The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Most Contagious Virus in History Just Became 50% More Contagious

Omicron BA.1 was the most infectious disease in known history.

Omicron BA.2?


Add to this the fact that Covid in general, and Omicron in particular, is a disease which creates very little immunity from getting it, and what immunity you have fades fast.

It is not possible for us to just declare victory on Covid, and go back to work and school, because Covid keeps mutating. If we don’t get lucky, and a dominant version doesn’t evolve that is all of much less virulent and doesn’t cause Long Covid, we’re just setting ourselves up for wave after wave, and vast numbers of people getting long-term damage or being crippled by this thing.

Nor, clearly, can vaccines alone work, especially because we refuse to vaccinate everyone in the world. Basic pandemic control measures (known colloquially as “Zero Covid”) are necessary.

The most infectious disease in history, if it can reinfect over and over again, and cause permanent damage to many people who get it, doesn’t have to be “Black Plague” level deadly to wreck our societies. If this goes on for a few more years, which it might, it could cause collapse — because, children, there is a real economy, and just raising and lowering interest rates and giving free money to the rich, which is the only type of “economic” policy most of the West seems to know how to do any more, won’t fix the holes that wave after wave, and mass disablities, will blow in the real world economy of growing, making, and distributing things.

We may get lucky, yes, but we are now betting on luck.

People who bet what they can’t afford to lose, in my experience, tend to lose more often than the odds suggest.




Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 30, 2022


Work & School Are Fundamentally Awful for Most People


  1. Bill H.

    Where do you get that? I have never heard it compared to, say, smallpox.

  2. Bill H.

    The logic in that article is badly flawed, the thinking is muddy, and it is evidently merely designed to frighten the reader.

    “But the key lies in the so-called “generation time”: i.e. the number of days that elapse between when the first person is infectious and when those they infect also become infectious. With measles, that takes about 12 days.” Therefor, it continues, ““One case of measles would cause 15 cases within 12 days. “

    No, one case of measles would cause no cases in 12 days, because for the first 12 days the person is not contagious, is not shedding the virus. Secondly, no matter how many people the person comes in contact with, it cannot be known how many people will become ill, because you cannot know whether or not the exposure will actually transfer the virus to the other person.

    There is a lot of similar speculative, muddy logic and calculation involved throughout. Only a fairly high level of panic, seeking confirmation of a panic bias, would find it credible.

  3. Bill H.

    And, comparing speed of worldwide spread in 1889, when all travel was basically by foot, with speed of worldwide spread in a world with tens of thousands of airplanes is inane.

  4. Dan Lynch

    Re: re-opening. I have zero medical qualifications, but it seems to me that we could have safely kept most of the economy open all along if only everyone wore N95 masks.

    The N95 tactic would not work for restaurants or bars, nor would it solve the problem of how school children are supposed to safely eat lunch. So it’s not a cure-all, but man there’s a lot we could do safely if we mandated N95’s and Corsi boxes.

    But restaurants & bars are big business, and the affluent like eating out (I don’t eat out unless I am on the road and often not even then).

    Any thoughts on the Canadian trucker protest?

  5. Ian Welsh

    It exactly says that it takes 12 days to become infectious. Person A infects person B, and it takes 12 days for person B to become infectious.


    Another one, based on the original strain. In which measles edges BA.1 out if you don’t include modern travel, and it comes in second, meaning BA.2 is the most contagious.

  6. different clue

    Well . . . . as Lambert Strether likes to say over at Naked Capitalism . . . ” Everything is going to plan.” The upper class plan.

    As commenter GM suggested over at Naked Capitalism, the only way to control and then suppress Covid would be a sort of “Bolshevik Revolution” whereby the entire society arises as one huge angry mob and successfully exterminates every physical member of the Upper Class which keeps covid going on purpose. Only after they have been so thoroughly exterminated from physical existence that they are no longer able to obstruct tried and true epidemiological measures will the rest of us be free to apply those tried and true epidemiological measures.

