Home / Analysis - Eng version / COVID – 19 : VIRUS AND GEOPOLITICS DYNAMICS

I wondered for several days if write or not. If writing on a blog in an emergency situation could be useful, because in emergency times, perhaps more than in other occasions, it’s necessary to ponder decisions, and weigh the words. We need to be aware that the words convey messages, images, determine actions. And reactions. And if they are not well weighed, they can generate short circuits. Then I decided to consider that what differentiates one contribution from another is not only what you write, but the intention and purpose with which you do it.

My aim and my intention are to make a contribution, albeit modest, to the reading of the amount of information that now travels as never before in a continuous and very fast flow. This flow is the treasure that contains potentiality and vulnerability together: the potentiality in identifying useful information and the vulnerability that, paradoxically, lies exactly in the huge quantity of data in which we all risk getting lost, and in facts that we risk to incorrectly consider and understand.

I don’t pretend to be exhaustive and I’m aware of the relativity of my point of view. But I believe that what now matter is putting  skills anfd knowledge  into the system to really get out of this emergency that is upsetting our lives, on several levels and not only in our daily lives, now in Italy but soon, as it is evident hour after hour, also elsewhere.

According to the data, the analysis do not seem supporting the idea that April 3, 2020 could be the date on which, in Italy, we can say that we will be out of the emergency. I believe it is more likely that this could be a first date, but not the last date, also considering the current trend. Not only will there be a desired change in the course in the number of people in need of treatment because affected by COVID-19, but it will be necessary an additional monitoring period to monitor the situation, and verify whether the change in the course and the now well known curve of infection will stabilize downwards . It will happen, it is physiological; but when exactly it is complex to predict, it could be around the end of May in Italy; perhaps in that time we will begin to resume the contacts we are used to. But the conditional remains mandatory.

Since the first information start to filter from the Chinese Webo platform on the cases of an ‘unknown virus’, arriving to the mainstream, 59 days have passed. More or less two months.There is no certainty about future timing, and rationality and good sense in the face of a global critical situation able to impact on all systems, in the face of an unknown virus, need to rely on the data daily processed, on the current researches, on the similar ones before carried out, and on the predictive ability that arises from analysis and counter-analysis of factual data.Yet this, in my opinion, is not enough. It is the connections among the data that must be investigated, to include or exclude hypotheses, to confirm or not the lectures of data, to identify possible future scenarios, in order to prevent further destabilization.

Keeping broad in the definition of the time in which we will be able to confirm the exit from the crisis, therefore, can avoid to provide certainties that could be disregarded, and that if not maintained could generate chain reactions of manifestation of social discontent and understandable impatience, especially in the face of a necessary, however emergency restriction of personal freedoms, with the result of possible further destabilization.In the meantime, studies and research are ongoing to understand the causes, effects and possible developments of the virus, with no exclusion its mutations, that could be more or less predictable.

Virologists, epidemiologists, and the whole researchers sector have the task to carry out their work as best as possible, as scientifically as possible, without pre-established point of view that could result in blind reassurance or, at the contrary, in reckless alarmism. They have the task to carry out researches contaminated as little as possible from inferences about the motivations and / or economic and geopolitical impacts of this viral tsunami. Motivations and / or impacts that it would be however naive not to consider.

Staying, also in scientific research, as close as possible to concrete facts and developing from these reflections and conclusions is the only way to overcome cognitive bias. Although every thought and consideration can open up spaces for discovery, especially in virgin sectors and areas and to date little or nothing yet explored, there is also a need for clarity in the elaboration of every analysis sector, including that related to the virology field.

