October 8, 2014 headline on BBC news: “GERMAN EXPORTS TAKE A DIVE”. Now this is scary: few do not know that Germany is the motor of the European economy, and that exports are key to economic success. One had to click for more details, which was a very short article, stating that month on month exports for August had dropped by 1 %.
Would you qualify a 1 % drop a “dive”? I personally would not. There is more. One could click on the underlying statistics, provided by the competent German statistics board. It showed exports month per month, compared to last year. True enough, exports WERE down in August by 1.something %. HOWEVER, July exports showed 8 % GROWTH. I do not know what you think, but I think this indicates the drop is a fluke. Either this year or last year, somebody made a mistake in composing the numbers, or someone was on holiday or some computer was down. In short, absolutely nothing is the matter.
As I wrote earlier, every time Christine Lagarde opens her mouth, the stock exchanges drop. She comes with gloomy news, recovery or no recovery. Her statements become self-fulfilling prophecies – people postpone buying new cars and other non-essential investments, and sell their shares after every time she appears on TV. If people do not buy cars, the economy goes down.
Similarly misleading reports reach us about the terrible affliction Ebola. If what we are told is true, about 8,000 people have been affected at the date of writing (October 10). This IS terrible, but it is still 0.04% of the population in the most affected countries (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone). This is hardly compatible with TV reports showing corpses littered on every street.
We should not be scared. We should insist that those responsible take action. Those in charge have so far shown incredible irresponsible behaviour. If we do not seal off the most afflicted countries, this disease WILL spread. And if it does, the effects on the global economy will be devastating.
Monitoring arriving passengers is a joke. The incubation time for the disease is three weeks – measuring someone’s temperature upon arrival results in a mere snapshot. The person could report ill the next day. Nor do I believe people are only contagious when they have symptoms. In life, very few processes are as binary as a light switch. I would assume people gradually develop the ability to infect others as the disease takes hold of the body. This means that fellow passengers in aircrafts and airports are at risk to get infected. By the time a passenger is identified as having the disease, how long would it take to track down the 300 something fellow passengers who were on the same flight, more if the person took a connecting flight, which is likely? Fellow passengers might have left the country in the meantime.
We must seal of the countries in question. Previous outbreaks of the disease have been stemmed by doing just this: sealing off the affected areas. The countries currently afflicted have failed to do this. Now the international community must act and seal these countries from the outside world until the disease is contained.
At the same time, of course, massive help should be flown in, but extreme care should be taken that crews do not bring the disease with them.
It is fully understandable and humane to wish to care for those afflicted in the Western World. However, I think this is an appalling risk as recent events in Spain and the USA have demonstrated. Is it not better to give good care to ALL patients in the afflicted countries, than to give excellent care to a chosen few, at extreme cost and high risk to spread the disease?
We should not be scared, but we must act and take things far more seriously. We must understand the risks and act upon it. As far as I am concerned, it is criminal to allow health workers who treat Ebola patients to return home every day. We know that most unfortunately, health workers ARE at risk. I do not believe this risk can ever be 100% excluded. In life sciences, 100% assurances can seldom be given. Health workers involved should be highly remunerated AND be held in a closed community for as long as they are working in such a high-risk environment, followed by a three-week quarantine before returning home.
It is time to stop scaremongering and to start corrective action.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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