I walked to Muriel’s house where Camp lives now and didn’t meet anybody, even though it’s not an isolated road. It felt kind of eerie, as if the town was depopulated. Camp answered the door and led me downstairs into his den which was strewn with books, maps, a wooden desk with a laptop and several more books on it. A busy place by all accounts.
He fetched us a couple of beers and we settled into two overstuffed arm chairs.
‘This is more comfortable than the pub,’ I said.
‘It doesn’t have the glorious view and there is no Vicky or Rosie serving us.’
‘These are bizarre times and it seems like the world is wobbling out of control but we’ve learned a few new words and expressions lately, like: self-isolation, social distancing, flattening the curve,’ Camp said.
‘You can add peer-suspicion to that,’ I said. ‘Even on my solitary walks people make a circle around me and don’t look at me; at best greet me under their breath. Is that healthy behaviour and is that going to become the norm? I don’t enjoy the social distancing and feel that it will forever change the way we interact. Suspicious of each other, wary, untrusting.’
‘It’s already been changed to ‘physical distancing’, but you’re right. It is an insane time and I have a feeling that common sense has left the building and fear, panic and confusion have moved in,’ Camp said. ‘I personally like the Swedish approach,’ Camp added. ‘It’s an interesting experiment and time will tell. Check it out.’
‘How many people will really die from this covid-19 as their primary cause of death?’ I wondered aloud.
‘From what I read, about 1 percent as in South Korea. Most people react with a cold and a minor flu like Boris Johnson and Sophie Trudeau. Many don’t even know they have it,’ Camp said.
‘Is that supposed to be comforting?’
‘It spreads so darn fast and yes, it does kill a lot of people in a short amount of time. Just look at Italy, and the US is about to explode,’ he said ‘but to put it in perspective, on average 800 people die each and every day here in Canada from various illnesses and accidents. Fact is, in a normal year, about 300’000 die here in Canada, 285’000 in 2018 according to Stats Canada.’
‘So, what would you do if you were the man in charge?’ I said.
‘I would ask people to use common sense, try to limit visits to the elderly and infirm, wash hands more frequently and longer, basically employ the same cautions as if trying to avoid catching the seasonal flu. No kissing and hugging strangers. And stay away from crowds and events, work from home and avoid human contact if possible.’
‘But that’s what’s happening, it’s what we’re doing already.’
‘I know and yet these extreme measures are very damaging to our economy, our social networks, our health and education systems and will ruin millions of families, displace, disrupt and probably kill more than the virus itself.’
‘But if we don’t follow these practices like social – I mean physical – distancing being a key component, we could potentially put millions of people in harms way and how would you justify people dying?’ I said and as an afterthought: ‘I think we have to employ extreme restrictions of movement and interaction for some time in order to limit exposure and the spread of covid-19. We absolutely have to flatten the infection curve so that our hospitals and health systems don’t get overwhelmed and collapse.’
‘I do agree but let’s play a numbers game. You like games,’ Camp said, grabbing his laptop from his desk. ‘Let’s put this in a global context. If 10 million people get infected over 100 days and 99% get over it, 100’000 will die. You’re with me so far? How many people are alive worldwide today?’
‘Eight billion, more or less,’ I said, off the top of my head.
‘That’s eight with nine zeros. How much is one percent of that?’
‘That would be an eight with seven zeros. 80 million.’
‘How many people die each and every year worldwide? I’ll tell you. In 2015 it was about 56 million. How many births? 84 million, which amounts to a 28 million increase in population.’
‘Where is this going? I asked, alarmed. ‘Oh, I get it. If one percent of the world’s population dies from this virus and adds to the total number of ‘normal’ deaths, then we have 126 million deaths (56 + 80).’
‘Yes and no. Assuming the virus hangs around for just one year and we also have to factor in that some of those people would have died anyway, let’s say half of them, which leaves 40 million deaths just from the virus. Assuming the same amount of births, 84 million, we would have a net decline of the population of about 12 million give or take a million, (56+40-84 = 12).
‘You make it sound like this could be a good thing,’ I said. ‘That’s awfully sneaky of you and I don’t believe for one minute that you even consider such a horrible outcome. Even a million additional deaths would overwhelm our hospitals and healthcare systems.’
‘It’s just a game my friend, just a friendly game over a couple of beers, like Snake and Ladders or War of the Worlds.
‘But what if one of these people dying miserably from covid-19, drowning in their own fluid, is your loved one: your child, your wife or dad?’ I said.
‘Tragic and doubly tragic if preventable.’
‘Exactly, so let’s try and prevent this from happening with all the means at our disposal: Isolation, medication, care and cure, restriction of movement, travel and contacts,’ I said.
‘That is already the case in most countries right now: lockdown, state of emergency, isolation, distancing, no more gatherings or groups of people. It’s an experiment on a global scale which has never before been attempted. We should duplicate this effort for the environment once this virus has run its course.’
We both paused and I thought about all that was happening and changing, seemingly by the hour.
‘This pandemic is scary and the world wide disruption of everyday life is even more frightening and very destructive: financially, morally and socially,’ I said. ‘And it’s a long way from over, it’s going to be one boring, stay-at-home summer.’
‘There is one more sinister and troubling aspect of this whole calamity,’ Camp said.
‘From Hungary, Poland, Israel and even Great Britain, ever more governments are using this pandemic to expand and consolidate their power. Even Trudeau’s Liberals tried to give themselves free tax and spend powers for the next two years. Governments use this virus to seize additional powers which are usually only employed in times of war. Will these governments ever relinquish these power grabs is a question for the future and the people to decide. They must remember that a crisis government is not fit for normal, everyday life.’
‘You think there is something weird going on?’
‘Yes, but it’s not totally deliberate but somewhat incidental and you know what I think about conspiracy theories. If more than three people try to keep a secret, one of them will talk while alive, the second will confess on his or her deathbed and the third one will have written a confession and left it with his lawyer, just in case.’
‘What also troubles me is that we don’t hear anything about the refugee crisis on the Greek border, the Rohingya misery and trial in De Hague, the siege of Kashmir where 12 million people have been under Indian military enforced lockdown for several months and they’re running out of food and everything else. The US carpet bombing in Syria, the proxy war in Yemen and Ethiopia, and all the other troubles in the world hardly get a mention. All I hear is Corona, Corona and it’s not about the beer.’
‘That reminds me, do you have another one in the fridge.’