Since early January 2020, when news first broke of a strange respiratory disease connected with a wild animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it has become clear that the world is facing the worst pandemic since the onset of Spanish flu at the end of the First World War. But unlike the situation in 1918, the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus is able to spread much faster around today’s hyper-mobile world, in which more than 12 million of us take commercial flights every day.
The virus seems to have its most damaging impact on people with poor health or compromised immune systems. Beside the lungs and respiratory tract, the virus can also affect the oesophagus, heart, kidneys, ileum and bladder. Coming to a diagnosis isn’t easy – the patient may have a cough or fever or be short of breath – but there are also many cases of asymptomatic infection, making an outbreak significantly harder to contain. Some cases are so mild that they never reach the notice of medical professionals. But others as we know are much more serious: at the time of writing, the death toll worldwide is 4,970; while 126 countries are so far affected, with 134,511 recorded cases. The website Worldometers has a daily update of these totals.
Here in Britain, a leaked government memo seen by the Sun newspaper indicated that the government is planning for up to 80 per cent of the population becoming infected with the coronavirus in a worst-case scenario; and in the “reasonable worst case” would result in around half a million people in the UK dying from the disease. This does seem to me to be absurdly pessimistic; the Sars virus outbreak in 2002/3, which also emanated from China, led to predictions of an ultimate death toll in the UK very similar to that predicted now for Covid-19. In the end the total number of deaths was nil and the number of cases recorded only four.
The worst-affected EU country at the moment is Italy, which has 15,113 cases as of today’s date, resulting in 1,016 deaths. But nobody knows where all of this is going or how long it might last; perhaps the best one can do is to avoid the plethora of misinformation and disinformation on social media and just look only at reputable sources, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), whose website has detailed information about the various types of coronavirus.
The WHO describes coronaviruses as “zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.” Commenting on the widespread belief that Chinese traditional medicine may have caused the outbreak, Wuhan inhabitant Wang Xiuying wrote in the London Review of Books that traditional medicine in China holds that some animal parts have near-magical properties: “Pangolin scales are supposed to help new mothers produce milk; manta ray gills clear the lungs and cure chickenpox; the penises of pandas, tigers and bears can do the same trick as Viagra; a bit of monkey brain can make you smarter.”
And in a recent article in The Spectator, Matt Ridley spelt out a possible connection between the current coronavirus pandemic and bats:
“I’m no Nostradamus, but 20 years ago when I was commissioned to write a short book about disease in the new millennium, I predicted that if a new pandemic did happen it would be a virus, not a bacterium or animal parasite, and that we would catch it from a wild animal. ‘My money is on bats,’ I wrote. We now know that the natural host and reservoir of the new coronavirus, Covid-19, is a bat, and that the virus probably got into people via a live-animal market in Wuhan.
This is not the first disease bats have given us. Rabies possibly originated in bats. So did, and does, Ebola, outbreaks of which usually trace back to people coming into contact with bat roosts in caves, trees or buildings. Marburg virus, similar to Ebola, first killed people in Germany in 1967 and is now known to be a bat virus. Since 1994 Hendra virus has occasionally jumped from Australian fruit bats into horses and rarely people, with lethal effect. Since 1998 another fruit-bat virus, Nipah, has also infected and killed people mainly in India and Bangladesh. Sars, which originated in China in 2003, is derived from bats, though possibly via civet cats. So is Mers, a similar bat-borne coronavirus that’s killed hundreds of people and camels in the Middle East since 2012. (…) Probably, captured pangolins, on sale in the live-animal market in Wuhan and mainly imported from Malaysia, had somehow caught the virus from bats. Pangolins are globally endangered because of demand from China.”
I have seen three respectable clinical studies (here, here and here) which back up Matt Ridley’s assertion of a connection between Covid-19 and bats; and this reminded me of Rudolf Steiner’s comments on bats, given in Lecture 5 of the cycle “Man as Symphony of the Creative Word.”
Be that as it may, all that this tells us is the likely source of the infection rather than the more interesting question of why it has happened. Let us put aside the conspiracy theories such as those of Dr Francis Boyle, the man who was apparently responsible for drafting the Biological Weapons Anti-terrorism Act of 1989, the American-implementing legislation for the biological weapons convention, which was later adopted worldwide. Dr Boyle says that coronavirus is a weaponised biological warfare agent that came out of the BSL-3 biowarfare lab at the University of North Carolina. Read the whole article from Natural News in which Dr Boyle sets out his allegations and then draw your own conclusions. While I’m completely prepared to believe that the biowarfare lab at UNC is very far from Rudolf Steiner’s ideal of the “laboratory table as altar”, personally, I’m unconvinced by Dr Boyle’s assertions. It’s also worthwhile looking at the website of Full Fact, a UK-based fact-checking charitable organisation, for a selection of other paranoid conspiracies about coronavirus.
So why is the world facing a pandemic of coronavirus? As an anthroposophist, I’m inclined to take a particular view on the causes of modern illness, which is that illnesses are brought about by the conditions and circumstances which we human beings create for ourselves – and not just by our actions but also our feelings and thoughts. I’m going to quote now from the book Illness and Healing by Judith von Halle, who says that since the beginning of the age of the consciousness soul, illnesses are increasingly becoming an expression of the soul-spiritual state of the whole human race and that humanity needs to see itself as a social organism which can fall ill just as much as the individual standing within it:
“We have to regard it as a tragic fate but at the same time as evidence and illustration of the context described here that the Spanish flu (…) broke over humanity like a scourge during the First World War – at a time therefore when huge losses of human life were already being inflicted. At this time, scientific advances had not only brought new developments in scientific medicine but also in the field of technology and thus in the domain of warfare. Machine guns and nerve gas are just two of the countless inventions of the modern age (…) which human beings used in a bestial way to rob their brothers of health and life. All this ensued from the dishonest politics of the time, from delusional ideas about nations and races, law and history. The beast that humanity created at this time in its thinking and emotions finally took a form corresponding to such thinking and emotions as countless millions of viruses.”
