Coronavirus – like the Borg but worse, apparently!

The World Health Organisation is meeting today to decide whether the Coronavirus constitutes an international global health emergency.

The first human case of the virus was found in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but it has since spread beyond into other parts of China and internationally to other countries such as South Korea and Japan.

I listed to an interesting item this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme which featured an interview with David Quammen, the author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.

Quammen says that the characteristics of this latest virus were predicted by the various health experts he spoke to when he wrote his book, which was 10 years ago. The experts he spoke to said the next major Pandemic would probably have the following features:

  • It would be a single strain RNA virus
  • It would probably come from the Corona family
  • It would be spread through respiratory transmission
  • And possibly from a live market in China

The problem with the single strand RNA virus is that they make a lot of mistakes, they don’t copy directly, the evolve and adapt, which means when the virus transmits from an animal to a human, it can adapt so that it can replicate and then transmit between humans.

NB – that’s the bit that reminded me of The Borg (from Star Trek) – they adapt to Phaser attacks, rendering further attacks impotent – just like the Coronavirus might adapt to treatments in the future, except that virus works inside humans, which kind of makes it more terrifying!

It is also a possibility that it can become more harmful when it mutates, however it could become less harmful – we just don’t know, there is a lot uncertainty.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a great example of how we live in a Risk Society – we simply don’t know what the consequences of this virus will be, so we have to put in place extreme measures to deal with it – The Chinese Authorities have put Wuhan into lock-down, shutting transport hubs for example.

It also reminds us about how global problems transcend national boarders – the virus has already spread to other countries, and the World Health Organisation is coordinating a global response.

However, it also maybe reminds us of the importance of the Nation State for dealing with a crisis like this – it’s difficult to see how an effective strategy to stop the spread of the virus could work without a massive power like the Nation State putting in place measures of control.

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