Today we are all witness, as actors and spectators in the same time, of interrelated elements, which intersect each other, generating a new map in the reading of the reality that, willingly or unwillingly, is being created and weaving day after day around us, and that we risk not take in  consideration, just because we are completely immersed in this map. It’s necessary take some distance from the map, in order to be able to see it in its complexity and heterogeneity. It’s necessary being inside and at the same time being sufficiently outside to have a vision, most widest as possible. It is considered already known, but it is necessary to reiterate the concept, that the impact on health and on the health risks given by the spread of this virus, if in some ways are known to date, for the vast majority of the population are still to be considered, both in their entity and in their magnitude.The high ability of the virus to spread and infect is evidently related to the frequency and speed of human movements. This is today a certain fact. And from this certain fact many considerations branch out, together with many lines of analysis, which in this first contribution will only be outlined in principle, leaving to other documents, currently in the elaboration phase, the necessary and appropriate insights.

What we need to tackle, an equally well-known element, is not only the virulence of the virus, but the need to treat many of the coronavirus positive cases with specific instruments and with intensive care instruments, available – but in a limited way- at the hospital facilities. What we have to face, in addition to the physiological uncertainty about how to treat those who result affected by coronavirus, is that these instruments, in addition to being previously intended for patients with complex prognoses, are not infinite, as are not the doctors nor the other health workers. The resources therefore necessary to combat the viral phenomenon are not available to everyone and are not infinite. If the phenomenon, which can only be slowed down today with a temporary social distancing, does not slow down, the demand for treatment cannot receive an adequate response.

It is, or it should be, rather intuitive that a massive influx of demand to the healthcare system in a limited time, in front of limited response possibilities, can have a disruptive impact on the healthcare system, with a domino effect on all systems associated with it. These are all concepts repeatedly reiterated, but which should not be forgotten to avoid dropping our guard, and to take the necessary time to understand what this virus is. This applies to all the longitudes and latitudes of the globe.

However, the current emergency situation is not a ‘normal’ situation in a system. No emergency situation can be defined as ‘normal’. But, in particular, taking in consideration its global impact, this differs from all the others.

It is a strong shake and shock that determine a radical change in the overall scenario, and this is the radical change, with its domino effect in all the interconnected sectors that are the foundations of the system in itself, this is the change capable to generate instability. We all know that every emergency has a source and an impact. Sometimes multiple sources, one of which assumes the role of a trigger cause, connecting with other more or less marginal sources, often pre-existing but also subsequent, generating more impacts, connected and varied.

We must now work to contain and orient the impacts already produced bythe virus, towards a stabilization phase. And we must work to identify and analyze, as far as possible, the predictable impacts, assessing their probability of realization, in order to be able, if necessary, to effectively manage them, avoiding that the system degenerates into further instability. This emergency has as a priority and/or as trigger source a virus, whose name is Coronavirus, a term that refers more than to the virus itself to the family of virus to which it belongs.

This is the summary of the situation. This is the picture that presents itself globally as the lowest common denominator. Assuming that this drama unites all the Countries of the world in an intention and aligned global action of rebirth and solidarity is totally unrealistic utopia. Or it could be better defined, an ad hoc narrative.

Data and facts. The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined the respiratory disease caused by the new virus ‘Covid -19’: Co and vi to indicate the Coronavirus family, d to indicate the term ‘disease’, 19 to identify the discovery date of the virus, 2019.  It is significant that the date of the virus’s discovery dates back to 2019, when accredited media sources managed to bring the news out of WEBO’s cramped Chinese blog platform only in the early days of 2020.

The Chinese physician Li Wenliang, who later died, is responsible for identifying patients in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the city in which the epidemic would have originated, who seemed to have been affected by SARS since December 2019. It is definitely not thanks to the Chinese government which, on the contrary, charged the doctor with the accusation of having spread lies for having used a social chat to share with other colleagues what was happening and the ‘strange’ clinical cases that he was following, and for which he had identified a virus belonging to the coronavirus family, the same family as SARS, but different from the SARS virus.

We need to remember the chronology of the facts, this is crucial, especially when we are completely absorbed by the emergency priorities. We tend to forget them, in a short circuit in which our brain synapses fail, in the shock, anxiety and constant vigilance and alarm phase, to process the data clearly, if we are not already well trained to do it.

