just emerged from drug rehabilitation for the 17th time. That is how Didier Raoult, elevated to the rank of the most famous infectious disease doctor, looks. If you type Didier in your search engine, up comes Raoult, before even the soccer player, Drogba.

Raoult

has a jaundiced view of mathematical modelling of epidemics, because they have so often in the past been so wildly, and in retrospect so ridiculously, wrong and exaggerated.

He has consistently pleaded during the Chinese flu for a sense of proportion.

At least in terms of mortality, if not in those of clinical horrors, it is by no means unusual (he says): there have been many worse epidemics. It takes bravery to say this publicly now, when no one yet knows where or how the epidemic will end.

Cult founder

Raoult’s view is that the approach to the Wuhan virus

has been wrong. There should have been mass testing and treatment with his drug régime. If that had been done from the start, we should not have been facing an economic and social apocalypse.

While he claims excellent results for his treatment,

most of his peers (not that he recognises any as such) do not believe that he has established his case. His publications on the subject are poor methodologically, and in this context method is all.

Panoramix

Raoult would reply, says Dalrymple,

that his detractors are conventional, plodding, stick-in-the-mud, apparatchik types. His view of the world is that it is full of mediocrities opposing strokes of genius. He is good at ad hominem attacks. He detests the Parisian domination of everything, having pursued his whole career in Marseilles. But the fact that his provincial colleagues do not agree with him somewhat undermines the simple story of the provincial David versus the Parisian Goliath.

Magic potion

Dalrymple says that when he sees pictures of people lining up on the steps of Raoult’s hospital to be first tested and then treated by his method if positive for the China virus, he cannot help but think that the professor has become

a religious leader. His treatment method will survive any demonstration that it doesn’t work. When prophecies fail, they are not abandoned, they are projected once more into the future. If I were seriously ill and likely to die, I would probably want to try Raoult’s régime, faute de mieux.

Paris under the shadow of Chinese flu

The doctor-writer reports that the Wuhan virus has emptied the City of Light. Anyone with a country place has left. The bright lights have gone. Père-Lachaise, where he likes to stroll, is shut. La Peste, the Camus allegory, has turned literal. A taxi driver tells Dalrymple that he thanks God

that the tabacs are kept open. To live through an epidemic and have to give up smoking would have been too much.

Dalrymple says that

a few days’ confinement to barracks is one thing, a prolonged period quite another. So far, it has all felt a bit like one long bank holiday or, at worst, a Sunday in Wales in the old days.

You must carry

a laissez-passer that can be demanded and inspected at any time.

Dalrymple’s wife, also a doctor, has been ‘controlled’ three times; he has been ‘controlled’ once. This is

every policeman’s dream. Fighting crime is difficult, demanding papiers is easy but nevertheless a fulfilment of duty.

The police were polite, in Dalrymple’s case.

I had forgotten to tick the box stating my reason for being outside, and strictly speaking, could have been fined. But since no truly bad man wears a tweed jacket such as mine, the policeman let me off.

He explains that Parisians of the type who can work at home

are prohibited from jogging from ten in the morning to seven at night. The authorities feel that there are still too many of them and it is difficult to keep a jogger at the regulation distance of two metres when he is hurtling towards you in his fluorescent Lycra outfit. I won’t miss them: joggers always seem to me to have an expression of reproach of the sedentary on their faces.

As he walks through the streets in which there are scores of shuttered shops and other enterprises,

I wonder how many of them will open again. Will only large companies survive, leading to the yet greater corporatisation of our politico-economic dispensation?

Theodore Dalrymple: no truly bad man wears a tweed jacket such as his

Dr et Mme Dr Dalrymple

In two minds about Wuhan flu

No one can doubt, writes Dalrymple, that the China virus

is dangerous to many people — a sufficient number that our hospitals have experienced something they have not experienced in recent memory — and that many people have died a horrible death because of it.

On the other hand,

as such terrible things as epidemics go, this is very far from the worst in human history, and the overall mortality of whole populations has not increased as a result of it by very much, if at all.

He says:

I still can’t make up my mind whether we are over- or underreacting to the epidemic. I am prey to many doubts.

The doctor-writer asks:

  • In the absence of knowledge of the prevalence of asymptomatic cases, how can we know its true death rate?
  • Is the infection contagious before it manifests itself clinically, in which case isolation short of universal will not entirely contain its spread?
  • Have some of the dead died with the infection rather than of it?
  • Is this winter epidemic worse in point of mortality than other winter epidemics? If the figures from China are to be believed, the epidemic there is on the wane and has so far killed fewer people than the deaths attributed to a ‘normal’ flu epidemic in Britain alone, with a population one-twentieth the size.
  • Have the measures so far taken saved countless lives?
  • Are my questions a manifestation of blindness caused by wishful thinking?

He quips:

Underreaction would be fatal. Overreaction could be disastrous. I advocate getting things just right.

You who sit there in your glutted complacency, are you aware that this could be your final hour?

The Black Death, Dalrymple points out,

killed perhaps a third or a half of the population of Europe.

However,

that was nearly 700 years ago. And in any case a disaster can be a lot smaller than that and still be a disaster. We are not trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records.

Exponential growth

cannot but alarm us when we see those histograms showing the daily toll of death from the infection (or at least with the infection) in ever steeper ascent.

The Chinese flu histograms

strongly resemble the Burj Khalifa. We forget that exponential growth cannot continue for ever and must reach a peak.

Such growth

is not going to continue until the whole of humanity is extinct,

though such a consummation is

devoutly to be wished according to some of the more extreme of the pagan ecologists, who believe in the intrinsic value of the earth whether or not there are any self-conscious beings existent to enjoy it.

But so long as a peak for the Wuhan virus has not been reached,

we are free to imagine the worst.

Dalrymple notes that during the Middle Ages, when the cause of epidemics was unknown, other than the justified wrath of God,

there were long processions of self-flagellating penitents through the streets, who no doubt thought that the blood that they drew from themselves and the pain that they suffered would abate the epidemic by causing God to relent. We have a pale version of this even today, with calls to prayer by clerics. I believe a mullah somewhere has claimed that the only way to put an end to the epidemic is jihad, as a result of which the world will convert to Islam, causing God to withdraw the virus from circulation.

‘God has condemned us: we are all sentenced to perish in the Black Death. You, standing there like gaping cattle, you who sit there in your glutted complacency, are you aware that this could be your final hour? Death stands right behind you; I see his crown gleaming in the sun — his scythe flashes as he raises it above your heads. Which one of you will he strike first? You, standing there staring like a goat, will your mouth be twisted in a last unfinished gasp before nightfall? And you, woman, blooming with life and self-satisfaction, will you pale and be extinguished before the morning dawns? You back there, with your swollen nose and stupid grin, d’you think you might have another year left to sully the earth with your filth? Are you aware, insensible fools, that you will die today, or tomorrow, or the next day — because all of you have been condemned? D’you hear what I say? Doomed! D’you hear the word? You’re doomed, doomed, doomed!’