There’s an article going around at the moment from Matt Ridley, saying that coronavirus will be a disaster. I’m normally a big fan of Matt Ridley, and will fully acknowledge that he knows more science than me, so I was disappointed to find that it was making thsee predictions based on very general and weak points:
So why don’t I think this hobgoblin is imaginary? First, because lethal plagues have a long track record.
Sure, but that applies to every disease. And most of them don’t turn out to be wreckers of civilisation. What we need is a specific reason why we should think Covid-19 is different to the usual.
The second reason is that new diseases are often more dangerous than existing ones … when they first infect our species, viruses can encounter a vulnerable immune system and run riot.
Again, true, but again this also applies to SARS and bird flu and swine flu, etc. Nasty diseases, all of them, but again the didn’t turn out to be mass killers.
The third reason for alarm in this case is the speed with which Covid-19 has crossed regional and international boundaries.
So do lots of other diseases.
It does seem to have acquired an unusual skill at getting passed on from one person to another
It clearly isn’t as contagious as the flu.
Then there is the effect of globalisation, and the huge growth in international travel. I wrote in my notes in 1996, when reviewing a book on new viruses, “If we persist in creating conditions in which viruses can be easily transmitted and amplified, then we will persist in experiencing waves of new viral epidemics. The problem lies in the ecology of our society, not destruction of the environment.” Human beings are just too tempting an ecosystem for an ambitious virus.
This is true, but it’s a general point, and it applies to all those new viruses we’ve had since Ridley wrote this in 1996, and none of those killed millions of people. Again, what we’re lacking is specific evidence relating to Covid-19. I’m not interested in general points about how a new virus could kill us all, but whether this specific virus would kill us all (or a lot of us).
Here, however, is a Lancet article which provides some more specific reasons to worry about Covid-19. One such reason is that it may be that the warmer months won’t cause it to die down:
Third, the effect of seasons on transmission of COVID-19 is unknown; however, with an R0 of 2–3, the warm months of summer in the northern hemisphere might not necessarily reduce transmission below the value of unity as they do for influenza A, which typically has an R0 of around 1·1–1·5.
The article seems on the speculative side to me, but it does at least provide some reason to be worried about Covid-19. Not that it’s going to ravage the country, or anything like that, but it may kill a lot of our older people, and who the hell wants that to happen? (Apart from fanatical Remainers, that is.) We should have never have allowed it to get going – our insane virtually-open borders policy was responsible for that – but now that it has taken root I think that, like it or not, the government is going to start take action. I’d be surprised if schools aren’t shut down soon.