Pay attention to the flu, not coronavirus

This time next year, coronavirus will have been long relegated to the dustbin of history, to perish alongside the overhyped pandemics of swine flu and bird flu. But the seasonal flu will be continuing its annual scourge, killing tens of thousands and infecting millions.

First reports on this coronavirus outbreak in early January gave the impression that it posed the greatest viral threat to humankind since the Bubonic Plague (a.k.a. “the Black Death”).

Like the coronavirus, the Bubonic Plague originated in Asia and killed more than 50 million people in Europe between 1346 and 1353. Reports suggested the former could kill even more here, but nothing could’ve been further from the truth.

Minimal risk

On February 17, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN, “the risk of coronavirus in the US is really very minimal because there really are only 15 cases now, in addition to those who were shipped here.”

For a critical perspective, consider this from U.S. News & World Report on February 7, 2020: “Influenza has already taken the lives of 10,000 Americans this season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 19 million have caught the flu, and an estimated 180,000 became so ill they landed in the hospital.”

Incidentally, my feeble immune system is such that the flu has its way with me every year. And no, the flu shot never immunizes as advertised. As a result, I’ve been more at risk of dying every year of my life than at least 90 percent of those who will get infected with coronavirus this year.

This in part is why I’ve been so inured to all the hysterical reporting on this outbreak.

What about flu?

Fauci’s calming assessment raises a question that all involved in the prevention of infectious diseases should be pressed to answer.

Given that influenza is so much deadlier, why aren’t you taking even greater steps to quarantine those afflicted with it than you are taking to quarantine those afflicted with coronavirus?

From CBS News on February 17, 2020:
“The U.S. government confirmed at least 14 (of nearly 340) Americans on the U.S. government-chartered planes had tested positive for the new COVID-19 disease (a.k.a. coronavirus) just before departing Japan, nearly doubling the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. All the other passengers – who have already spent almost two weeks quarantined on the ship (in Japan) – were facing another two-week quarantine in the United States.”

Media hype

The media are hyping this virus simply because the more viral the story, the higher the ratings and the greater their revenues.

But here is the inherent folly afoot: On the one hand, government officials are treating coronavirus like the Bubonic Plague, when treating it like the common cold would do. On the other hand, they are treating influenza like the common cold, when treating it like the Bubonic Plague should do.

And don’t get me started on the way Chinese leaders are quarantining millions of people in a misguided attempt to contain this virus. Of course, practice from quarantining millions of Uyghur Muslims for years in religious-cleansing camps means that they are doing so in this case with Nazi-like efficiency.

That said, it’s probably fairer to draw comparisons with the way government officials treated the far deadlier Ebola virus. It’s worth noting that coronavirus would not have commanded such immediate and viral attention if it originated in Africa and affected only Africans. This was the case during the early days of Ebola, so much so that I lamented “Ebola Killing Blacks in Africa Won’t Matter Until It Starts Killing Whites in America…?” posted on May 27, 2019.

Sure enough, as soon as one White American was infected, the media and government officials began covering and treating Ebola back then the way they are covering and treating coronavirus today, respectively.

Cruise ship or Petri dish?

The most interesting part of this story is playing out on cruise ships. With all due respect to the quarantined Chinese in Wuhan, China, the quarantined Americans on a docked cruise ship in Japan are being treated like Patients Zero.

They are to this outbreak of coronavirus what the first White American who contracted Ebola was to the outbreak of that virus. From USA Today on February 18, 2020: “Coronavirus has continued to spread among the passengers and crew of the quarantined Princess Cruises’ ship, Diamond Princess, which remains docked at the port in Yokohama, Japan. As of Tuesday, 542 cases of the virus have been identified among the 3,711 quarantined passengers and crew, making the ship the site of the most infections outside of China.”

Get well soon

But given the apt Petri-dish analogy, what will happen to those not yet infected? There’s really nothing else to say about that festering situation except to wish them all a full and speedy recovery.

Meanwhile, cruise liners are finding reputational damage even more difficult to control than this coronavirus. I’m not sure why it has taken this to scare people off holidaying on cruise ships.

Nary a year has gone by over the past two decades without reports about one cruise ship or another suffering an outbreak of norovirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes it as an extremely contagious gastrointestinal illness that causes vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and nausea.

That explains this from The Sun on February 28, 2018: “Passengers aboard the ‘cruise ship from hell’ vomited so much on journeys that the toilets and sinks overflowed – and now they could sue. Lorraine Thomas was among more than 16,000 passengers impacted by back-to-back outbreaks of norovirus on eight Sun Princess voyages.”

It’s gotta hurt

The seafaring reality of norovirus had to have been bad enough for business. But the viral hysteria of coronavirus must be plunging the bottom line for cruise liners way under water. That might explain why Celebrity Cruises is now competing with Mike Bloomberg for ad time on TV.

The point is that by this time next year, coronavirus will have been long relegated to the dustbin of history, to perish alongside the overhyped pandemics of swine flu and bird flu. But the seasonal flu will be continuing its annual scourge, killing tens of thousands and infecting millions – with nary a thought given to quarantining anyone to limit its impact.

Unfortunately, this much ado to little effect with respect to coronavirus is just the latest manifestation of life in the age of Donald Trump. Nothing defines his presidency quite like making a show of dealing with problems that do not exist, while willfully ignoring those that do.

Given the above, it follows that coronavirus isn’t impacting the global economy; hysterical reaction to it is. From New York to Shanghai, “the markets” have shown time and again that they’re so fickle that one idle-minded tweet from President Trump can have far greater impact than any virus.

Anthony L. Hall is a native of The Bahamas with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at Click on this commentary at to write your own response.



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