Experts at least agree that the virus originated in
Such duplicity only fanned the fears of a global plague -- a hysteria not seen since the groundless fears of a YK2 global computer meltdown in the year 2000, or the political feeding frenzy during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
Wild speculation followed that the coronavirus was a virulent or mutated superbug. Had it arisen naturally or escaped from a nearby military lab? Did it originate from a sick lab animal? A conspiracy theory arose that it was a manufactured virus that had escaped from scientists' botched efforts to create either a vaccine or a biological weapon.
Is the outbreak an indication that
The method of the contagion has been perplexing to experts. Why is the mortality rate for infected patients in
Are governments unable (or unwilling) to count the infected, given the similarities in symptoms between the coronavirus and various colds and flus? Does such uncertainty suggest that we are undercounting the number of people sickened or killed by coronavirus?
Or are we instead overestimating its dangers? Thousands of patients may have already recovered from mild cases -- and perhaps never knew they were sick in the first place.
Evidence suggests that only about 2 percent of patients will die after infection. As in the case of other viral illness, the unfortunate victims are mostly elderly people with existing illnesses. Does that pattern suggest the coronavirus may be more like annual influenza outbreaks -- deadly to thousands but hardly the stuff to shut down a global economy?
The common theme of history's great plagues --
Real plagues can certainly change history. A stricken
Great literature -- from Thucydides, Procopius, Boccaccio and Camus -- often chronicled the human suffering, and especially the hysteria, that follows from the breakdown of civilized norms.
History also reminds us that nature remains unforgiving. We may live in the age of the Internet, smartphones and jet travel, but viruses are indifferent to so-called human progress.
Modern life squeezes millions into cities as never before. Jet travel, with its crowded planes and airports, can spread diseases from continent to continent in hours.
Globalization is a two-edged sword. It may enrich billions of people, but the leveling effects of instant communication and travel can spread disease at a speed undreamed of in the past.
The dissemination of sophisticated Western science to non-Western societies that lack advanced research centers may be increasingly suicidal. Borders are now considered passÃ© in the age of globalization. But their enforcement reminds us that not all nations are alike. All sovereign peoples should have the right to take measures for their own safety well beyond the purview of the transnational elites.
Finally, is it wise or safe to allow hundreds of thousands of homeless to live crowded among filth, vermin and squalor on the sidewalks of America's major cities?
The coronavirus threat and the unfounded hysteria that has accompanied it will pass.
But the specter of a pandemic offers a timely warning to remember that we are not necessarily any more immune from volatile nature -- and humankind's paranoid response to it -- than were the ancients.
Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.