Source: The Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health of Hong Kong, The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins UniversityCredit: Daniel Wood and Stephanie Adeline/NPR

It is also crucial taking into account that the mainstream have repeatedly reported a data of interest: CHINA, IRAN and ITALY are, to date, the nations with the largest number of confirmed cases. The interactive map of The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University keeps the data constantly updated.

 Source: 2020-03-17, 6.20 p.m.

What is surprising is that the data has only been reported, disseminated and not studied in depth. It is not a matter of speculation, but the necessity to consider some important steps and indicators, from which arise questions. Among the many questions, for example, what is the role of Iran and if there are, and if there are, what are the connections with China.

Once again, data and facts. Both countries, in addition to being united by the sad record of confirmed COVID -19 cases, are now also united by being particularly active in the spread of conspiracy theories, which would accuse Western Countries, and in particular the United States, of being the makers of the virus, conspiracy accusations that are not only customary in the foreign policy of both China and Iran, but which have always been part of both Iranian and Chinese military doctrines,  military doctrines in which one of the main focus is own potential capability in the cyber offense operations. We are therefore not only in front of a virus that a vaccine, however realistically, sooner or later, will be able to eradicate. The real risk now is that foreign actors who have always tried to overturn positions of power and balance in the global system, towards an undemocratic new balance, can exploit, even if we wanted to consider that they were not the creators, lacking clear evidence on this point, the situation of vulnerability, crisis, confusion, destabilization to which substantially no Country can today escape, in order to attack and hit the global system, taking advantage from the current situation. An attack that may be as not noticeable as it is barely visible the Covid-19. A disguised attack, but,  that as much as Covid-19, can change over time. And reveal yourself for what it really is. 

If the physical contagion that we are experiencing in Italy with important numbers can be a lesson, I wish that it is for us and for all the Countries that care about democracy, and certainly not the regimes, communists or radical islamists that they are. This means that if we have been, perhaps all of us  superficial or little shrewd, in front of the spread of the virus as a microorganism, not working in prevention, as we should have done despite the Chinese censorship, at least since January 18, we are now in the conditions to be able to bring  this awareness into other areas.  This means that we will be able to avoid a reaction to an attack, even if just a disinformation attack, if we manage to work by preventing it, putting all the necessary resources and skills in the system around this sector. Once again without alarmism, but at the same time, at least this time, without unnecessary naivety.  Considering an impactful cyber attack is a scenario that must certainly be considered, but which could be unlikely in the short term, even if the infrastructure defense must be, always, considered a top priority.

In fact the cyber domain is for NATO a domain of military operations since 2016, like the domains of land, air and sea. NATO’s defense of the Cyber ​​space therefore means that the Alliance must defend itself as effectively as for the other domains, and that therefore a cyber attack against one of the NATO Countries legitimizes the collective defense of the Alliance. Taking into account, however, that, at least in this moment, all the Countries of the Globe have already grappled with the prevention /containment/attack/neutralization of the effects of the virus, although they are at different stages of this process, it may be unlikely, but only in very short term, that there are Countries capable to risk an attack that would expose them to a massive response from the NATO Alliance.

The risk, for the malicious entitities, could be more calculated now, and could result in the spread of the disinformation virus, through cyber attacks, well oriented in their intention, with a content that touches the sensitivity of the recipients. Attacks that are barely visible, or visible only to some experts of the sector, attacks that in the emergency can be either not seen or underestimated, and which in their scope may also not be particularly different from those previously implemented by the same countries. Actually, disinformation campaigns are already underway, as reported  by multiple and different sources.

China and Iran primarily are acting in this field. With different pressures and nuances, and probably in order to reinforce own specific narrative, for both internal and foreign policy reasons. To shift the focus from their  internal weaknesses to the outside: this is the usual strategy to maintain international positions of strength, despite the internal vulnerabilities.