    And since I am probably not the only person here who is to squeamish to kill even a single member of the upper class whose extermination is a precondition for the rest of us conquering permission to suppress the virus, they won’t be exterminated and we won’t get covid suppressed.

    So it remains that all we can do is to try helping eachother spread information about how to lower the chances of getting infected and about how to lower the severity of any infection we do get, in the teeth of the Grand OverClass Plan to infect every single one of us, over and over and over again.

    I wish us luck.

  7. anon

    I was expecting this to be the case and stated so in the comments some weeks ago. It does not take a scientist to figure out that COVID is one of the most contagious viruses seen in human history. Nor is it difficult to figure out given what we’ve seen in the last two years that it will continue to mutate into variants that will be just as contagious and deadly, if not more so, than Delta and Omicron.

    Last year I was not sure if schools should open because I was hearing arguments from all sides about the downsides of keeping children at home. I do feel for children from poor and/or abusive families who have to stay home. Ultimately, however, I’ve decided that we will do more harm to at-risk communities by sending these children to school where a significant number of them will get COVID and suffer from long-term health problems.

    It’s a terrible position to be in for us all but effective leadership is about weighing the pros and cons and making tough decisions. We have not seen effective leadership from any of the US governors or presidents during this pandemic. My governor was initially making good decisions until caving into pressures to reopen and likely not wanting keep things closed and risking not being reelected.

  8. Keith in Modesto

    Whether or not Omicron BA.1 was really “the most infectious disease in known history [until the emergence of Omicron BA.2]” is not, IMHO, a real controversy we should allow to monopolize the comments section. Mr. Welsh’s prognosis does not depend upon (any particular variant of) COVID being the obsoletely most infectious disease. It just needs to be
    a) highly infectious,
    b) reliably escape immunity, thus
    c) repeatedly causing reinfections and
    d) with each reinfection causing incremental long-term health damage,
    e) which degrades the real economy as wave after wave of COVID cripples an ever-larger portion of otherwise productive working adults.

    And, of course, for all this to lead to the worst outcomes, we just need the leaders of the “free” (neoliberal) world to continue refusing to seriously implement non-vaccine plague-controlling interventions (like high-quality masks, real quarantines w/ financial support, air-filtering and widespread upgrades to ventilation, and so on). So, it’s all pretty much baked in at this point.

    And for the cherry on top, this not only degrades the real productive capacity of our society, it will destroy the public’s already shredded faith in our exalted leaders, who were warned and should have known better (or didn’t care) and will be widely regarded as having utterly failed us.

    And then, of course, there’s climate change…

  9. SteveInNC

    While I am in 100% agreement that zero-COVID is the correct path, and should have been from the beginning, there is now a further complication beyond the political and social sphere: there now seem to be large animal reservoirs of virus.

    For example:
    A search on “COVID in deer” turns up lots of similar results from many states.

    I also wonder about rodents in urban areas.

    Is anyone with professional expertise in this area factoring this into their models? It may be too early to tell; per the article, it is not known how well the deer are able to transmit the disease back to humans.

    We may have bungled ourselves into a situation where even if we were able to remove the present decision-making class and implement traditionally effective pandemic control measures, we would have to maintain those to some degree indefinitely due to continual reinfection from animal reservoirs, until a sterilizing vaccine was developed, if that is even possible.

  10. Mark Pontin

    Different Clue: “As commenter GM suggested over at Naked Capitalism, the only way to control and then suppress Covid would be a …“Bolshevik Revolution” whereby the entire society arises as one huge angry mob and successfully exterminates every physical member of the Upper Class which keeps covid going on purpose.”

    GM is too squeamish and naive to confront the fact that such a revolution is _not_ the only way to unseat the current psychopath class. In reality, there’s another way to have that revolution with a very few revolutionaries required, provided they possess the kind of skill set that GM, as a virologist, himself possesses.

