So the newest report from the WHO has updated the "worst case scenario" from 20,000 to 250,000 or maybe even 500,000. That is quite a jump. People are realizing that there isn't anything stopping or even slowing down this wildfire. The number of cases is doubling every three weeks.
There are some factors which are making this outbreak so much virulent than previous outbreaks. They are not hard to identify. One obvious culprit is the population density. The number of human beings on that continent has doubled, twice, in the last couple of decades. Ultimately, it was the good intentions of a lot of compassionate, concerned westerners who insisted upon feeding and medicating as many african children as possible, which made this possible. Anyway, the gifts of foreign aid have been miniscule in comparison with the remittances, the money and gifts which the diaspora send home to their own families. Most of the increase has jammed itself into cities where personal space has become unimaginably tiny by western standards.
Another, slightly less obvious culprit is the greatly increased mobility. The influx of cars, busses and trucks has been enormous. No longer is the continent made up of millions of tiny, isolated villages. People get around.
So far the media, always eager fearmongers that they are, have not yet caught up with the real dangers, the real threats. Even in the epicenters of the infections the number of people dying of ebola is still dwarfed by the number of people who have been and continue to die of the major scourges of malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS. Each of those diseases is still claiming ten to fifty times as many victims every day.
The real danger is the secondary effects. The real danger, not only in Africa but all over the world now, is the fear.
In Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal now, the fear is spreading to everyone. Shopkeepers are closing their shops, customers are staying home. Porters are not bnringing their goods into the cities. People avoid taxicabs and busses, not knowing about the health of the previous tenants. People avoid opublic places, avoid conducting business of any kind. All commerce is grinding to a halt.
The real danger is this secondary panic and shut down response. As goods stop flowing, death and destruction creep in from all sorts of secondary damage, from starvation, thirst, and of course from the lack of spare medical support personnel. Policing also takes a hit while criminals willing to risk infection can have a field day.
Having travelled extensively in Africa and dealt personally with many Africans, I am keenly aware of the strong cultural differences, how much more they converse with each other, how much larger their circles of friends and acquaintances are, how much more physical contact they enjoy with strangers, with acquaintances, with friends. Personally I've always respected and admired them for that and wish those traits cold be just a little more common here.
However, our cocoon mentality, our towering fear and mistrust of everybody, our neighbors, shopkeepers, and anyone we meet on the sidewalk or riding public transportation or passing in stores, will have a huge dampening effect. Yes, the infection will show up here. There are just too many people making the trips back and forth. but it won't get much of a foothold here, it will not spread very much.
However, the fear is already here. Already, if you read news stories and commentary, and then you scroll down to the commenting sections, you will see anguish and the seeds of panic. They show themselves in very ugly expressions of zenophobia, racism, and other forms of hate. People protest any form of help anyone wants to offer for the nations and individuals now under such diress. They seriously talk about total quarantine, as if it were possible to completely seal the borders of those countries when we can't even seal our own borders. They talk about forbidding re-entance for any selfless medical workers who may have come down with the infection.
Once the disease comes here, and it will, if it has not already, and the general population will find out, then, you can expect the panic to really take over here and really get out of control. Because we are culturally virtually petrified with fear already, because the media and the politicians, and the pundits and the medical establishment already bombards us constantly with millions of different possible and impossible worries, because it has become fashionable to fear ones own shadow, fashionable to arm our police with weapons of war, to make our schools into concentration camps, to put cameras and microphones and helicopters everywhere, very little more will be necessary to make our whole economy freeze up like an internal combustion engine when all the oil drains out.
And that might just be a black swan.