Iran, hard hit by the neutralization of one of the most significant exponents of international terrorism, General Qassim Sulemaini, can now find fertile ground on several fronts:

– it can exercise and project what it threatened several times, and since 2019 with the restoration of the economic sanctions, namely the ‘psychological warfare’ against the whole West, and in particular the United States;

– it can take advantage from the current situation to strengthen the Iranian population around the regime, through two coordinated actions:

a) on the one hand by shifting the evident internal disagreements and facing the ever-widening scarcity of internal consensus by covering an invisible enemy, the virus, with a physical and visible identity against which to stand, the ancient and ever-present enemy: the United States ; b) on the other hand, considering the people infected as a ‘threat to national security’, planning to delegate more and more power to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), listed as terrorist organization, and hiring the Basij militants, another terrorist paramilitary organization controlled by the Corps of Islamic Revolutionary Guards, to go house to house to provide disinfestations, apparently by controlling the contagion, which in this way, however, can only spread further, because of the lack of the restrictive measures adopted by the regime’s authorities even in the city ​​of Qom, Iranian epicenter of the outbreak.

China, for its part, strongly opposed in recent months in particular in its project to spread 5G, is now carrying out more sophisticated and less visible disinformation campaigns than Iranian ones, in terms of content. In fact, simultaneously with spreading conspiracy thoeries already mentioned in this document, officially maintains the version that COVID-19 would probably have generated in a market in Wuhan where people sold bat meat.

In parallel China is obscuring not only the past and current censorship, today once again confirmed through the expulsion of 14 American journalists from Chinese territory, but completely it is omitting any reference to its objective responsibility, at least in terms of delay in the disclosure of the news of the new virus, as well as its significant negligence in the omission of intervention towards habits and hygienic customs – sanitary – food by its population, potentially able to force the evolution of leaps of species of microorganisms, which seems to be the origin of COVID-19.  Once again, virologists and epidemiologists will have the final word not only about the origin of this virus, but also about the conditions that would have favored its transition from animal to human being, if there was such a transition. It will be also interesting considering the physicists contribution in this research. The speed of spread of the virus, which recalls a sort of quantum speed, originated in a Country that for years has dedicated itself to the implementation of quantum technologies to be applied to telecommunication, is an analogy that we cannot elude, and that should open to targeted and specific researches, recalling the physicists skills and knowledge to investigate the possible origins / mutations and / or destructive potential of the Covid-19 virus originating in China.

In addition to this, and this is the focus we should pay attention to, China is now attempting to co-opt the Countries most affected by the declared pandemic. First of all Italy, where it can now find fertile ground to move further actions in the international scenario:a) looking for a potential vacuum of power to fit into, taking advantage from the current inconsistent Europe approach to the Italian outbreak and the consequent  isolation in which Italy seems right now, b) leveraging on the development of Chinese well-known Health Diplomacy, already used and developed since 2011 in many other continents, with the aim to open up spaces in territories previously hostile or recalcitrant to its intervention, towards the creation of infrastructure and geo / political enterprises such as the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), through the creation of scientific and cultural discussion forums, and contextual deployment of Chinese medical teams to foreign Countries’ soils.

What we are witnessing in these days in Italy, is the repetition of a well-known China strategy, which is based on everything except intentions of aid and solidarity, and which is instead the expression not only of Chinese policy, but of the Chinese military doctrine strategy, certainly known to few, which also involves the use of Diplomacy in the Healthcare field as instrumental and functional to the achievement of economic and therefore geopolitical goals, and also to military goals.

