Feb 3, 2020
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.
It only took a few days for the coronavirus from China to be identified and its genetic information analyzed.
Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 29 about cases of unusual lung disease in Wuhan in the east. On January 10, the virus’s genetic code was deciphered and made available to all research teams around the world. Since then, networks of researchers and doctors have learned more about the virus’s origin and structure, how it affects people, and how it mutates or changes. This genetic data is shared among hundreds of labs worldwide at the speed of the Internet, traveling even faster than the epidemic. This is a good illustration of the scientific and technological possibilities today when all knowledge is shared.
The virus causing this kind of pneumonia is part of the group of viruses called coronaviruses, because very close up they look like they have a halo or crown. These viruses usually cause the common cold. They are much deadlier for birds and some mammals.
This coronavirus came from a wild animal market in Wuhan. It became able to transfer from an animal to people and cause pneumonia.
In under a month, several thousand people in China contracted the disease. By January 28, more than 150 had died. Infected travelers brought the virus to other countries, but not all these countries have health departments able to monitor its development.
As more observations accumulate, knowledge grows. A screening test was made but no vaccine is available yet. Keeping known patients away from other people is still the best way to prevent the virus from spreading through coughs and sneezes.
So hygienic protocols are very important while scientists gather more information. How contagious is it? How long does it take to incubate? How fatal is it? How widespread could the epidemic become? Scientists have to do their job. But can this society cope with a possible pandemic?
Of course, there will always be viruses and other germs. They are part of life. They always follow people and adapt. Medical knowledge has to adapt in turn. But to limit the worst effects of germs, all the world’s people would need access to the right resources. Obviously, we’re not there yet.
Modern society with the range and speed of travel worldwide means microbes can move far very quickly. In a society ruled by profit, the means to treat people don’t reach everyone so fast, and they don’t even reach everybody.