Grandstand. In the face of the coronavirus epidemic, many are accusing globalization and claiming that the only way to prevent this scenario from happening again is to de-globalize the world. Build walls, restrict travel, limit trade. Yet while containment in the short term is essential to curbing the epidemic, isolationism in the long term would collapse the economy without providing any protection against infectious diseases. On the contrary. The real antidote to the epidemic is not segregation, but cooperation.
Epidemics killed millions of people long before the era of globalization. In the XIVe century, there were no planes or cruise ships, which did not stop the Black Death from spreading from the Far East to Western Europe in just over ten years, killing at least a quarter Population. In Mexico in 1520 there were no trains, no buses and not even donkeys, and yet a smallpox epidemic in just six months wiped out just over a third of its inhabitants. In 1918, a particularly virulent strain of influenza managed to spread in a few months to the most remote corners of the planet. It contaminated more than a quarter of the human species and killed tens of millions of people in less than a year.
"The best defense men have against pathogens is not isolation, it is information"
Over the next century, humanity has become even more vulnerable to epidemics through the combined effect of improved transportation and population growth. Today, a virus can travel business class around the world in 24 hours and infect mega-cities. We should therefore have expected to live in an infectious hell where deadly plagues had spread one after the other.
However, the scale and impact of epidemics have, in fact, diminished considerably. Despite abominable viruses like HIV or Ebola, never since the Stone Age have epidemics caused as few deaths, in proportion, as in XXe century. It's because the best defense men have against pathogens is not isolation, it's information. Humanity has won the war against pathogens because, in the arms race between pathogens and doctors, pathogens rely on blind mutations and doctors on scientific data analysis.