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What is different about covid-19 and earlier pandemics

What is different about covid-19 ?

There are technical differences in covid-19 which suggest it is smarter than earlier viruses in some respects. For those technical details, see the article.

One result is the infection rate of covid-19 is higher than bird and swine flu.

Basically R-nought is a value that indicates the numbers of people that will be infected by someone with the virus. One target is to keep this value below 1.0, however covid-19 is roughly estimated at 2.0 to 2.5.

The H1N1 flu was also less contagious than the novel coronavirus. The basic reproduction number, also called the R-nought value, is the expected number of individuals who can catch the virus from a single infected person. For the 2009 H1N1 virus, the mean R-nought value was 1.46, according to a review published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases. For the novel coronavirus, the R-nought value is estimated to be between 2 and 2.5, at the moment.

The R-nought value of covid-19 is what introduces the level of contagion and transmission speed we see.

In that context here is a series of quotes (paywall temporarily lifted by FT on the complete article by French Philosopher Simon Schama).

The few people he saw, he wrote, looked as if they had “taken leave of the world”. He moved amid Buriers and Searchers, often elderly women assigned the dangerous job of examining the dead for signs of the plague, carrying long white wands to warn people to keep their distance as they went about their gloomy work. It was getting closer. His physician and the waterman who ferried him daily had both died, and Pepys decided to make a will.

Pepys took it hard when one of his favourite taverns, The Angell on Tower Hill, in common with many others, closed. He and many like him exemplified Aristotle’s conviction that humans are, above all else, social animals; and that the vital energy of cities in particular comes from gatherings — in public squares, theatres, sports stadiums
A standard feature of the “Dances of Death” imagery that became popular after the arrival of the Black Death in Europe in 1348 was the indifference of the plague to rank, wealth and authority, indiscriminately mowing down popes and emperors at the height of their powers, along with peasants and beggars.

The similarities of the Plague (1665) and the Black Death (1348) are remarkable and troubling. We have learned nothing it would appear.

The constant desire to blame other nations is a common thread. Most often blamed are Asians.

The root cause of the older plagues were caused by local inefficiencies of basic cleanliness.

 physician John Snow conclusively traced back the cholera infection of 1854 to those who had used a single water fountain at Broad Street in Soho, and established that the water company servicing that pump had been using dangerously tainted water from the sewage-riddled gunk of the Thames, his principal argument that the disease was conveyed in faecally polluted water took a while to be accepted.

Some examples of the pieces and behaviours noted in pandemics over the last 800 years that are evident in 2020 covid-19:
– [ ] local authority is both useful to day to day management, and a blind spot to identification of important causes
– [ ] closing of borders / exclusion of outsiders and that strategy lack of success over time
– [ ] relative success of ‘lockdown’ whether by authority or from self protection
– [ ] blaming other nations
– [ ] disbelief this is happening to ‘me’ and interfering with ‘my’ lifestyle

More on blaming other nations:

Certainly the more recent pandemics originated in bats and other wildlife in China experiencing ‘spillover’ to humans.

Clearly some clean up of behaviours is needed in that area such as eliminating ‘Wet Markets’, but this is still short term thinking.

Are we certain it ends there? This article with a reference to an early 2000’s paper on the source of SARS and that highlights a cave whose location is being kept secret in Spain.

The article points out the proximity in China to similar caves as well as hunting habits are included in the reason for ‘spillover’. Yet the underlying root cause is not limited to China. Viruses are ‘learning’ organisms and addressing one physical location will not address root cause.

All this to say I found the Schama article thought provoking as it touched on so many similarities in covid-19 to Pandemics for which we have documented history over 800 years time span.

So what did we learn?

Written by Colin Henderson

April 11, 2020 at 11:00

Posted in Uncategorized

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