Saturday, March 07, 2020

Paranoid Nonsense

     It's popped up on Facebook, in comments (unpublished) at this blog, in conversations at work and overheard in restaurants, any place the COVID-19 corornavirus is discussed for more than a few sentences:

     "It's Chinese biological weapon."

     This is easily shown to be ignorance or lunacy, for one simple reason: it's a lousy weapon.

     Noodling around, one of the best descriptions I found was at Wikipedia; I could give you some long, dry dull stuff from declassified DoD reports, but the language is mind-numbing to plow through and comes to the same thing:

     "Ideal characteristics of a biological agent to be used as a weapon against humans are high infectivity, high virulence, non-availability of vaccines, and availability of an effective and efficient delivery system. Stability of the weaponized agent (ability of the agent to retain its infectivity and virulence after a prolonged period of storage) may also be desirable, particularly for military applications, and the ease of creating one is often considered. Control of the spread of the agent may be another desired characteristic."

     I'll take it point by point:

     COVID-19 does look to have fairly high infectivity: you can get it about as easily as you can catch the flu.  There are lots of illnesses that spread more quickly and readily.

     On virulence -- how sick it makes you, what percentage of the targeted population (and we'll get back to that phrase by and by) it affects badly enough to take them out of action for very long -- it's poor.  Two percent mortality is militarily useless, even against a civilian population, and it's all the more useless when you look at demographics: the elderly are at greatest risk, and yet they are not soldiers, workers, officers or managers.  It doesn't appear to significantly incapacitate most others for any length of time, especially young adults and the middle-aged.  Those are exactly the groups you'd want a bioweapon to affect most. 

     Delivery system?  Coughs and sneezes are impossible to aim. COVID-19 is apparently not naturally  airborne. It doesn't seem to spread really well in affected populations if they keep their distance and wash their hands.  We'll know more as it develops, but it's not looking like something that wafts on the breeze, crawls under doors or lingers on toilet seats.  It doesn't appear that you could spread it from an airplane or even via parcel post.

     Stability/storability, it's hard to say but it doesn't look great that way; word so far is that it doesn't last long on surfaces, so it probably won't keep well in jars, either.  Anthrax spores, it's not.

     Control of the spread: Yeah, no.  At this point, if they had a way to control it, China would be quietly doing so while bragging about the effectiveness of their rapid medical response and very harsh crackdown on person-to-person contact in the affected area.  That hasn't happened, so the odds are good they've got nothing.  For this to be a good weapon, you'd need a vaccine for your own troops or a drug that would treat it effectively.  Given that all of Europe, the U. S., India, Canada and the Commonwealth is looking into a treatment or vaccine and has been since the thing started, and that's a whole lot of biomedical horsepower that will save the researcher's own parents and grandparents, not to mention spouses, offspring and their precious selves, if it's findable, we'll have it soon.  Not exactly weapons-grade performance.

     China's losing money hand over fist as long as the pandemic and their response (and world-wide worry) has so much of their industry shut down.  And their shutdown is rippling across the planet.  Does it make any sense that they have idled everybody in the hopes of, I don't know, establishing dominance over the South China Sea, tramping down hard on Hong Kong and/or seizing Taiwan while we're griping about a slowdown at the Toyota plant for lack of Chinese-made grommetage?  COVID-19 moves too slow (fast though it is) and does too little harm to most persons infected, too long after exposure, to be a useful weapon; the people who are paid to get paranoid about this have been poring over spy satellite output and comms traffic since halfway through Day One.  (And count on it, some of 'em bunkered up about supper time that day and they're still sealed up, but by now even they've got to be starting to say that it looks like just the planet trying to kill us as usual.)

     The Red Chinese government may indeed be plotting to kill us all and take over, Han Lords of the Wasteland for the Greater Good, but they've been getting rich selling us suspicious electronics and building roads, office towers, influence and totally not military bases, no sir, all over the third world.  It's working a treat so far; why would they poison a cow that's still giving milk?

     Poison gas is a much better weapon than this virus -- and it's a pretty poor weapon, especially when the wind suddenly shifts.

     If anything, this pandemic may result in some rethinking of supply chains and supply-chain resiliency.  It's unlikely to increase China's influence and will probably do just the reverse.

     Stop spreading panic.  Stop spreading misinformation.  Wash your hands.  Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.


pigpen51 said...

As always, you are right on the dot with this. I am amazed that so many intelligent people that I know, are thinking that this virus is the next Black Plague, or some such thing. I see them writing on that modern wonder, the book of face, the number of deaths in the US. Oh,no,now it is up to 20, or whatever.
I took the time to actually look up the statistics on the top 3 leading causes of death in the United States. First is heart disease, second is cancer, and third, with a whopping 250,000 people dying each year, is medical mistakes. This from research done by Johns Hopkins University. A quarter of a million deaths caused by medical mistakes. Color me not surprised.
Even if this virus were extremely virulent, the best thing to stop the spread would still be just what you advised. Basic common sense and cleanliness. Wash your hands often. Not just when you do something you normally wash your hands after, like using the restroom,or touching raw meat. But also when you have been in public and touching door handles, bus hand guards, shopping carts, etc. Heck, if we all did that, as a matter of habit, we could probably eliminate one quarter to one third of all illnesses that can be passed through casual contact.
But hand washing and such isn't as sexy as paying big money for the top of the line mask with that fantastic filter.
Of course, alcohol is used to sterilize things, so you could just start drinking bourbon or gin every night. To help the cause of the CDC you know. Because we all want to be patriotic.

Merle said...

and you need to stop spreading common sense! :)

Drang said...


I wish you better luck getting through the tin foil than I've had, maybe you've explained it better. I've reached the conclusion that, for some folks, "things happen" is simply inconceivable.