The Coronavirus of Kindness

[Em português: O Coronavírus da bondade]

What will happen with the terrible-horrible-awful not-so-novel-any-more coronavirus from Hell? My guess is that SARS-Cov-2 (its official name) will go the way of SARS-Cov-1 which I can’t possibly blame anyone for not remembering. These two viruses are 80% identical and both are thought to have originated in bats. But they behave differently. No. 1 causes symptoms to appear soon after infection and although it doesn’t spread as ferociously as No. 2, it kills a lot more of the people it infects. No. 2 is so contagious that at this point containing it seems an unlikely prospect anywhere in the world, and even strenuous efforts to slow its spread haven’t made much of a difference.

But No. 2 has its good side: it kills a tiny percentage of the people it infects and in its lethality it is similar to other, familiar flu viruses. In fact, now that the coronavirus pandemic has reached a plateau or is declining throughout much of the world, it looks as if No. 2 won’t significantly affect statistics on mortality except perhaps in Belgium, San Marino and Andorra. After adjusting for population growth and an aging population in many countries, mortality is currently lower than it had been throughout most of the recent years. In spite of these differences, No. 1 and No. 2 have two major similarities: first, both were relentlessly hyped; and second, as I believe the near future will show, both will have disappeared without a trace.

But then there is one major difference between No. 1 and No. 2. Whereas No. 1 was just a bad boy virus—a minor nuisance that resulted in just 700 deaths (a little less than 0.000001% of humanity)—a solid case can be made that No. 2, in spite of already having killed 0.003% of humanity and on track to kill 0.001% more, is a good virus—so good that I am tempted to call it God’s gift to humanity. To quote from Goethe’s Faust, No. 2 might say, in its own defense: “I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.” Since this may seem shocking, please let me explain exactly what I mean by that.

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