It is perfectly legitimate for governments and citizens alike to be concerned about the current Covid-19 pandemic. It is a highly contagious viral disease that can cause very severe pneumonia in people with immune defences weakened through age or co-morbidities.
To combat it, an offensive strategy is required. Industry must be requisitioned to produce masks, respirators and tests very quickly, to screen more and more, to isolate the sick, and then, through serological tests, to make sure they are safe. We must invest massively in medical research into an effective treatment, while waiting for a vaccine, which will take at least a year to develop.
Even so, in this fight, we must remain lucid and keep our nerves in check. Let us not add the problem of psychosis to that of the virus. Panic has never helped to solve problems; it increases them. History is rich in collective psychoses. But due to globalisation, mass media, the digital revolution and social networks, this is the first time that a psychosis is likely to spread to the whole of humanity.
Examples are multiplying across the planet. In the United States, people are lining up to buy weapons. Families are rushing for drugs, without knowing anything about them.
In India, attacks against medical personnel (suspected of being contaminated) are emerging. Nurses and doctors are evicted from their homes by their landlords or their condominium syndicates. The problem is such that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has publicly condemned these acts and threatened legal action against the perpetrators.
In Italy, metalworkers are on strike for the right to stop work and confine themselves, even though they are in a profession that is now mechanised, often robotised, where it is not difficult to keep safe distances between employees.
In France, the building and public works sector is at a standstill, whereas open-air construction sites could very well continue without the slightest danger to workers. On 26 March, fishermen in Saint-Malo complained that they could not sell the product of their work. The next day, fishmongers in Paris were lamenting that they were receiving nothing.
What? Transporting fish in refrigerated trucks has become dangerous? The virus cannot cause irrationality, resignation, phobias or laziness in those who don’t have it.
If prolonged, the confinement of all humans on this planet and the suspension of their children’s education will have enormous economic, social and psychological consequences. In the long term, they could prove to be worse than the evil (the virus) that was to be fought.
Two scenarios are already emerging. The pessimistic scenario is that of a world won over by psychosis, withdrawal into oneself and hatred, where states are unable to co-ordinate. This is the model that prevailed after the financial crisis of 1929.
By mid-March 2020, Sino-American relations, already poor following by two years of trade war, were taking a dangerous turn. The American President described the Covid-19 virus as a “Chinese virus”. Although geographically accurate, this term was considered offensive, even racist, by the Chinese.
They began to respond by inventing stories of American soldiers who brought the virus to the Wuhan military games in October 2019.
It was a dangerous slide. In history, wars of words have often ended in real wars. Donald Trump did well to stop talking about the “Chinese virus” and then take the initiative to call his counterpart Xi Jinping on March 27. The world’s two leading powers have apparently decided to join forces in the fight against the pandemic. There will always be time, later on, to uncover all the responsibilities for the birth of this evil.
The optimistic scenario is well known: it is that of co-operation, which rejects psychosis.
Medical research, where laboratories systematically share their findings on the Internet in real time. Industries that sell tests, drugs and respirators at cost price, on their own market as well as abroad. Central banks that coordinate their efforts to support the economy and stand ready to prevent any subsequent financial crisis. Developed countries that do not let Africa or the Indian subcontinent down.
Multilateral instruments exist to prevent the pandemic from turning into a catastrophe. They were created by mankind long ago. Now it is up to them to use them…
This article was first published by Le Figaro.