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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/12/20

The Face of Post-COVID Geo-Politics

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An eerie connection to Covid-19 is that among the first victims of the Black Death were 80 percent of the population of Hubei province including the town of Wuchang present-day Wuhan
An eerie connection to Covid-19 is that among the first victims of the Black Death were 80 percent of the population of Hubei province including the town of Wuchang present-day Wuhan
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The post-Covid international geo-political structure may resemble that which followed the most lethal pandemic that affected the world the highly contagious Black Death of the 14th century. The bubonic plague killed between 75 and 200 million people in Asia, Europe, and North Africa. It is believed the bubonic/pneumonic plague was carried by black rat flea parasites that travelled to Europe and the Middle East first via the Silk Road from China and then on Genoese merchant ships sailing from Crimea. The fleas spread from their rodent hosts to humans. An eerie connection to Covid-19 is that among the first victims of the Black Death were 80 percent of the population of Hubei province, including the town of Wuchang, present-day Wuhan.

By the end of 1346, India had been largely depopulated and dead bodies were reported to have covered Tartary, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Armenia. In 1345, Damascus was recording 2000 deaths a day. By 1349, the plague had spread through Italy, France, Spain, Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, and even far-off Iceland and Greenland. Only regions that had little contact with other countries through trade were relatively spared. These included the Basque region and isolated pockets in the Alpine, Pyrenees, and Atlas mountain ranges. The plague returned in follow-on phases from the 15th to 17th centuries. France lost a million of its citizens in just four years, between 1628 and 1631.

Without a suitable vaccine to fend off Covid-19, the world may copy the effects that the Black death had on geo-politics, trade, the economy, and social structure.

The Black Death saw city dwellers flee for the countryside, stores closing their door, and doctors refusing to see patients. The bubonic plague also jumped species. Humans infected goats, sheep, cows, pigs, dogs, cats, and chickens and vice versa. So far, Covid-19 has been reported to have infected dogs, cats, lions, tigers, and minks.

Just as with the current scapegoating of Covid-19 to blame Asians, Muslims, Jews, and other minorities, the Black Death also saw its share of playing the blame game, often with deadly consequences. Among those targeted in the 14th century as being responsible for the plague were Jews, Romani (gypsies), foreigners in general, religious pilgrims, witches, street beggars, lepers, and Catholic friars. The Jewish communities of Strasbourg, Mainz, and Cologne were decimated.

Just as witnessed with Covid-19, "miracle cures" were in abundance during the Black Death. Ineffective treatments included bloodletting and boil lancing. One suggested cure was drinking a concoction of milk and garlic cloves. Others included drinking a solution of ground chicken bones or cold water mixed with vinegar. Other remedies were to burn incense made of frankincense, myrrh, basil aloe, garlic, and grape leaves; inhale strong odors from latrines to overcome the infectious "vapors" of the plague; wash walls with a solution of water and vinegar; and maintain a diet of wheat bread and citrus fruits, while avoiding red meat. Those who believed the plague was a punishment from God engaged in self-flagellation processions through villages and towns. Today, certain world leaders have advocated bleach and disinfectants, vodka, herbal tonics, and ultraviolet and sunlight to cure Covid-19.

Authorities in Venice began requiring arriving ship crews to be kept on board their vessels for 40 days what was called a "quarantine." The practice continues to this day as a method by public health authorities to stop the spread of a contagion.

With a lack of workers, prices of commodities and the cost of labor rapidly increased as the plague spread throughout Europe and North Africa. With serfs able to negotiate labor conditions with landowners, the feudal system became a collateral victim of the Black Death. Laborers became free to shop around their services to the highest bidder and average wages doubled as a result. A mobile labor force soon emerged.

The Black Death's aftermath created a political climate of mistrust of others, including foreign travelers, trading merchants, and money handlers. No one wanted a return to the 14th century, which was characterized in England as "nasty, brutish and short." In England, cleric John Wycliffe questioned the authority of the Pope and advocated the pre-eminency of the Bible. Wycliffe was tried for heresy in 1377 but John of Gaunt, the king's younger son and the top adviser to his father, defended Wycliffe and made it clear that the king also demanded more in taxes from the clergy. The Black Death paved the way for the Protestant Reformation in England two centuries later.

Edward III was, at the outset of the plague, the Donald Trump of his era. He insisted on conducting tournaments at Windsor Castle and other locations in England even though some of his royal advisers urged caution in the face of the Black Death sweeping England. Edward's tournaments featured jousting, feasting, dancing, along with another unwelcomed addition transmission of the bubonic/pneumonic plague through close social contact. It was not until the king's 14-year old daughter, Princess Joan, who was en route to Spain to marry Crown Prince Pedro of Castile, died from the plague that Edward took notice of the gravity of the disease and that "eat, drink, and be merry" would only hasten the depopulation of his realm.

Joan, who died in Bordeaux, France, was Edward's favorite child. When Edward's much-beloved wife, Queen Philippa, died from the plague, Edward saw that his rule was in great jeopardy. He mandated English, not French, as the official language of his government and he agreed to personally address Parliament, which he had previously tried to circumvent at every turn. What occurred with the English royal family was akin to Trump having to deal with the Covid-19 deaths of his wife, Melania, and his favorite daughter, Ivanka.

In response to the Black Death, many monarchs banned the export of food, as well as prohibiting black marketeering. Populations tended to place more trust in local authorities for such basic needs as food, clean water, clothing, burial services, and such medical care as it existed. Some local authorities established plague hospitals, constructed lazarettos (quarantine housing), established "cordons sanitaires," closed borders, and required the wearing of masks. Some local leaders established a network of intelligence agents to warn their governments of plague outbreaks and surges in other countries. The decisive actions of the Doge of Venice to quarantine arriving ship crews and create public health boards, the sealing off of Milan by the ruling Visconti council, and even the armed outlaws who guarded Bristol, England from those who may have been infected all tended to place increased public trust in their local governing authorities.

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