    There’s a fellow called Serguei Popov, for instance, who’s now at George Mason University, and was formerly of Biopreparat, who could provide GM with some pointers if he’s really prepared to walk the walk and cross that bridge —

    Keith in Modesto: “….it will destroy the public’s already shredded faith in our exalted leaders….”


    It’s done, baked-in. One of the reasons I’ve moved to the UK is that the people there trust the NHS — however they may feel about the politicians and government (and BoJo will be gone soon) — and there’s more of a communal culture. Conversely, the US and its overclass’s determination to preserve the “healthcare” system there that enables them to loot 7-8 percent of annual US GDP is just going to be a slow-burning Chernobyl.

  11. Z

    I’m rooting for an economic collapse at this point rather than continuing this neo-fuedal musical chair game. It’s currently the necessary preconditions to changing the system for the better, though I know there’s certainly no guarantee it wouldn’t get worse. It sure the hell ain’t going to happen through the political process unless a strong leader emerges, gains the presidency, and uses her/his executive power to substantially change things.

    Again, our best current chance for that is for the Weekend at Biden’s show to be cancelled … it’s ratings are poor and plummeting … and Harris taking over and being caught desperate enough not to be humiliated by a double digit total delegate tally in the 2024 presidential elections though it’s far from certain that she has the desire, vision, and the ability to assemble a team to effectuate substantial positive change for the working class and take us off our current course towards extinction. She’d have to almost change out the entirety of President he/bipartisan Jo Biden’s cabinet to remove the saboteurs.

    *Please don’t @ me about Kamala Harris because I can’t and won’t defend her past record and realize it’s a long shot that she’d take the necessary steps if she’s given the opportunity.


  12. Troy

    At 1.5x, it will match the number of infections this year alone as it did over 2020 and 2021. This virus will be festering all year long. It’s not even a stretch to consider this variant could go even higher.

  13. StewartM

    Another potential side effect: we also don’t know if Covid can be a risk factor for cancers decades later:

  14. Troy

    Shorter Justin Feldman article (Z’s link), so no one else has to bother reading it: “It looked like things might’ve gotten tough from Republican resistance (even though that’s what we saw anyway), and Biden’s ratings would have tanked (even though they’re in the toilet now) so the Biden administration didn’t even try. And somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, all is going to somehow magically become happy days, and so no one should criticize the Biden’s administration’s efforts on containing the virus”.

  15. Mark Pontin

    @ Stewart M —

    T-cell depletion is a real thing. So, yes, we’re going to see an upsurge of cancers from Covid long term; there’s already literature showing up on that.

  16. Z


    You either didn’t even read it or have some serious reading comprehension issues or are just making up shit.

    Here’s the conclusion, does it sound anything like yours?


    The political realities of the United States are such that we were never going to have a pandemic response as successful as New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, or Cuba. But I think, when you consider everything I have laid out above, it is hard to argue that the Biden administration could not have done any better. It is worth looking at Canada — another settler-colonial state with a federal system and a number of right-wing provincial leaders — which has consistently maintained about half the mortality rate of the United States over the entire course of the pandemic. Even Doug Ford, Ontario’s premier who supported Donald Trump for most of his presidency, has been more amenable to public health measures that restrict commerce than nearly any Democrat in the US. Even the UK government under a right-wing prime minister has rejected the five-day isolation period embraced by a US Democratic president. Many of the failures of Covid Year 2 result from specific decisions by specific people in the Biden administration. The pandemic response could have gone another way, even in light of the many challenges of governance in the US political economy.

