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article imageOp-Ed: Coronavirus — What’s truly dangerous and not so dangerous

By Paul Wallis     Feb 1, 2020 in Health
Beijing - The level of disinformation regarding coronavirus (thanks, social media) is pretty bad. What’s worse is that it’s misrepresenting current issues and ignoring real dangers, including possible long-term risks.
One look at current information regarding coronavirus is hardly inspiring of confidence:
• Yes, it’s a big enough issue in China.
• Yes, there’s been a massive response from the Chinese government.
• Yes, the United States and Australia have issued travel warnings.
• Yes, nations are evacuating their citizens.
• Yes, there’s a big effort to correct misinformation, but it’s having a patchy effect so far.
• Yes, infection rates outside China are almost negligible, because the rapid shutdown seems to have minimized the spread.
Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? If only it were. Other information is much less appealing, and downright irresponsible:
Inclusions in coronavirus suggest it may have been developed as a bioweapon. This information is to put it mildly unconfirmed. This seems to be no more than anti-Chinese propaganda.
Racist incidents against people of Chinese ethnicity are being widely reported. This is merely insane; it’s predictable given the state of paid disinformation and political spin from hate groups.
A lot of time is being spent debunking wild predictions, not least of which was an exercise which suddenly became “real information” online. One “prediction” circulating is that coronavirus could kill 65 million people. That’s the level of information quality that’s causing the problems.
So what’s so dangerous?
Coronavirus is apparently less virulent than SARS, the big outbreak which did kill a number of people some years ago. Coronavirus is a bit more infectious than SARS, but killing a lower percentage of infected people to date.
Coronavirus is considered “similar” to SARS, with a few similarities. That’s not too encouraging, but it also means they’re different viruses, behaving differently.
The dangers are much less obvious, but real enough:
• Virology is a severely underrated, neglected science. Research is…spasmodic… and not generally understood well. That means resources are usually having to be cobbled together when there’s an outbreak. It’s a truly lousy environment for systemic research and treatment development.
• Viruses mutate continuously. They’re generally not even noticed until an outbreak. The history of mutations isn’t at all clear, most of the time. The influenza virus, which kills a lot more people annually, is only well-known due to a century of study. Other viruses can quite literally be anything, and come from anywhere.
• Mutations may actually defuse infectious viruses. They seem to become less severe. The influenza virus that killed millions, for example, has never again been so infectious.
• The risk of a truly deadly, highly infectious strain developing is obvious. Minor mutations could theoretically generate a superbug. Historically, the risk seems low, but who wants to find out what a real superbug could do?
• The risk of weaponization can’t be ignored, either. It is just possible that someone might tinker with the coronavirus, simply because it is so infectious. Would anyone be surprised if someone’s humanity-hating government developed a bioweapon based on something like coronavirus? Most government agencies aren’t that stupid, but not all of them, worldwide.
• Environmental factors and human interactions may play a role in viral evolution. Was it a coincidence that the almost unspeakably hideous Athenian plague, the Black Death, and the monster influenza outbreak all occurred in war zones? Possibly, but maybe not. The danger is not finding out how the human environment promotes viral evolution.
• Viruses are also believed to have much longer-term effects on human health. The initial infection may lead to unforeseen problems decades later, according to this theory.
If you are somehow getting the impression that:
• Virology needs to be able to manage tracking, monitoring and mutation of viruses
• Response levels are pretty haphazard in real emergencies
• Health systems aren’t exactly geared to manage major outbreaks at any level in any society
• The lack of research capacity is basically neutering effective science
• Online disinformation is as useless as ever
…You’re quite right. The need is for competence, sanity, and proper health logistics. Otherwise, the dangers will become real, sooner or later.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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