The Wrong Side Of The Gates

January 27, 2020
2 mins read

In former days, the safest place to be when the gates closed was inside the city walls. Today, not so much:

Police at a roadblock on the outskirts of Wuhan turned away cars trying to leave the virus-stricken city on Saturday, as other anxious residents trapped inside spent the Lunar New Year stocking up on masks and medical supplies.
Authorities have prevented anyone from leaving Wuhan, the city of 11 million people at the heart of the viral outbreak which has so far infected nearly 1,300 people and killed 41 others.
AFP saw a steady trickle of cars approaching the roadblocks around 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of the city centre on Saturday morning, only for police in fluorescent jackets wearing masks to tell them to turn around.
The barricade, at one of the tolls for highways exiting the city, was blocked with red and yellow plastic barriers and cones.
“Nobody can leave,” a policeman told AFP.

I know nothing about the severity of the 2019-nCoV virus and have no predictions about how this round might turn out. But I do have a prediction about the reaction of governments to pandemics: where you are when they finally act is where you’ll be stuck.

Hot in the city tonight

Right now, Wuhan itself, a city with about the same population as the Big Apple, is under military lockdown. Ten nearby cities are in the same situation. No public transportation goes in or out. All flights are cancelled. You can bet the bridges are guarded and your papers had better be in order if you dare step outside your zone. If you are inside the city, you will stay inside the city until whatever is happening is done happening.
Yeah, but that’s commie China. That would never happen in America, right? You might remember Tom Clancy’s novel Executive Orders. In that story, one of the orders of President Jack Ryan, when faced with an ebola epidemic in the US, was to shut down all interstate travel.  That might have been all the President could legally do*. But it was presented as the right thing to do.
Because from the government’s perspective, it is the right thing to do. They can try to contain an epidemic, or they can let it spread. Very few would argue that it is in the interests of the nation to let sick people spread sickness all over**.
But that has consequences. Whether Wuhan Coronavirus started at an illegal meat market or at a weapons lab is immaterial to those stuck in the city. It will kill them just the same. Due to millions of people in tight quarters, the chances of exposure to those infected is far higher, and its spread will be faster, than outside the city. Infrastructure, even as it is more robust in the city, will be overwhelmed more quickly than outside the city.
That’s why, if you are of a prepping mindset, it’s important to be outside the city already. Especially a city that can be physically isolated by a few troops and roadblocks. Can you prep on Long Island? Of course, and it’s better to prep on Long Island than to not. But I would argue that if you want to escape millions of disease vectors, it’s sure easier to do that somewhere millions of strangers aren’t around in the first place.
* When the order was challenged in court, The government upheld the government’s right to do what the government wanted. Yeah, I was surprised as well.
** That we do it with politically favored diseases like AIDS demonstrates that we do not take them seriously, not that it is in the nations’ interest.

El Borak is an historian by training, an IT Director by vocation, and a writer when the mood strikes him. He lives in rural Kansas with his wife of thirty years, where he works to fix the little things.


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