Analysis by Keith Rankin.
I should be at Iguaçu Falls today, in Brazil and in Argentina. In mid-February I booked my domestic flights in these two countries, believing that the Covid19 epidemic was under control in Asia, and was unlikely to become anything like as serious anywhere else in the world, least of all in China’s antipodes. (I had booked my Air New Zealand flight to South America in July 2019.)
But, a week later, it became apparent that a Covid19 outbreak in Northern Italy might change all that. Northern Italy is near the geographical centre of the European Union; further Italy has strong interpersonal links with countries in North and South America (especially New York), as well as Australia. More significantly, the outbreak in Lombardy – with hindsight, always more dangerous to the west than the Hubei outbreak – fell underneath the radar of the western media and public health bureaucracies. The China distraction was compounded by another substantial outbreak in Asia (South Korea) and an outbreak in Iran. A week after making my domestic flight bookings, I was becoming aware that Covid19 would likely force the cancellation of my post-retirement trip.
Two weeks after the outbreak in Italy, substantial outbreaks appeared in Spain and Scandinavia. Few of us noticed Scandinavia, because each country there has a small population; the politicians, bureaucrats and (especially) the media don’t usually understand the need to adjust the number of cases a country has by that country’s population. (For example, today, Western Europe continues to have a bigger Covid19 problem than the United States; the media focuses on the total number of cases in each single country.)
After another week it was apparent that Northwest Europe, the prosperous heart of the European Union, was getting Covid19, and was not doing much about it. While there was no reason to believe that it would be any less of a problem in Northwest Europe than in other places, the Eurocrats failed to pay attention to their own backyard. They had only just turned their attention away from China, towards Italy.
The source of the spread of cholera in London in the 1840s was discovered through a statistical analysis of maps. Can the sources of the transmission of Covid19 to Northwest Europe be likewise determined?
Where in Northwest Europe is Covid19 most prevalent?
It is difficult to get regional per capita data about the incidence of Covid19 in Europe. However, Wikipedia now has maps showing the regional per capita distribution of Covid19 cases in France, Germany, Belgium and Netherlands. Further, the country of Luxembourg – which has the highest case incidence of Covid19 in the European Union – is the size of a typical province in any of the larger countries.
These maps in Wikipedia are regularly updated, and will look different if Covid19 fully spreads to the parts of these countries that are, so far, relatively lightly affected.
A careful study of these maps shows a particularly high incidence in a corridor alongside (but mainly to the west of) the German borders with France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the southern Netherlands. At the northern extremity of this line – at the Netherlands’ city of Maastricht, the Covid corridor turns left, towards Brussels. (In a country, Belgium, badly struck by Covid19, the commercial cities of Antwerp and Ghent appear to be much less affected than, for example, Brussels and Maastricht.
From now on in this essay, I will call the ‘Covid corridor’ Europia, analogous to Brasilia, or Washington DC, or Canberra ACT. Europia is the implicit federal district of the European Union, a project that logically progresses to a United States of Europe. It includes: Strasbourg, the home of the European Parliament; Brussels, the principal bureaucratic centre for the European Union; Luxembourg, the home site of ten core EU institutions; and Maastricht, where the key Treaty of Maastricht was signed.
Europia is the (unofficial) federal capital of the European Union.
The only conclusion from a careful evaluation of the available maps is that the principal transmission vehicle for Covid19 in Northwest Europe is the EU Eurocracy itself. Not only has the European Union performed worse than the federal government of the United States in providing policies that can protect its people – the personnel of the EU government institutions appear to have been the main transmission vector of Covid19 in Europe. The facts, however, are hard to ascertain because regional statistics are subsumed by the statistics of EU’s individual member nations; we need good regional analyses of the European Union as a whole.
Switzerland and the United Nations
The earliest substantial outbreaks of Covid19 in Southern Europe seem to have been in and near the financial centres, tax shelters and other jetsetter destinations of Southern Europe, and may have come from China via the gambling centre of Macau. The city of Milan became Europe’s Wuhan.
In Switzerland, Covid19 first came to its financial centres in the north, and its ski resorts in the south and east. As at 6 March, 21 percent of Covid19 known cases were in Switzerland’s French-speaking cantons of Geneva, Vaud and Valais. By April 15 that had increased to 41 percent. Adding in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, we get 52 percent. This means that the other (mainly German-speaking) 22 cantons – including the urban centres of Zurich, Basel and Bern – now have less than half of all known cases.
So, in April, the Covid19 epidemic in Switzerland is centred on Geneva, home to the United Nations and therefore to another set of trans-national bureaucrats. As in the case of Europia, the Geneva outbreak occurred mainly in the last two weeks of March, a month after the Italian outbreak. It seems that United Nations workers themselves – like the Eurocrats further north – have been a major vector for the transmission of Covid19 in this pandemic.
By the third week of March, the hotbeds of Covid19 transmission appear to have been the very centres the world was looking to, to address the problem.
For most of the world’s citizenry, we have been forced to address the problem by doing less. By in large, that has worked. However, a select group of people – people associated with institutions of governance in Europe – were busily addressing the problem by doing more. That has not worked. The virus is spread though the bureaucratic preponderance to hold workplace meetings. It has spread in office environments and social spaces that are much like spaces in cruise ships. In conducive environments, viruses work an order of magnitude faster than middle managers.
Once the virus hit the offices and restaurants of Milan, its principal transmission vector appears to have become the busyness of officials (and their technical advisers), not the busyness of business.
I have paid for Covid19 by missing out on a trip to South America. So many other people – especially in Europe – have paid a very much greater price.