In an esoteric lesson given on 5th December 1907 (ie long before the First World War had started), Rudolf Steiner made a connection between the formation of bacilli and the god Mammon (Ahriman). Commenting on this, Judith von Halle says:
“No one today, at least, will doubt the link between Mammon and the commercial position of chemical and pharmaceutical companies in western society, which benefit financially from the ever-increasing outbreaks of epidemics. Humanity’s way of thinking has become so corrupt that it can no longer even realise how absurd it is that production of medicines is subject to financial interests – for instance that the treatment of millions of people with AIDS is, in all seriousness, dependent on the activities of profit-oriented stock market speculators.”
Referring to the rise of epidemics, Judith von Halle says that:
(…) “the organism of humanity is showing the same reaction to poor treatment as the earth organism does to the treatment which it receives. As reaction to the general deeds of humanity, the organism of humanity throws up epidemics, while the earth organism is rent with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Those who have not caused the harm are usually in fact the ones who suffer most. (…) … the social organism can only be brought back into equilibrium by innocent people having in a certain sense – with Christ as exemplar – to give up their health and life for that of the perpetrators. This will continue until humanity eventually learns, bitterly, that it is a single organism, and that through chauvinistic nationalism or economic disparity it differentiates itself into either less or more advantaged social groups or nations, and in doing so cuts off its own limbs, like arms and legs. Then we will realise that our thinking and actions have inevitably impacted on the overall social organism.”
According to Dr Dietrich Klinghardt of the Klinghardt Institute, there does seem to be a connection between the worst cases of coronavirus infection and places where there is the highest degree of 5G installation. Wuhan was one of the first cities in China for the rollout of 5G technology. In Washington USA, there have been six deaths from coronavirus infection in the same hospital (Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland). Kirkland has prided itself as being one of the first towns in the US wired for 5G. Evergreen Hospital has, according to Dr Klinghardt’s measurements, the highest levels of WiFi exposure ever measured in a hospital. (Though I have to record that Full Fact UK, referred to above, regards any connection between 5G and coronavirus as false; nevertheless, to my mind the possibility that 5G compromises the human immune system and therefore makes us more vulnerable to viruses seems highly probable.) The only attention that 5G gets in the British mainstream media is whether or not the Chinese company Huawei should have any part in building the UK’s 5G infrastructure. If the current pandemic raises people’s awareness of the health dangers of 5G, it will have done some good.
What are some other unexpected benefits that may emerge from this crisis? Here are a few, in no particular order:
- The coronavirus, by itself, will not put an end to our current form of globalisation. But by serving as a reminder of how the health of humanity has been mutually dependent across borders for millennia, the latest outbreak could prompt a rethinking of how the world works together.
- The crisis is a reminder to American politicians that there are major faults in the USA health system. Health in the USA is a perfect example of the late J.K. Galbraith’s observation that in America there is an obscene divide between private affluence and public squalor. The usual political responses won’t work – diseases can’t be deterred with overwhelming military force or bombed into submission. The federal government can’t bankrupt the virus through a heavy set of economic sanctions. Covid-19 doesn’t care how much money you make or what a big shot you are in society. This crisis could cause many more Americans to recognise that their health system is in need of fundamental reform.
- Passenger aviation is in big trouble, because it’s clear that the virus has spread via air travel – and now the airlines have also been hit by Trump’s travel ban on Europeans flying to the US. Airlines worldwide are now in survival mode, with many implementing emergency cost-cutting measures and cutting back their flight schedules. The owners of Flybe said the coronavirus was the final blow that pushed Europe’s largest regional airline into administration this month. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the impact of the coronavirus could cost passenger airlines up to $113 billion (£87bn) in lost revenues this year. But the rest of us could be seeing bluer, less polluted skies, as was evident before when flying had to stop in 2010 after erupting volcanoes in Iceland stopped many flights.
- Both coronavirus and climate change are crises that need humanity to unite to plan for better outcomes. The drop in global emissions caused by the coronavirus is also evidence of the level of its impact on global economic activity. No doubt many of you will have seen the astonishing “before and after” pictures issued by NASA and the European Space Agency of nitrogen dioxide pollution over China prior to the crisis and the amazing reduction in that pollution since.
- Governments around the world need to help economies and societies that have suffered through coronavirus to recover by starting the shift to a low emissions future. They could seize this moment to enact new climate policies, remove subsidies for fossil fuels or raise taxes on carbon dioxide emissions, since lower oil prices resulting from the fight between Russia and Saudi Arabia make it less likely that consumers will feel the same level of impact as when prices were high.
- There may be greater acceptance of the need to make sacrifices and accept restraints for both the common good and personal wellbeing. This could pave the way for many more of us to understand that, if we are to address the climate crisis not only are huge shifts in government regulation needed but also in the personal behaviour and expectations of consumers.
We live in apocalyptic times – there’s even a vast plague of locusts in Africa. The coronavirus pandemic is of course a global tragedy. But coronavirus is also helping to strengthen recognition of our interdependence – that everyone’s health and wellbeing is everyone else’s business – and it could increase recognition that compassion and empathy are essential parts of what it means to be a human being. Will the pandemic produce changes in society which make us more willing to act on the climate crisis and the other issues which threaten life on earth at the present time? In the end, it’s up to all of us, as it always has been.