The ten viruses of Coronavirus

Posted by Pierre-Antoine Ullmo in Education Today

February 28th, 2020

My daughter Inés is a biology researcher at Imperial College.

Our weekly breakfast this morning in London was dedicated to…coronavirus. I asked her how we could get out of this collective hysteria. How we could rationally interpret what is happening from a scientific point of view.

On the one hand, there is a public health problem with a new virus that is highly transmissible by traditional means. We know how to predict and map epidemics. We know how to calculate morbidity. We don’t yet know how to stop this virus, which needs to be studied urgently.

Tens of thousands of vulnerable people, invisible victims of life, are dying worldwide. We seem powerless. But science needs time. A vaccine only develops after testing periods.

On the other hand, coronavirus may be much more harmful than what we are currently seeing. Beyond the lethal respiratory risk of a very dangerous and unknown disease, much more dangerous viruses may quickly jointly develop with our withdrawal from the social sphere.

The first virus is that of racism: Let’s avoid all contact with Chinese, Koreans, Iranians, Italians. As the number of infected patients grows, the virus of racism becomes global: let’s reject each other!

The second virus is fear: Mistrust and rejection of “the other” settle in the hearts of our families. Where were you yesterday? Who did you see? Due to social distancing and protection measures, we don’t kiss anymore, we don’t greet each other anymore. Will we ever again?

The third virus is that of denunciation: So-and-so coughed; so-and-so had a fever and said nothing; so-and-so was seen going out. No matter the reason, you are (we are all) under scrutiny.

The fourth virus is that of withdrawal and abandon: I’m not risking helping others. We raid the supermarkets. Protective masks are being sold on the black market. We close the borders. Sad memory.

The fifth virus is that of the apocalypse: We are back in the days of the Black Death, the Spanish flu (which had nothing to do with Spain). We’re all going to die….it’s written in the Bible!

The sixth virus is that of conspiracy: The Chinese have spread coronavirus to better plunder the world’s wealth.

The seventh virus is that of greed: greed of stock markets and companies which, in a mix of speculative wave and legal fears, “take a position” or “take positions”; greed of the media and influencers who seek an audience at all costs.

The eighth virus is that of despair, of hopelessness, whereas barely an hour ago artificial intelligence promised us the wonders of transhumanism!

The ninth virus is that of ignorance, rumour and misinformation, which travels at the speed of light in a global world and sweeps away everything in its path, starting with intelligence.

The tenth and last (?) virus is inhumanity, which, in a few weeks, threatens to overthrow the most developed world humankind has ever known.

Are we facing a public health challenge or a social and educational catastrophe? Choose the virus you like best…or RESIST (and read/reread The Plague!).

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