Gambling. This is what the world’s top leaders are up to where the coronavirus pandemic is concerned. Running with no lights in the dark. Shooting craps with the lives of billions of people, the corporate-controlled politicians reopen borders based on profits and stock prices. Meanwhile, the science that could shine a light into the abyss, it takes a back seat to the whim of a Frankfurt banker, a Wall Street hedge fund genius, or the board of directors of a major airline. Here is that tourism industry story nobody in tourism wants me to tell.
A New York Times story I read this morning laid out in detail how a ski vacation in world-famous Ischgl (pronounced “ISH-gul”), Austria, ended like a coronavirus incubation event that sent thousands of skiers carrying the coronavirus to more than 40 countries on five continents.
Authors Selam Gebrekidan, Katrin Bennhold, Matt Apuzzo, and David D. Kirkpatrick go on to frame how the world’s top leadership missed the boat in protecting citizens from a deadly pandemic. The story puts the World Health Organization (WHO) on the front burner and heats up the disastrous policies top leaders from Athens to Washington cooked up to save economies instead of human lives. This quote from the article says it all:
But as damning as this fact is, the current level of “mystery” surrounding COVID-19 policy is just plain scary. A bit farther into the NYTs piece, we find out that our officials, and I mean all of them, “just don’t know” what to do where borders and travel restrictions are concerned. The fact is scary because leaders like Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Greece are pretending they do know. Underneath, concerns about deals with America’s Secretary of State, the PPC of Greece’s brand campaign, and Microsoft turning the country into a hub for the cloud take precedence. Economics. This will be the essence of the history of COVID-19.
Greece is now in the early stages of a second wave of COVID-19 cases, with daily totals exceeding those the country witnessed back in the Spring. But the borders are still open. The hotels are running. So are the airlines. And stopgap coronavirus restrictions are now being applied like bandaids stemming the flow of cases from hundreds of sources. The German corporate entities levering Athens are busy propping up share prices, and cheap tickets are still attracting tourists to islands like Crete, and into the heart of Athens and Thessaloniki. For many people, the strategy seems like COVID madness.
“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”– President Donald Trump, February 2020
In the United States, the American president is diagnosed with COVID-19. His staff, family, and close associates have also tested positive, and he’s playing John Wayne, telling the world “don’t be afraid”. But the world is afraid and confused and in trouble. Now the Center for Disease Control says that COVID-19 may exist “adrift” in the air. And our children are back in school by decree, no matter what we feel as parents and guardians. Here on Crete, as elsewhere, the grim truths of our education system and our society are laid bare. Our economies are based, largely, on schools babysitting our kids so Moms can go work for “The Man” – our ends have to be met, after all. Millions and millions of people are at high risk, but the engine of progress must roll over them if necessary.
And this bit of cool pragmatism, I heard it from one of the most prominent citizens of Greece. It seems the upper echelon’s practical idealism and isolation, has filtered down like a form of moral Reaganomics. The “need” for the status quo, for our liberal forms of capitalism to go on, and on, and on, outweighs all other considerations. We cannot even dream of being truly innovative or existential anymore. Big Brother, if I may, has really taken over. Interestingly, sadly, and luckily perhaps, there are those thinking outside the bubble about how to defeat the coronavirus.
An article in The Atlantic by sociologist and technology guru Zeynep Tufekci introduced me to “k“, which is a term used to indicate the measure of the dispersion of a pathogen like the SARS-CoV-2. The report is fairly technical, but basically, Tufekci describes a lesser considered variable in the spread of COVID-19, one which may lead to our ultimate win over the pandemic. She surmises that COVID-19 exhibits in clusters and in “bursts”, unlike influenza.
The author goes on to describe how our normal influenza or “pandemic playbook” will not work with this virus. One sterling example is the way Japan handled the pandemic throughout the course so far. Like Greece, Japan shut down fairly quickly once the crisis began. The differences in Japanese strategies versus what’s happened in Greece are striking. As Greece’s second wave hits hard, Japan’s strategies seem to have put down this latest surge of the disease. Some experts say the Japanese may have cracked the code on COVID.
Japan blocked tourists this summer at the moment that Greece and some other nations created tourism campaigns and special deals to get more visitors. In the midst of the most serious health crisis to hit humanity in generations, some leaders rolled the dice to try and reboot a tourism season that was doomed the moment a pandemic was declared. I’ll admit, I was one of the first to support reopening Greece’s borders on account of the people here desperately needing tourism. Clearly, my enthusiasm was misguided.
And, because the Greek officials were the most proactive in Europe when urgency was desperately needed. Something happened to change all that, and I’ve covered what I think it was. As for Greece, just Google the term “Greece Tourism” and you’ll see quickly how the ministry of tourism is SPAMMING the media waves with positive notes on the country’s “heroism” in restarting travel. And this at a moment when Greece has five times the number of cases before the borders were opened to tourists. Today the percentage of cases is climbing incrementally beyond 20,000. Yesterday, there were 439 new cases recorded. This is 10x the number of new cases on an average day in April or May.
It’s pitiful, from both a humanness and media analyst perspective. Outlets seem blinded, leveraged, or downright lazy in their one-sided reports of “Islands that thrived”, or “Greece Powering through”, or how the GNTO will start its PR campaign for 2021. It’s as if criticism and a dissenting view has been outlawed, and I am the only one who did not get the news. But Greece is more a victim of the bigger picture than a perpetrator of singular COVID evils. Meanwhile, the criminally stupid and the Machiavellian sensationalists endanger millions of people.
This is evidenced in a GTP story about the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) signing a memorandum to restore confidence in international aviation and restart global tourism. To put it bluntly, how the hell can you restore confidence in travel when the pandemic is worse than ever? The answer is pretty simple. The airlines put and other corporations put up the most money to ensure tourism runs smoothly. The UN, governments and the NGOs serve the masters with the most money. As if we did not know.
The question now is, “Who will lead us in the battle to defeat this killer?” President Donald Trump seems ready to let the chips fall where they may. His idea of quarantine is to risk infecting his staff or anyone on his agenda. The EU leadership cannot even seem to get every European state to agree on a collective strategy. The UK is a COVID-19 mess. Latin America is looking like a human catastrophe. And India will soon surpass the United States in the sheer magnitude of cases and deaths.
The so-called “west” does not seem to even have a clue about this coronavirus. The eastern nations seem to be fairing better, but there is still so much that is unknown. What should trouble each reader, as I suggested earlier, is how governments and NGOs seem to be forging forward in total darkness. Greece leaders are running full speed ahead in a thick fog. The German and Luxembourg bankers seem to be hermetically sealed inside their high rise offices, immune to the reality before us. Or, maybe they are just clinging like Trump is, to that dice roll that comes up a winner.
My question is, “How dare you?” Gambling with all our lives and futures in the balance.