San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) declared a state of emergency for the city on Tuesday amid concerns over the international coronavirus outbreak.
While no coronavirus cases have been confirmed in San Francisco, “the global picture is changing rapidly, and we need to step-up preparedness,” Breed said in a statement.
“We see the virus spreading in new parts of the world every day, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm,” she added.
The new state of emergency will allow city officials to assemble resources and personnel to expedite emergency planning measures and boost the ability to deploy a rapid response to a potential coronavirus case in the city.
Is the Mayor of San Francisco really called London Breed? Might that be a typo, and he’s really Lyndon Breed?
Anyway he’s declared a state of emergency in the city despite it having no coronavirus cases. Isn’t that just typical of these times? Over-reacting to something that hasn’t happened. I presume he’s long since declared a state of emergency over global warming, because there isn’t any of that either.
The only effect will be to “expedite emergency planning measures.” Was it necessary to declare a state of emergency in order to do that? Couldn’t they have just re-assigned somebody to stop planning for climate change and start planning for a coronavirus epidemic instead?
And how do you plan for a coronavirus epidemic anyway? In what way will it be different from a flu epidemic? Aren’t these sorts of events unpredictable? Isn’t the appropriate response to respond quickly and flexibly to events as they unfold?
Was there a plan in place for the Great Fire of San Francisco in 1851? Perhaps there was, since there’d already been several fires. But the plan probably went out the window within hours of the fire starting. From then on it was a matter of people responding flexibly and quickly to events as they unfolded. From memory, they ended up demolishing entire buildings to create a firewall to stop the fire. Nevertheless three-quarters of the city burned down.
Do plans ever work? It is said that, in war, the plan is always the first casualty. The best generals are not those who make the most careful and detailed plans, but those who respond flexibly and quickly to a rapidly evolving situation. They’re generals like Manstein or Rommel or Patton. They act very quickly and decisively. And they usually lead from the front.
I have no idea what a coronavirus epidemic will be like. I’m currently assuming it’ll be like a regular flu epidemic. I expect that it will spread far more rapidly in cities than in the countryside, simply because of the higher density of population. And I expect that there’ll be city-wide lockdowns just like in China. But I’ve yet to hear what the government plans to do about it. Does the government have a plan? If so, how long before the plan goes out the window?
If China or Italy had a plan, it looks like it went out the window, and now they’re responding to events as they unfold. They don’t know what they’re going to do next, and they can’t know. And much of what they do will be ham-fisted. The only hope is for quick-thinking and decisive people to come to the fore, and assume positions of responsibility. In fact this is probably what always happens: Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
In a real emergency (and I’m by no means sure there’ll be one), ordinary everyday concerns will get shelved. There’ll be no more talk about climate change or white privilege or transgender rights. There’ll be no more talk about the EU or Donald Trump or the upcoming US election. The news will be all about shortages of face masks, and the police hunt for roaming superspreaders. People will stop worrying about things that don’t matter, and start worrying about things that do matter. People will stop being fantasists and start being realists.
And that will be a really good thing, if it lasts beyond any state of emergency. A serious global pandemic could bring a step change in public consciousness, about what does and doesn’t matter.
And of course environmental tobacco smoke is something else that really doesn’t matter, just like climate change doesn’t matter, and white privilege doesn’t matter. Who knows, at the height of the pandemic, people might start smoking in pubs again, because they know that its simply doesn’t matter, and even has a protective effect.
Or, as soon as it’s all over, will all the Greta Thunbergs and Deborah Arnotts simply re-appear and continue lecturing everybody where they left off?
We’ll soon see.