Dangers of Covid-19 in Retrospect: a Debrief

As we hurl the last calcified remains of 2021 into the “dustbin of history” with a resonant clang, it seems like a good time to clear the air (so to speak) surrounding Covid, and particularly about what has been claimed about it in these very pages.

In particular, four previous posts on this blog (from the first half of 2020) discussed what at the time appeared to be massive, looming, sci-fi-horror-style threats from the the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the agent responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic. Among other things, these posts:

1. …Warned that the virus might already be infecting common domestic and even wild animals, and soon could become pervasive in the environment, leading basically to some kind of doomsday situation where you might not be able to go outside without catching Covid from something (and dying);

2. …Extensively (maybe obsessively) detailed the presumptive danger of chronic or recurrent Covid infections, with potentially calamitous long-term effects, i.e., “long covid” on steroids.

3. …Suggested the danger of the virus was likely to be underestimated, and lockdowns lifted dangerously prematurely, in order to avoid a mass panic and thus to preserve the economic systems on which the richest depend.

4. …Ridiculed the Swedish government’s distinctively hands-off policy concerning Covid as a kind of insane denialism. (Though the deaths for Sweden were noticeably higher than its neighbors, the dreaded catastrophe simply failed to materialize.)

These worries all seemed to be well-supported at the time, backed by a steady stream of “authoritative” news stories and research results on Covid, each of which seemed to fuel ever deeper and ever stranger fears. All turned out to contain, at least, a grain of truth. Yet for the most part, as of this writing, all of these above concerns (and the associated essays) have turned out to be–putting it charitably–wildly overblown.

Developments since mid-2020 or so have shown the narrative of Covid-19 as some uncannily perfect and lethal bioweapon or doomsday plague–a narrative which was pushed near-universally by both the scientific establishment and media–to be misguided and disproportionate to a degree that is dangerous, reckless, and possibly even malicious. (We, at least, in accepting this narrative as far as we did in those confusing early months of 2020, certainly intended no malice.)

Much in the manner of a societal or even global-level cytokine-storm–in which the body’s overreaction to a pathogen, rather than the pathogen itself, presents the main threat–the global overreaction to a virus that was, even for the most vulnerable, only a little more deadly than a common seasonal flu, represents a kind of watershed in the development of the informational society towards a state of perpetual, media-induced schizophrenia.

The important thing now is to dissipate the storm before it is too late and all sanity is lost.

(On the other hand, we do stand by our skewering of the ridiculous politically-correct statements by the WHO and others against “assuming the virus’s origin” and the dangers of “stigmatization” allegedly produced by calling Covid “Chinese” or the “Wuhan strain”. Incidentally, it is ironic that, while denouncing the “stigmatization” of people for their ethnic group or for being ill, the WHO has simultaneously introduced the groundwork for a system whereby individuals may readily be continually tracked, stigmatized and excluded from society for refusing unnecessary medical interventions, such as mRNA inoculations.)

So, this post exists as a boring-yet-necessary end-of-year apology and debrief, in penance for (however understandably) being drawn into the cytokine-storm of fear-mongering, epidemiogical doom-porn, and finally misplaced faith in scientific pronouncements that swept into the world’s consciousness between approximately February and July of 2020, and which in many places is still raging. In subsequent posts, we will outline a new, far more insidious threat than any superplague–one which, it turns out, is directly connected with the institutional forms that bred, and now perpetuate, the Covid overreaction.

It’s not that the terrible predictions of Covid doom weren’t at all plausible, given that deadly pandemics are indeed a standard occasional visitor throughout history. It was even harder to ignore them given the huge numbers of frankly apocalyptic journal articles and preprints that wafted down from the heights of academia like snowflakes in that first half of 2020. It seemed that almost each new article professed to reveal a new, sinister, and even calamitous secret feature of the virus. Whether it was the terrifying tentacles that it seemed to shoot out of infected cells (without mentioning that many mild viruses actually do the same thing); the disquieting, almost AIDS-like way it was alleged to disable the immune system by killing off lymphocytes (turns out not so much, except in especially vulnerable people); the reports of terrifying multi-organ attack, including in the brain; or the early suggestions, written in chillingly sober forensic terms, that SARScov2 might indeed be artificial, an escaped bioweapon or HIV-vaccine target, soon to cover the world in deadly “viral swarms”–yes, with stuff like this floating around, it was hard for anyone steeped in “the literature” to even completely rule out that humanity’s future might well be measured in mere months.

