Read: Why America is uniquely unsuited to dealing with the coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting all nations and all classes of people. That’s what the news of Johnson’s infection illustrates. It is universal. Wars—at least today’s wars—are not universal. They affect different classes in different ways and are fought between nations or groups whose strengths and weaknesses are largely rooted in their industrial output, wealth, size, and manpower. The coronavirus doesn’t care about size or wealth. Its most potent adversary is boring, effective government.
Johnson broke the news that he had contracted the virus in a short clip released on social media this afternoon. “Hi folks,” he said. “I want to bring you up to speed on something that’s happening today.” The essence of his breezy message was one of reassurance. “Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fight-back against coronavirus.”
What he didn’t say was that the wizardry of modern technology couldn’t stop the leader of the sixth-biggest economy on Earth from contracting the virus he wants to lead the fight against. It didn’t stop him from boasting about shaking the hands of coronavirus patients only a few weeks ago. It didn’t manage to instill protective common sense early enough around some of the most important people in the country. Technology is the thing that will eventually clip the coronavirus’s wings, but it is also what gave it the ability to fly in the first place. Today’s world is global. Viruses spread quickly, because people move around the world quickly.
The universalism of this challenge, revealed in Johnson’s illness, is its most novel feature. There are few other day-to-day problems that cross the threshold of a prime minister’s home in such a direct way. Housing, transport, food, drink, life expectancy, education—all these things and more affect different classes in hugely different ways. Johnson and his children can be educated privately; those of the cleaners at 10 Downing Street cannot. Even health care in Britain, despite the country’s universal, socialized system, is not uniform. Johnson and his partner can choose to have their child delivered at a private hospital, something not many British citizens can do.
But biology is universal. Health-care systems such as Britain’s, though far from the perfect creatures their supporters often pretend, do at least recognize the universal nature of biology—that having a preexisting health condition is not a question of individual negligence, moral hazard, or any other market concept; it’s the lottery of life.
David Frum: The coronavirus is demonstrating the value of globalization
Pandemics like this one are one of the clearest examples of universality. The world will be able to live with it only in a few distinct ways: If it washes over everyone; if it is controlled by everyone; or if a vaccine is developed that returns the world to its divided norm, whereby those who can afford it are okay and those who cannot are not.