Infected is the title of a cartoon strip dreamt up in 2011 by the European Commission. Its aim was twofold: firstly, to explain the concept of a pandemic, with the potential damage it can cause, to a broad public of adolescents. And secondly, to show that at international level, multilateralism can help to stamp out these increasingly common phenomena.
Its authors compare Infected to Contagion, a hit film made in the same year. Unlike Steven Soderbergh’s Hollywood blockbuster, the scale of the impact of these 50 pages, scripted by Jean-David Morvan of France and illustrated by Huang Jia Wei of China, was not planetary. Its distribution probably achieved only a few hundred copies distributed within the networks of the Commission’s Representations in the member states and EU delegations around the world.
This is how Infected begins. In a tropical Asian country, Samuel de la Mancha (inspired by the real-life David Nabarro), the UN Special Representative for avian and human influenza, makes the following observation: around 75% of new human diseases originate in the animal kingdom and that percentage is increasing exponentially. Zoonoses are common in densely populated regions where humans and animals live in contact with each other. Furthermore, globalisation, brought about by the industrialisation of the global means of production and transportation, helps them to spread and evolve from an epizootic disease, when transmissible to humans, to an epidemic or even a pandemic.
In Infected, it is a monkey that infects a human with the highly pathogenic virus B-1049, the name of which is a nod to the postcode of the European External Action Service. Despite attempts to quarantine patient 0, the virus starts to spread. The chain of events leading to pandemic is underway and there is no stopping it.
One of the story’s heroes travels back from 2111 to emerge in 2006, right in the middle of a top-security P4-type Chinese laboratory, along the lines of China’s Wuhan lab. His mission is to change the course of History, to prevent the emerging pandemic from bringing about the ravages that have shaped the world in which he lives: 1 billion dead, the fall of democracy and rise of a Mafia-like consortium allied to Big Pharma, the physical separation of people and animals to begin with, and then of people. However, we don’t find out whether capitalism ends up falling victim to the virus…
Even today, after two months of lockdown and on the brink of what has been described as the worst economic recession since the Second World War, the world of 2111 as described in Infected still reads like science-fiction. The Covid-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus is extremely serious from a public health point of view and has spared almost no country on the planet. However, it is not expected to have as high a death toll as the Spanish ‘flu at the beginning of the 20th century.
But what if Covid-19 was just the dress rehearsal for an even more devastating pandemic, caused by the greed of our lifestyles, laying waste to biodiversity and inexorably reducing the living space available the untamed world? This is the scenario examined in Contagion, which depicts the United States overrun with riots and where the law of the fittest could end up holding sway.
It remains to be seen how Europe will manage society’s exit from the Covid-19 pandemic.
For readers whose curiosity has been piqued and who cannot wait for the second instalment of this editorial, which will be given over to the concept of One Health, here is a link to the cartoon strip Infected: https://bit.ly/3cvKFRR