The general mood of panic was further aided by the use of an RT-PCR testing methodology which, it now turns out, is ridiculously prone to misdiagnoses and false positives–to such an extent, it has now finally been revealed, that it cannot tell apart Covid-19 cases from influenza, and has been quietly retired by the CDC only after nearly two years in use. This methodology, in combination with perverse policies that paid hospitals vast additional sums to report “covid deaths” even when the virus was not the actual cause of decease, undoubtedly helped inflate the reported numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths. The shock-value of these numbers, which added to the prevailing mood of impending doom, was in no way dimmed at the time by the reality that they were substantially the result of error and graft.

Thus, if journalists are to be accused of scaremongering in the response to Covid, it must also be said that an enormous portion of the scientific community and public health officialdom was happy to set the tone for their brethren in the media.

With the benefit of hindsight, the truth about Covid (as far as such a thing is even realistically knowable anymore in our new age of tech-curated, authoritarian scientism) has turned out to be somehow not the exact opposite of the doomsday story we were originally fed, but instead a way less frightening, anticlimactic, even irritatingly banal version of it–one framed by increasingly disturbing abuses of power.

For instance, Covid does seem very likely to have originated as an escaped product of “gain of function” research–deliberately tinkering with a pathogen’s genetics in order to make it more dangerous. Further, as noted by Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier, this research may even have included certain HIV-based provirus systems, lending a surprising plausibility to wacky-sounding fears of “airborne AIDS”.

Yet, barring the possibility that Covid may have briefly been much more deadly in the first few weeks of the pandemic before miraculously mellowing by a factor of ten or so, it appears that whatever escaped (if it escaped) was a rather lame bioweapon, at least by the standards of sheer lethality if not socioeconomic mayhem. Covid-19’s present infection fatality rate (IFR) of 0.15% (or lower, depending on age group and health history), almost entirely centered on the elderly and infirm, makes the initial estimates of 2-4% lethality purveyed by the WHO and other organizations early in 2020 seem very much like deliberate scaremongering. (This process continues: the latest “variant”, “omicron”, for which terrifying predictions of mass death were again trotted out far and wide, has if anything proven to have an even lower, if not immeasurably tiny, mortality rate.)

Anyway, to take the four offending posts in order:

1. Animals carrying covid everywhere. This fear was first sparked by Chinese antibody studies that suggested that SARScov2 had, even early in the pandemic, already spread to one-sixth of the stray cats in Wuhan. Cats were a particular worry, as it was thought that the ACE2 receptor in felines might be an especially good match for the virus spike protein. Spread through wildlife (and even domestic animals) is something that actually happens with respiratory coronaviruses all the time, so it would not be especially shocking if it was happening with SARScov2 as well. In addition to the occasional story about a zoo tiger or farmed minks catching Covid (ferrets having an ACE2 closely related to that of felines), the latest news suggests there is quite a bit of SARScov2 circulating in deer populations. In the case of domestic animals like cats and dogs, however, there have been only sporadic cases of mild Covid infections since this writing.

All in all, this can be classified as another fear that definitely had an element of validity, but was overstated. Given that Covid turned out to just not be terribly deadly, the whole question of whether it may be carried by some non-human animals simply loses most of its urgency and terror factor.

2. The specter of “long covid”–while rapidly spawning a new kind of cottage industry in medical and public health research–has proven little more than that–a specter. Our post did correctly observe that sometimes patients who had recovered from Covid would once again come down with symptoms, or would continue to have mild symptoms for a few months. A few also would continue to test positive for viral RNA quite some time after the resolution of symptoms; however, this is now believed not to be due to persistent live virus, but to tiny quantities of RNA incorporated in the cell nucleus which continue to be transcribed–something that happens with almost any retroviral infection and can be detected only by cranking PCR amplification tests up to absurdly sensitive levels.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the reported symptoms of “long covid” prove so mild and so indistinct (fatigue, headache, “brain fog”) that a reasonable person could wonder whether they are even really due to Covid-19 at all–or, if they are due to it, whether they materially differ from the similarly mild aftereffects sometimes experienced with common flu or cold viruses.

To be blunt, given the saturation-bombing of the entire society with fear-porn about SARScov2, it would be unsurprising if a huge proportion of these symptoms proved to be psychosomatic. A recent French study, for example, estimated that only 4% of those with “long Covid” even test positive for the virus at all (and remember, many of these are likely to be false positives).

