The Great Pandemic of 2120

Between 1918 and 1920, the world was assaulted by an Influenza strain (H1N1) which infected an estimated 500 million people (almost a third of the worlds population). It’s reckoned there were probably in excess of 25 million deaths due to it. That’s a guesstimated 0.05% mortality rate. The parallels continue in the virus causing a cytokine storm (though Covid-19 is assaulting more than one type of T-cell so the storm is worse). But it’s thought that worldwide conditions of malnourishment, overcrowding of medical facilities and general poor hygiene resulted in bacterial superinfection (where the weakened immune system enabled a secondary infection from a bacteria to thrive in the victim). In comparison a second outbreak (know as Swine Flu in 2009) killed probably 250,000 people.

SARS-CoV-1 killed 8000 people in the early 2000s (with a 9.5% chance of death on a wider infection). This latest version SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, has killed 20 times as many. In January 2020, five different genomes of SARS-CoV-2 had been sequenced but it’s possible there’s more than 1000 different genomes at the time of this writing.

The thing is. We are lucky.

This new virus takes an average of 11 days to present symptoms after infection. The mortality rate is relatively low. Probably less than 2%.

Somewhere out there is a zoonotic virus which has a 14-30 day infectious period (where you’re running around spreading the infection without knowing you have it, and then it has a 50% mortality rate. (The Nipha virus from Malaysia had a 14 day onset with a 50-75% death rate. Ebola can take up to three weeks to show symptoms and has a 50-90% mortality rate.

We are lucky.

But we have to learn from this. This current pandemic is a warning shot. It’s telling us that our current liberties (travel everywhere) is potentially not sustainable. We worried about nuclear annihilation or pollution or a meteor killing us all, but this is something that we knew could happen. I mean, it’s essentially the plot device of “War of the Worlds” and it’s been well documented in Hollywood movies.

We have to prepare.

What can we expect in the new normality?

I love travel, but travel will be harder. And more expensive. Queues will be long and you can be expected to be turned away from a flight if you present with illness.

I had tickets to a gig in June. 50,000 people in a crowded stadium. They’ve just emailed to say the gig is postponed to June 2021. Do I really want to be in a crowded stadium with the great unwashed?

I think the last two months have certainly indicated that some jobs can be done remotely. And while many have mixed reactions to videoconferencing, I’m finding focus to be increased without daily distractions.

I’m thinking not just about what will go back to normal, but the things that I want to go back to normal and the things that I want to change.

Because the next great pandemic might not take 100 years to appear.

COVID-19: The Pressure of Inevitability

This isn’t the first. This isn’t the last. It may be the worst; that remains to be seen. You would hope that modern medicine will out, but that takes time.


Around 500 BC, the Plague of Justinian killed 25-100 million people (about 50% of the population of Europe).

In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed 75-200 million people in Europe (about 60% of the population).

Between 1918 and 1920, Spanish Flu killed 17-100 million people worldwide.

Between 1877 and 1977, Smallpox killed 500 million people worldwide. And that wasn’t the first episode of Smallpox.

From 1960 to the present, HIV/AIDS has killed more than 32 million people worldwide.

Between 2009 and 2010, H1N1 killed nearly half a million people.

We are bloody lucky though. With a death rate of 0.3%-13% (depending on location and the demographic of the host), this is recoverable. But even at the lowest rate of 0.3%, that’s 240 Millie people worldwide. That’s the problem with big numbers.

The Power of Networks

Metcalfe’s Law is a concept used in computer networks and telecommunications to represent the value of a network. Metcalfe’s Law states that a network’s impact is the square of the number of nodes in the network. For example, if a network has 10 nodes, its inherent value is 100 (10 * 10).

This is the other problem with big numbers, things get very scary very quickly. You only have to look at the logarithmic graphs of the spread of the pandemic to get an appreciation of it. Log graphs make big numbers look like small numbers.

You can see the power of networks in this transmission of the disease. The more we were connected, the more we were able to travel, the larger the groups we congregated in; the more the virus would spread. Imagine how hard it was for the diseases to spread in the past (and thankfully for some like the Plague, we had antibiotics in recent years). But when something is being spread by rats, there have to be rats. This is spread by us.

We heard about other epidemics; Ebola, Zika, Nipah, SARS, Dengue fever – but most of them were in other places. People think we are being punished for whatever; for our arrogance? But this was inevitable. Viruses and bacteria have been preying on the world forever. They’ve killed millions before.

It’s ignorant exceptionalism to treat this as anything other than it is; inevitable