For this reason, efforts and resources must be prepared to counter the current disinformation campaigns, which aim not only to discredit Western countries, but to generate a vacuum of trust among citizens and authorities, exactly when trust must be the glue between the two spheres of a society, even to obtain the necessary consent to the current temporary restriction of rights and freedom. Exploiting or creating the ground for gaps of trust and isolation between Italy, for example, and the rest of Europe, exploiting the current Europe inability to become a cohesive unity in the face of the pandemic, is the driver element which allows the activation of the disinformation campaign together with a diplomatic campaign of supposed aid that can hook the highest political spheres of a Country. Creating a vacuum of trust among the populations of the most affected Countries, creeping into the gap of fear, doubt, intolerance to the rigor, today mandatory, and rigorous compliance with the rules, this is the purpose of today’s disinformation campaigns. And today the targets, in the face of similar disinformation campaigns already ridden by the same Countries in the past, are extremely more linkable, more influenced, more vulnerable. The targets are the political decision-makers, which humanly but perhaps not properly, act both to manage the crisis and to maintain political consensus for the post-pandemic time. The targets are also all the citizens as well. All the citizens forced into their house. All the citizens necessarily confined within their homes. All targets whose neuronal functions have undergone an alteration, due to the shock and related restrictive measures, all targets of a need, not at all natural, but totally induced by the contingent situation of the spread of a virus, potentially close to asking for more and more internet lines fast, because the context requires this, the contingent situation requires this.And here we have, following this perspective, a scenario which assumes defined boundaries: rivers of projects and cascades of funding rain, even in emergency situations such as the current one, for e-commerce, e-government, e-learning, smart-working. To which will follow, probably, request for fast internet connections. Everything shifted on the virtual world, as quickly as possible.

China, whose implementation of 5G seemed in recent months blocked by security problems, detected by the United States, and only partially by Europe, after trying in vain to break through the barriers imposed by security issues, now finds itself at a step from seeing its own market need transformed into an induced ‘need’ of the population, no less than global population. China it finds itself in a position to potentially assumes the role of someone who can provide this much-requested service. The saving role of ‘who defeated the virus’, omitting censorships, silences, secrets, shutdowns of social networks, regimes, should be able to weave a sort of fiduciary bond towards China. This could be the current Chinese strategy, according to today’s facts and data. Only naive and blind assessments could consider all of this just random. Whether this scenario was the original motivation or just the impact of the spread of Covid-19 is not yet time to say it. It is certainly a direct, linear, automatic consequence. Even obvious.

However, that China is the only proactive actor in the current scenario is a partial reading.

Iran, the second Country in terms of number of infections, has its Covid-19 outbreak in the city of Qom, the heart and center of the economic link between Iran and China, a link that has allowed Iran to survive until today, despite the American economic sanctions. Not just this. Iran, economically reliant to China, maintains constant flights with China, flights that have never been suspended even in this phase of the pandemic, and consequently in this way keeping fully active, and proactive, a high spread of the infection.

The flights are operated by the Iranian airline Mahan Air, an Iranian airline that has been subjected to a package of sanctions by the US Treasury since 2011 on charges of financing and supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) military terrorist organization affiliated to the Iranian government and included in a black list of terrorist entities. Not so  present in the European market, the Iranian company has instead maintained contacts and routes with Italy, with stopovers in Rome and, in particular in Milan, and only on 30 October 2019 the ENAC, the Italian Civil Aviation Authority, under the control of the Minister of Infastructures and Transports, issued an official statement blocking, in  delay compared to other European Countries, and only after the mobilization of parliamentary questions by a part of the Italian Parliament, the air programs previously authorized to the Mahan Air, but only from December 15, 2020. It is appropriate to refer to the events’ chronology, which according to the information available find the first case of coronavirus in China on 08/12/2019 and the spread of the news on the mainstream  only in January 2020. It cannot therefore be excluded that Mahan Air, and therefore Iran through this airline, has become a carrier and vehicle, more or less aware of the contagion in Italy, where the air route was active until 15 December 2019.What is certain, instead, is that Mahan Air still acts as a vehicle and carrier of the Covid-19 infection that is upsetting the Globe, all with the extensive cooperation of China.

Despite the outbreak, in fact, the Ambassador Chang Hua at the Chinese Embassy in Tehran met on 2 February in an official meeting with the Mahan Air CEO, claiming as stated by a twitter of the same Chinese ambassador that the CEO of the Mahan company would have confirmed that he is ready to continue his cooperation with China,The formal reassurances about the use of the airline for humanitarian aid are not very reconciled with the terrorist purposes and are also denied by the news that the airline is carrying out flights, yesterday in India for example, to bring people from Iran back to the Country of origin.

As result, considering that Mahan Air is subject to penalties for financing and supporting terrorist activities, that its actions are therefore to be considered and assessed as terrorist actions and intentions, certainly not civilians, and considering the close cooperation with China, the role of strategic partnership between China and Iran, in the current situation, is unlikely to be excluded.

