Millions died that November. It happened all at once and so suddenly that not a single country or soul on earth was ready for it. To this day, we’re still not exactly sure what had changed, but it was as if God had flipped some kind of master switch of life and death. The numbers that eventually came to pass made the Pol Pot death marches in Cambodia in the late 1970s seem like amateur hour. The massive fatality rates landed like waves crashing against the beach with ever-increasing intensity, exponentially. First 4,000 deaths a week which people professed to be disturbed by; but in their heart-of-hearts just considered, “That’s the way it goes.” Then 8,000 the following week; then 16,000; then 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,028 by week nine… that’s over a million people dying every week: 1,028,000. It just took us just nine short weeks to get there.
How did society respond? Predictably, I guess. Like Billy Bob Thornton once remarked, “Basically, it was the worst parts of the bible.” Civil services broke down overnight. Kind of pointless to show up for your job when there was a 50/50 chance you could contract the virus and just suddenly die. The stock market, which had rebounded so spectacularly, nosedived once more– plummeting something like 10,000 points in a single day. It was Black Monday all over again: Speculators, investors, and day-traders lost everything as margin calls swept across the land and bank accounts were cleaned out. Flooded with redemption requests that destroyed their livelihoods, every week some new hedge fund manager was flinging himself or herself off a Wall Street skyscraper. We didn’t know it then but they were the smart ones; the lucky folks. It was a merciful swift end in the cold, heartless, brutal new normal that was to come. Grocery shelves were picked bare, schools were abandoned, airlines went bankrupt, and the economy once more halted on a dime– except this time, it wasn’t a voluntary crash like it had been back in March. It was the real thing.
And then, what happened next– if there were ever some executive one-pager, some Cliff Notes or Spark Notes for how humanity operates in its darkest hour– what happened next basically goes down as the pinnacle HBS Case Study that best represents the human species: One day, long after humans have already gone extinct by our own hand, some alien race will discover our remains in some epic archeological excavation and scratch their little alien head(s). “Jesus,” they’ll wonder. “Was this a tragedy or a comedy?”
In a nutshell, the place it all began: That infectious diseases biolab in Wuhan, China– It developed the first successful vaccine.
And China refused to share its vaccine with the rest of the world.