The related concern of reinfections by Covid also fits the general pattern of being not completely false, but vastly overblown. While reinfection with Covid is indeed possible, reinfection is actually a common and basically harmless phenomenon observed with many decidedly non-terrifying, common-cold-causing human coronaviruses. Furthermore, the case of Covid-19 reinfection specifically turns out to be substantially milder and rarer than primary infection.

Thus, with almost two years’ hindsight, the original dread–that Covid infections would recur without end, possibly in rapid succession, each time producing worse and worse disease and compounding physiological damage–simply has not been borne out.

3. Covid dangers underestimated due to elites wanting to keep the economy running. Underestimated danger? Only consider that it was these same “elites” who doggedly treated a 0.15% IFR virus as though it were a 3-4% IFR virus, and it becomes clear enough that “underestimating” the danger of Covid was never the plan for the vast majority of decision-makers.

Ah, friends, Covid taught us a lot about how power really works in the West, didn’t it? In particular, the idea of the grubby capitalist who cares only about profitability and productivity as the deciding figure in our society took a severe credibility hit. Instead, we realized that, in some sense, money and productivity are really nothing to our elites: they can conjure as much of that as they want by running the printing press, or maybe by hiring robots, with us or without us–indeed, in the current inflationary state of the American economic system, they arguably have little choice but to do so. If anything, the shutdowns showed an elite that was curiously idealistic; the crisis became a kind of playground for zealous elites and “experts” the world over to launch radical new social policies–notably the so-called “Great Reset” of the World Economic Forum–under the unimpeachable political cover of “saving the world from Covid”. In short, dreams of power always take priority over dreams of money–though our ruling class, ever adaptable, is happy to grab both.

4. Sweden was crazy for not locking down. The reality is much more nuanced. True, the Swedes had significantly more Covid cases and than their neighbors. But given Covid’s low IFR, the actual death toll per capita so far turned out very manageable, and considerably lower than countries elsewhere in Europe, such as the UK, that did pursue more extreme measures. The fact that, with only minimal isolation and other measures, the Swedes did not suffer a Covid-death apocalypse but did roughly as well as anyone else, itself raises major doubts about the public-health utility of the lockdowns. Sweden’s results from relatively early on could also have been taken as a clue that the danger of the virus was being massively overhyped.

(Incidentally, a similar but inverse phenomenon is now visible with vaccination: countries that vaccinate less extensively appear, if anything, to have slightly lower rates of new Covid cases.)

This doesn’t mean necessarily that the Swedes didn’t have a kind of weird death-wish for staying open, but–it just didn’t happen.

It may be a bit too facile to lay all the blame for these misconceptions at the feet of “science”, as though science were something completely homogeneous, although it more and more does function as a de facto globalized entity with its own wants and tastes. Some scientists associated with major universities indeed tried to warn against the coming fear-storm. For example, thanks to the work of Stanford’s John Ioannidis and his analyses of both Chinese data from early in the pandemic and the Diamond Princess incident, there was already evidence as early as March of 2020 that the WHO’s IFRs were high by at least a factor of 5-6. Also, not long after, Elon Musk, the neo-Faustian space tycoon (and now richest man in the world), was tut-tutted by many in the media and elsewhere for suggesting to Joe Rogan that the mass terror over Covid-19 was unnecessary. In particular, he argued that the WHO’s IFR estimates were an “order of magnitude” too high, and that the diagnostic tests used for Covid appeared to produce many false positives and misclassified deaths. All these concerns proved prescient. The Swedish public health officials also appear, in retrospect, to be one of the rare cases where national authorities judged the risks of the virus in a non-hyperbolic way from quite early on.

But such instances do not really exonerate the scientific or public health establishment. It’s fair to say that these were minority voices, even outliers, drowned out by the media machine and the lockstep mentality prevalent in the academy (a mentality that clearly still persists, as major universities contemplate canceling in-person classes once again over the remarkably mild omicron variant).

The upshot is that in instance after instance, worries and threats about Covid-19 that appeared to be borne out by abundant scientific publications–all pointing to the conclusion that Covid was an exceptionally lethal, persistent, fine-tuned pathogen, capable even of asymptomatic spread–turned out to be wildly exaggerated or completely meritless. If any set of events should be seen as indelibly establishing modern science’s abject bankruptcy and unreliability, it must be those of early 2020 to the present. Combined with the strong possibility that the virus itself was the result of genetic tinkering (in the name of “science”), it seems more and more appropriate to describe the creation of SARScov2, as well as the subsequent research and policy response to it, as “science’s Chernobyl“. About that, we will certainly have much more to say in the days ahead.

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