If new actors are entering in this cynical speculation game about a global pandemic it is visible.

Today is the news that Italy has requested doctors from China, Cuba, and Venezuela, all Countries connected each other by a common point and ground, which is the support and the good relations with Iran and with China, as shown by some data:

•for Venezuela, the Iranian Mahan Air reappears, who would have already discussed the opening of its routes to Caracas in April 2019;

•Iran has openly supported Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, subjected to US sanctions;

•the Venezuelan airline Conviasa, which had to suspend its flights for a period, now operates with destination Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and Cuba;

•Cuba signed a series of Memorandum of Understanding with Iran in January 2019, to strengthen mutual relations in various sectors including the biotechnology sector;

• Cuba seems to consider China as an important benefactor;

• Venezuela signed 28 international agreements with China in 2018.

All the mentioned indicators open lines of inestigation and seem  highlight the current  scenario of clear link between the Covid-19 and geopolitical and strategic alliances that the pandemic  bring to light. The assessment of these indicators emerging from the current crisis phase, the prompt response together with the prompt and rapid coping of the disinformation campaign already in progress, can allow to prevent co-opting actions not only towards some Governments but towards entire parts of populations, threats which are already visible, even if in embryonic stage.

As a further consideration, which supports the conclusions of this contribution, I strongly believe  relevant to highlight that there is a Country that, significantly, has not jumped to the headlines, and whose success against the Covid-19 could certainly be considered a threat to the current strategic Chinese actions, likely aimed to encourage co-optation and destabilization. This Country is Taiwan. Taiwan’s anti-coronavirus strategy was based primarily on the consideration of early information about the ‘strange virus’ as urgent and priority to analyze for safety. According to the information available, Taiwan adopted an immediate high surveillance, proactive measures, information sharing with the population without concealing anything, in absolute and total transparency, and the strategic use of technology for data analysis. The flights’ inspection began on December 31, the ban on the access to citizens of the Chinese city center of the virus, was activated on January 23, travel to China was suspended on January 25 and Chinese visitors were blocked from access on February 6.

Having recognized that it would be necessary to strengthen medical equipment, both for health professionals and for the population, the Taiwanese government blocked the export and simultaneously requested local companies to rapidly implement the production of medical equipment, including masks for the face, of which the government itself has controlled the distribution among the population thus ensuring the absence of speculation on them.In order to ensure coordination, Taiwan has set up a unified Command Center, which manages resources, maintains daily briefings and manages messages for the population. The authorities also moved quickly to track the people infected and to map the cases to verify the sources of the infection. Education to the population regarding the risks of the disease and the precautions to be taken was an activity right from the start through television and posters, as an integral part of the anti-coronavirus strategy.The use of technology has been activated to analyze large amounts of data.

Paradoxically, or perhaps not exactly paradoxically, what led to the success of the Taiwan strategy is on one hand having treasured the SARS experience in 2003, and on the other hand applying the attitude to maintain a very high vigilance to all that comes from China, information included. The same China that today in the eyes of someone is considered, dangerously, a symbol of reliability.

The examples of success against the coronavirus are there, there is no need for salvation Nations for Italy, Nations moved by the intent to undermine our identity. We need joint, coordinated, competent efforts. It’s necessary that potential agreements, including economic and commercial  ones, for example to supply the scarsity of internal resources of medical safety devices, are managed through capable and aware negotiations about the stackholders, in order to avoid submissive approach, generator of addiction and subjection. Negotiation in a crisis context, such as the current, totally differes from the negotiation that concludes daily agreeements. It requires  specific skills and tools and it cannot be improvised.

And finally it is necessary that the Countries that have always been Allies team up together, to avoid external interference, often unfortunately not at all disinterested, when not openly malicious. 

Author: Michela Ravarini, ©Copyright reserved

(Note of the author : the references of ‘today’ within the article has to be referred to 17 March, 2020, article publication’s date)  





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