Corona has taken the world by storm. The killer virus SARS-CoV-2 keeps us all short of breath – some literally. People are isolating. Hospitals around the world are bursting. People are dying in their homes, dying in the streets. Iran is digging a mass grave so huge it’s visible from fucking space.1 That is all very disturbing. But is it still news?
Literally nobody is denying that this novel coronavirus is a threat to human health. Yet some16 dare question whether the severity of this threat really justifies the extreme measures taken around the world to contain this pandemic. While everybody else is committed on defeating this common enemy they try to sabotage our efforts and put everyone’s life in danger by doubting the authorities? Can’t they see that it is now more important than ever for all to work together as a team?
My very first exposure to COVID was after a friend had mentioned it to me, through a quick YouTube spree. Footage of collapsing people, bodies on the streets and crisis intervention troops in hazmat suites left a pretty alarming impression. But the ensuing media coverage quickly reassured me that everything was exaggerated for the sake of making news – because it sounded no different than the usual noise. Only with persistence and increasing impact unfolding over time I understood this needs to be taken serious.
It was this video with Harald Lesch that made me reevaluate the situation. I watched it to get reassurance after getting some controversial information. Only when I re-watched it for some reason days later I noticed how impudently it presents logical fallacy as indisputable truth. How serious must the situation be to require a reasoning based on unfounded pretense presented as hard facts? I feel betrayed by whom I believed to be a representative of scientific values. And maiLab, the remaining silver lining of truly objective and well-founded yet easy to understand information within the German YouTubiverse dares to take a break for birthing a child in this time when we need her most!
But she made a comeback, just in time. And it was very sobering. She fails to adequately address issues of the underlying data during 20 minutes of calculations but is seriously suggesting that because keeping up the measures for as long as necessary is essentially impossible our only possible course of action is to just wait it out until big pharma is ready to sell us salvation.2 Instead of coming to terms with the reality that irrespective of our concealment efforts, people are dying from respiratory diseases every day and every year, like they have throughout all history, we need now swallow and accept any sanctions deemed necessary for our own good and make this epidemic last as long as humanly possible.
It is right that we most likely can prolong a significant number of lives if we maximize our treatment capacities. It is wrong that those lives are the only metric we should care about. The problem here is not that we are told to stay inside, but that we are not allowed to question why. The possibility of any real discussion is suffocated by morals and war rhetoric. Any actual expert with a differentiating opinion gets lined up as a public enemy to the extent where it becomes next to irrelevant what they have to say.
If we were to listen, the almost two weeks old open letter3 by Sucharit Bhakdi still provides a good summary of the gaps in the foundation of our decision making. But perhaps it is more interesting to look at the response of a more trustworthy media outlet. They make a commendable effort to suggest that this professor in retirement doesn’t know what he is talking about but amidst their rhetoric have to admit that he is asking very important questions and the current decision making is largely based on assumptions.
But we get new data and learn more every day. The number of new cases in proportion to the number of tests carried out is not rising exponentially at all4. European excess mortality rate so far is still well within the regular seasonal bumps.17 In Germany the number of severely ill patients does not rise exponentially,5 SARI cases were going down18 and the number of available ICU beds has been going up6. These are all good news that don’t get a lot of coverage. We can’t risk a false sense of security.
At the root of the statistical fallacies propagated since the beginning of the global pandemic is the idea that we could realistically trace the spread of the virus by testing. Most of the unreliable7 tests aim to detect the presence of the virus. It is logic that subjects with favorable immune responses are much more likely to get false negatives than those struggling under their viral load. Add to that the bias of testing only people with symptoms and it must be obvious that we are not talking about a generally representative sample. Now add to that the fact that every single positively deceased case counts as a corona death19 and the suggested lethality rate can easily gets skewed by an order of magnitude.8
If you don’t realize how ridiculous that is then maybe a more graphic example can help: If a person with their arms and legs chopped off gets thrown on a rail to be subsequently overrun by a train, many would agree that person was indeed killed by the train. But some will argue that person had an apparent severe lack of limbs, while others will argue that everybody needs to be afraid of trains. And even the fact that perfectly healthy people die in the occasional train accident should make you no more concerned than the risk of getting hit by a car, struck by lightning, killed by a lawnmower or crushed by a vending machine.9
Its all about commensurability and so far we are not getting it. Instead we continue to neglect voices warning us about the health consequences of fear10 and quarantine20, which are poorly tracked by the global corona death ticker. This is especially troubling when comparing this war on corona with the war on drugs, where the civil health protection measures are proven to cause and amplify the harm that justifies its continuation for decades after its failure became evident.11
At this point there is no proof of neither the full extent of the death toll nor the quality of our containment measures. But soon we should no longer be able to evade the comparison with places that have taken little repressive measures like Sweden12, Japan21 or the “ticking time bomb”13 Africa which stands out for its eerie absence of corona-anything news in recent months. And the amount of creativity and number artistry required for maintaining the current outlook could get a lot higher within the next weeks. But there are few things that cannot be created by mere perspective.
And if all this seems to you like an implausibly big conspiracy then you are missing the point. Because preparing the stage and setting the emotional tone is all that is really needed to get the idea of fear out in the world. From there it can self-replicates exponentially, even faster than the virus itself. Through its central role in this propagation the media might appear as evil14 – but that is not because they inherently are. They only do what is always dictated by the framework of the system they operate in: They compete for your attention against all other players. And in this case, reporting about the global pandemic15 is essentially free attention real estate.
But all that still is not what is most alarming. What should really give you some serious pause is how frictionless all of this is happening. If we as a society not only obediently accept a truth that is presented to us in absence of verifiable information, but readily carry out moral judgement on those who speak heresy then we have really become indifferent to the rights and freedom that were paid for by blood and centuries of struggle. The destruction of rights is fatal for a free society.
It is truly unprecedented times when there are leftist voices calling to stand united behind our leaders and alt-right conspirators seem to acquire the monopoly on system critique. Without theorizing about conspiracies, now being sceptic can already suffice for anyone to become a crackpot.
It has long been speculated that the decisive weapon in World War III will be information. It is my opinion that the waging of this war has been in full swing for many years. And the next stage of escalation arrived by the emergence of a novel virus that transformed into something even more dangerous. A highly contagious pathogen that exists on the informational plane and clouds the perception of reality even for those not physically infected.
At no point is it more important to remain calm and rational than in the time of grave danger. Such is an essential quality of a good leader. But if Trumps aversion to the pandemic panic was anything but a blind man hitting the mark and he has some saving the world plan up his sleeve that he keeps secret from us then he is an apocalyptically good actor.
Let’s face it: We are on our own.
Doomsday clock is ticking.