They Undergo Chance Variations

This is not “China’s fault”. Yes, it started there. This time. Yes, it happened – this time – in a market whose practices many of us here in the UK would find… unpalatable, to say the very least.

But this was a mutation in a virus. This happens all the time, everywhere. This is nature.

A virus is not strictly a living thing. Unlike the much larger, and much more alive, bacteria, viruses are essentially just strings of RNA wrapped in a casing. But, like every other self-replicating structure, viruses change over generations. Constantly copying themselves, they undergo chance variations as they do so. Most of those will not affect the virus much, if at all. Some will make it less able to function, resulting in a strain likely to be short-lived and possibly die out unnoticed by us. But in much rarer cases, such a copying error can actually make the virus more effective – more ‘fit’, in Darwinian terms.

This is evolution at work. This is what it is and does. The next time a Creationist or similar agitator tells you there’s no such thing as evolution, well, consider Covid-19 all the rebuttal you need.

The point is, nobody can account for a chance mutation. Like I said, it’s happening constantly, all around the world. In this case, a mutation occurred in a virus most us had never previously heard of. Now we have SARS-CoV-2, Covid-19, ‘coronavirus’ (actually just one of a number of coronaviruses – but this is the one we’re dealing with right now). We’ve all heard of it now, we’ve all had our lives impacted by it to one degree or another, and most of us have an Internet hot take on it (not least me, it seems).

But there was no reason it had to happen in Wuhan Province; and likewise there’s no reason it couldn’t just as well have happened somewhere else. This outbreak started there. The next one – because there will certainly be a next one – might start right here, in oh-so-superior Britain. This one, as devastating as it has been, may prove to be just a shot across our bows in comparison to the next.

The only real question when something like this gets loose is how we respond to it. Nobody can be rationally blamed for a mutation occurring – any more than we could blame a country for a volcanic eruption or a tsunami in its territory. True, China’s response was not above criticism – and some have argued that the measures it took were in fact unnecessarily draconian. But if we’re going to blame China for unleashing this natural disaster on the world, then we cannot justly complain that they did too much in response to it.

Besides which, the World Health Organisation has said that China has shown great willingness to take steps to confront the outbreak, including a rare (for China) degree of openness and information-sharing with other nations. Most other countries, with some variation, have responded determinedly.

The exceptions, as always, are Britain and the USA – both, coincidentally I’m sure, led by image-conscious, insecure, populist governments. The US administration, keen to cushion the almighty economy, has chosen a policy of denial and – when that became impossible, downplaying the danger and the measures necessary to confront it effectively. As a result, the impact on their economy is likely to be heavier and last longer than it might have.

Similarly, here in the UK, the government wasted valuable weeks on a lethally flawed “herd immunity” strategy which now seems likely to result in far more deaths than we might otherwise have seen; it has declined to engage in extensive testing and contact tracing; and right up until today the UK government was still refusing to participate in a European ventilator distribution programme because of an ideological insistence that “we are no longer in the EU” – despite the fact that the EU is happy to supply the ventilators to us anyway.

If there is blame to be assigned it lies not in being the country in which the disaster began, but in being the country or countries that wouldn’t listen to the science, knew better than the experts, and essentially fiddled while Rome burned. It’s going to take a lot longer to put out the fire now. But if you’re not going to put the blame there, then I suggest you put it away and forget about it. Nature certainly isn’t interested.

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