We are about to find out how robust civilisation is

We are about to find out how robust civilisation is. By Matt Ridley.

Until this year I thought this kind of infectious pandemic could not happen today. …

It turns out that I and many others were badly wrong. The human race has been playing epidemiological Russian roulette all along. It has taken Mother Nature a long time to put a bullet in the right chamber, combining high contagion with asymptomatic carriers and a significant death rate, but she has done it.

The number of cases outside China has increased tenfold roughly every ten days. If it continues at this rate, in two months the virus will have infected 100 million people. A vast experiment is happening as different countries try different strategies, with some in Asia having notably more success than others in Europe. …

In the long run, we will get through this. Effective drugs will be found. Methods for keeping the very sick from dying will improve. The milder forms of the virus will probably out-compete the harsher versions.

A vaccine may yet work — though it has come as quite a shock to find out just how little vaccine development has improved in recent decades. … A scientific paper that I failed to read last year warned: ‘The current state of vaccine development is an expensive, slow and laborious process, costing billions of dollars, taking decades, with less than a 10 per cent rate of success.’