science

“Coronavirus”, covid 19 and expecting the unexpected

I’ll lay my cards on the table: To me, Sanders is looking increasingly electable, the virus looks like it could reshape much of daily life at least in the short term, and the Trump administration’s response to it is bound to be bumbling and perhaps extremely scary.

Of course, I could be wrong. We all could be.”

So wrote NY Times columnist Farhad Manjoo. And while his general approach is 100% correct, I am not at all sure about what he says about “the virus”.

Not “coronavirus”
First off, let’s get it clear: It’s not “the coronavirus”. That is an entire family of viruses which are so named because of their crown-like structure. The particular one about which there is such a scare is Covid-19, or just Covid.
You would expect the media to get their facts and terminology straight, but even to this day they are referring to this outbreak as “Coronavirus”.

What are the actual facts regarding mortality rates?

Spread of disease and fatality rate
According to the NY Times, the disease has spread to 46 countries outside China in which there are 2,790 confirmed cases. This means an official mortality rate of 1.5%, which is far higher than the flu, but hardly makes it a fatal disease. In China itself, there are now 82,400 confirmed cases
and 2,004 deaths, making an overall mortality rate of 2.4%. These figures are deceptive for two reasons, however:

First is that the numbers and mortality rates vary tremendously between the nation as a whole and Hubei province, where the outbreak first started. Again, according to the NY Times, “The overall fatality rate in China was 2.3 percent. But that number was inflated by the much higher fatality rate in Hubei Province, of 2.9 percent, compared with a rate of just 0.4 percent in the rest of the country. The seasonal flu, by comparison, has a mortality rate of about 0.1 percent.”

A picture of the covid-19 virus, one of the coronavirus family

80% mild cases
Second, and of even more significance, is what that same article explains: Over 80% of confirmed cases are mild. Such cases involve mild flu-like symptoms. In many instances, the symptoms can be so mild that the individual does not even report them. In other words,
it seems likely that there are far more actual than confirmed cases, that the disease has spread far more widely than is known!

Some will see this as a cause for further panic. In fact, it is just the opposite, again for two interrelated reasons.

First, it means that the actual fatality rate is probably lower than the official rate. This leads to a second consideration: Like all viruses, the coronavirus family, including Covid-19, mutates. And what form is most likely to spread? Well, consider process: Some individuals with a compromised immune system, or other health issues, will immediately get very sick from any form of this virus. Others will immediately get very sick from a more powerful form. These individuals will be quarantined most quickly. This means that more mild forms of the virus will be the forms that will tend to spread most rapidly. The same NY Times article writes: ‘“Some of these patients, they just go unrecognized,” he said. “It could be just as small as a sore throat. Then one day, two days, it’s gone.” Dr. Jin of the University of Hong Kong…. Those with mild or no symptoms may not know they have contracted the virus, or may pass it off as a seasonal cold. They may then continue in their daily lives — traveling, kissing, coming into close contact with others — and spread the virus without anyone knowing. There are, broadly speaking, two possible outcomes of the current outbreak, Dr. Jin said. The new virus could, like SARS, another well-known coronavirus, become less and less transmissible as it spreads around the world, eventually dying out.

Alternatively, the new coronavirus could become well established in humans, becoming a kind of recurring, seasonal nuisance, like the flu, Dr. Jin said. In that situation, people would learn to live with it, and sometimes would contract illnesses from it; but the virus would most likely also lose some of its dangerousness as time went on. Experts could also develop a vaccine, Dr. Jin added.’

In other words, the most likely outcome is that the great majority of those who contract the virus will acquire a temporary immunity for a time, rather than dying. And over time, it will tend to be the less virulent forms of the virus that will become the most common since those are the forms that can be spread the easiest and quickest. However, massive numbers of deaths would not occur.

H1N1 – Swine Flu
This would be in keeping with the Swine Flu (H1N1 virus) scare of 2009-10. In that case, there were 61 million recorded cases – in other words 29% of the US population – and 12,469 deaths for a mortality rate of 0.04%. Since it’s likely that many others had this virus but it went unrecorded because of the mildness of their symptoms, that means that the mortality rate was probably even lower.

There may very well be something that I’m completely missing here, but at this point I don’t see a reason not to think that a similar outcome for Covid-19 is not entirely possible and even likely.

Political fallout
There will, however, be some political fallout.

The brilliant Mike Pence is in charge of saving us here in the US.

After a few days of fumbling and bumbling around, Trump has appointed the other brilliant genius of his administration – Mike Pence – as the “coronavirus” tsar. (That is actually a clever move since in case it does spiral out of control Trump will be sure that it will be Pence who will take the rap.) In what at this point seems the like it might be more likely event that there are no massive number of deaths, then Trump will crow about the brilliant success of his handling of the situation. In other words, he will use it to strengthen his position.

Right now, there is an all-out rush to develop a new vaccine for Covid-19. It seems that the requirements, weak as they already are, for safety and effectiveness testing for new drugs are being weakened for the development of such a vaccine. This will be used to even further relax such rules in general.

Right now, the stock market is falling out of fears of this possible pandemic. If the underlying instabilities of the global economy set off a wider stock market collapse, Trump can blame it on this threatening pandemic.

Then there are the camps the administration has set up to quarantine those who came in contact with the virus overseas. Not to sound paranoid, but it does seem like these could be used in the future for repression of immigrants and others.

Political uncertainty
But back to the original theme of NY Times columnist Farhad Manjoo. He concludes
by discussing the “growing unpredictability” of events in today’s world. This includes both in the world economy and in politics. “Will Michael Bloomberg’s and Trump’s gargantuan levels of spending on digital ads substantially alter how elections work — or is it possible that we’re overhyping the role of ad spending? Will Americans really recoil from socialism, or do many of us not care so much about an outdated label? Will Sanders’s revolutionary army turn out, or stay home? Will our election survive malign interference or domestic ineptitude? How will the virus affect the economy and Americans’ sense of safety — and will that be good for Trump, or terrible for him?

“I’ll lay my cards on the table: To me, Sanders is looking increasingly electable, the virus looks like it could reshape much of daily life at least in the short term, and the Trump administration’s response to it is bound to be bumbling and perhaps extremely scary.

“Of course, I could be wrong. We all could be.”

Causes of turmoil
The only addition we should make to this is that the unpredictability stems from the near chaos that is developing as capitalism moves ever deeper into crisis and turmoil. Even in the United States, it has lost its ability to provide economic security for the younger generation of workers. As Oaklandsocialist explained in the article on Germany and the new world (dis)order,
 it is destroying the old cultural identities that helped keep large layers of the working class feeling bound to “their” capitalist class. As US capitalism finds itself increasingly challenged by rivals (including Chinese and Russian capitalism), the old world order between capitalist states is disintegrating.

And the old social democratic trends within the world’s working class movements finds themselves completely unable to cope. The result is a weakening of workers mass organizations without the rise of new ones.

All of this means a swirling mass of storms colliding, merging and separating out again.

In a previous article on Sanders and the Nevada primary caucus results we quoted Terry Sullivan, former campaign manager for the Marco Rubio presidential campaign of 2016. Like Farhoon Majood, he has the sense to recognize the unpredictability of the present political situation. In fact, the watchword for the day is “expect the unexpected”.

And meanwhile, don’t panic over the “coronavirus’, nor even over Covid-19.

A picture of the covid-19 virus, one of the coronavirus family

Categories: science, United States

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