What We Don’t Know about the Coronavirus Is What Scares Us

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

The recent spread of the coronavirus is causing a global panic. Our shared terror arises not so much from the death toll of the new flu-like disease — more than 3,000 people have died worldwide — but from what we don’t know about it.

Experts at least agree that the virus originated in China. But Beijing’s authoritarian government hid information about its origins, spread, and severity for weeks.

Such duplicity only fanned the fears of a global plague — a hysteria not seen since the groundless fears of a Y2K global computer meltdown in the year 2000, or the political feeding frenzy during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

Wild speculation followed that the coronavirus was a virulent or mutated superbug. Had it arisen naturally or escaped from a nearby military lab? Did it originate from a sick lab animal? A conspiracy theory arose that it was a manufactured virus that had escaped from scientists’ botched efforts to create either a vaccine or a biological weapon.

Is the outbreak an indication that China’s scientists are well behind their Western peers, at least in the areas of virology and bacteriology? Or is the problem that Chinese culture still features outdated traditions such as open-air “wet markets”? Unfounded rumors spread that the virus may have originated in one of these markets, where exotic mammals such as bats and pangolins are still sold for human consumption. For all China’s gleaming high-speed-rail lines and new airports, hundreds of millions of Chinese still live in places with suspect food safety and waste disposal — the historic incubators of epidemics.

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