What’s really spreading the coronavirus

OPINION

The other day I was doing my regular grocery shop at my regular supermarket and piled all my goods in front of my regular checkout chick.

"How are you?" I asked.

She shook her head wearily. "Everybody's crazy," she said.

It was a Tuesday - which was supposed to be her quiet day - but instead the place was teeming with shoppers. The only empty part was the shelves.

All the toilet paper was gone as was every box of tissues - except, of course, for the fancy aloe vera ones. Even panic buyers have standards.

The entire hand sanitiser section had likewise vanished, which was predictable enough, but other disappearances were harder to explain. Such as, for example, the flour.

Yes, all the flour was gone too - both plain and self-raising. Apparently the survivalist shoppers planned to ride out the apocalypse by baking their own bread in their underground bunkers. The only thing at Coles that would be raising itself was the price of a six-pack of Sorbent.

It was then that it dawned on me.

Customers ponder their choices as toilet paper is completely sold out at Coles Mooloolaba due to coronavirus fears.
Customers ponder their choices as toilet paper is completely sold out at Coles Mooloolaba due to coronavirus fears.

While the greatest medical minds in the world were still struggling to figure out how the coronavirus was spreading, I had discovered the primary cause of transmission: Stupidity.

Not the stupidity of the poor and often unwitting sufferers, I should hasten to add. The stupidity of people in general.

Let us not forget that the Chinese doctor who first raised concerns about coronavirus was shut down and discredited by the Chinese government, only to have all his fears confirmed and then quickly succumb to the disease despite being young and in good health.

If you thought the death of Jeffrey Epstein or JFK was fishy, then the death of ophthalmologist Li Wenliang is the Sydney Fishmarket.

Granted, medical workers are obviously far more at risk because of their increased exposure to the virus but the fact remains, COVID-19 began as a cover-up and could have been much more effectively contained had the Chinese government listened to Dr Li instead of silencing him. For those who keep doubting the cost of suppressing free speech, in this case it's 3,000 deaths and counting.

 

 

Of course totalitarianism also has its uses, and once it admitted it had a problem China was able to impose mass restrictions on its citizenry that have resulted in a significant slowdown in the rate of infection.

The flip side is that totalitarianism is still totally f***ed.

And so when coronavirus spread to Iran, it became an instant basket case. The Iranian government's unwillingness or inability to adequately monitor the disease has left medical experts having to reverse-engineer the estimated rate of infection from the growing number of dead. The extremist theocracy also failed to shut down crowded holy sites and gatherings until the virus had run rampant.

But don't just blame the Muslims.

The head of Iran's counter-coronavirus task force, Iraj Harirchi (left) sweated through a press briefing – in which he played down the severity of the outbreak – hours before testing positive for the virus himself. Picture: APTN via AP.
The head of Iran's counter-coronavirus task force, Iraj Harirchi (left) sweated through a press briefing – in which he played down the severity of the outbreak – hours before testing positive for the virus himself. Picture: APTN via AP.

 

In South Korea, another problem coronacountry, an idiotic Christian sect seems to have been responsible for turbocharging transmission. This includes a woman believed to have infected almost 40 people herself, who has since been dubbed the "superspreader".

I didn't think it was allowed to call ladies such things these days.

In South Korea, soldiers wearing protective gear have taken to spraying disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus. Picture: AP/Lee Jin-man.
In South Korea, soldiers wearing protective gear have taken to spraying disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus. Picture: AP/Lee Jin-man.

As for Italy, well, it's Italy. As everybody knows, I love that place almost more than life itself but it hasn't exactly been known for ruthless efficiency since the reign of Emperor Diocletian.

 

Tourists wear face masks as they walk close to the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, 04 March 2020. The coronavirus is expected to cost Italy's tourism sector 7.4 billion euros in losses in the upcoming trimester (01 March - 31. Picture: Massimo Percossi
Tourists wear face masks as they walk close to the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, 04 March 2020. The coronavirus is expected to cost Italy's tourism sector 7.4 billion euros in losses in the upcoming trimester (01 March - 31. Picture: Massimo Percossi

Nor has Australia been immune from this international idiocy, as the empty shelves of our supermarkets attest. Even people hoarding hand sanitiser is evidence of this insanity: Clearly it has been lost to the hysterical hygienists that the virus would probably be better contained by more people having access to hand sanitiser, not fewer.

And so the greatest threat of the coronavirus isn't from the virus itself but people's reaction to it. Often the most dangerous part of a pandemic is the three letters at the beginning of the word combined with the two at the end.

People have gone mad over purchasing toilet paper in the wake of the coronavirus but Susann Granger of Silly Solly's in Kawana has plenty in stock. For now. Picture: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily
People have gone mad over purchasing toilet paper in the wake of the coronavirus but Susann Granger of Silly Solly's in Kawana has plenty in stock. For now. Picture: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily

Indeed, there is every chance that the panic buying in supermarkets and panic selling on the stockmarket will end up harming more people than the disease.

For example, if fear over the coronavirus causes a worldwide recession - as many experts worry it will - that could actually cost many more lives.

A 2016 study by the Imperial College of London found that during the global financial crisis of 2008-10, there was a spike in deaths of 500,000 people from cancer alone because of poverty, unemployment and cuts to healthcare.

The current death toll from coronavirus is less than one per cent of that, and still only a fraction of the number of people who die every year from regular strains of the flu.

A man wearing a mask walks his dog in Hong Kong, Friday, March 6, 2020. Pet cats and dogs cannot pass the new coronavirus to humans, but they can test positive for low levels of the pathogen if they catch it from their owner. Picture: Kin Cheung
A man wearing a mask walks his dog in Hong Kong, Friday, March 6, 2020. Pet cats and dogs cannot pass the new coronavirus to humans, but they can test positive for low levels of the pathogen if they catch it from their owner. Picture: Kin Cheung

Of course the government is right to take precautions and we shouldn't all go around sneezing on each other and if we are told to stay home then we damn well should.

But it is not Armageddon - the closest the world ever came to that involved Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and a power ballad by Aerosmith.*

And if that combination couldn't bring about the end of human civilisation then the coronavirus doesn't stand a chance.

*Author's note: Obviously Aerosmith's greatest contribution to human civilisation was the blues-rock anthem "What It Takes" from their iconic 1989 album Pump.

No correspondence will be entered into on this matter.

Joe Hildebrand is the editor-at-large of news.com.au and co-hosts Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays, on Network Ten | @Joe_Hildebrand



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