    The final point I’d like to make for those of us who are critical of Biden’s response is that we need to understand and learn from our own failures. There has been a failure of various social institutions — the media, the political left, scientists, and unions, to pressure the Biden administration into a course of action that would better prevent mass death. In some other countries, scientists banded together to form organizations like the UK’s Independent SAGE that counters government policy with its own, more precautionary policy recommendations. This has not happened in any substantial way in the US, where scientists have made statements only as individuals or in informal, ad-hoc groups. To the extent they have weighed in, American unions have been narrow in their demands for the pandemic response and have not called major strikes over it. Progressive members of the Democratic Party have not put pressure on Biden over pandemic measures except in narrow ways, such as Bernie Sanders calling for an extension to unemployment programs or Cori Bush demanding the Biden administration fight for an extension of the eviction moratorium. Leftist groups like the Democratic Socialists of America have not developed a pandemic response platform, and to the extent they have politicized the pandemic, it has been to talk about long-standing policy goals like Medicare For All.

    Instead, the loudest voices in civil society have largely supported Biden’s approach to the pandemic or pushed him to reject non-pharmaceutical interventions more fervently. This select group of media pundits, public health scientists, and economists has been in direct dialogue with White House officials. The administration has cited their opinion pieces in speeches, coordinated messaging on regular phone calls, and promoted these views on social media (one need only look at the Twitter timelines of Ron Klain, or communication staffers like Ian Sams or Ben Wakana).

    Those of us who see ourselves as concerned scientists or leftists, or otherwise imagine ourselves to be part of an engaged civil society, should learn from this failure to respond to a crisis, particularly since we do not know how long this one will last. And we can only expect more crises on a 4-degree-warmer planet.


  17. anon

    StewartM – Not enough people realize that being asymptomatic or getting mild symptoms does not mean they are in the clear. Our leaders don’t want to tell the public the awful truth about the long-term health consequences of contracting COVID-19. I’ve read about the damage to lungs, but your links about cancer are sobering. This will take a toll on the health care system for several generations.

  18. Z

    In reference to the article, I will note that the reason that “the loudest voices in civil society have largely supported Biden’s approach to the pandemic or pushed him to reject non-pharmaceutical interventions more fervently” is because the statestream media amplified those voices to make them the loudest.


  19. js

    What’s the point in wishing for economic collapse. To stop the planet destruction of the economy temporarily a little bit? Ok THAT is legit.

    But to think it will lead to political reform much less revolution is the most naive thing ever. For that you already need a political movement (ideally on the left, I mean I don’t want any political movement on the right – that’s worse than what we have), that is already HUGE, and ready to take advantage of the situation. Does anyone seriously believe we have that at scale. No? Then economic collapse will not change anything.

  20. Olivier

    Mass incapacitation of the herd (since that is our betters see us) will also be used by our betters to justify moar immigration.

  21. Z


    I can imagine scenarios where an economic collapse could lead to a more equitable economy … a general strike driven by mass hunger is one and the chances of a general strike would increase in that situation … but I can’t imagine one happening without it short of a general strike unless a president uses their executive power to effectuate positive change.

    Why do you think that our rulers bothered to dish us any money when COVID hit? Because of their caring hearts? No, because they feared economic collapse and that too many people being fed into the wood chipper at once might clog it.

    I’m guessing that you are more satisfied with the way things are going than I am though personally I’m not doing bad at all, but I know I’m fortunate in some ways and I absolutely hate how this system preys upon the working class and poor.


  22. Keith in Modesto

    “Then economic collapse will not change anything.”

    Well, I guess an economic collapse wouldn’t change anything, if you don’t consider the freaking economy collapsing to constitute any sort of change.

  23. Mark Pontin

    Olivier: ‘Mass incapacitation of the herd (since that is our betters see us) will also be used by our betters to justify moar immigration.’

    Correct. This is the US you’re talking about, after all, whose wealthiest elites from its colonial beginnings in the 1600s have always prioritized having a labor force they could pay nothing or as little as possible to.

    From indentured servants, to African slaves, to poor, huddled masses, to Asian refugees and entire towns in the outer SF Bay Area mostly populated by H1B visas, the Owners of this country have always counted on importing a new cheap force of immigrants to exploit.

    That’s why they think they can prioritize maintaining a ‘healthcare’ system that loots $7-8 percent of annual US GDP over maintaining the health of its workers. They’ll just import some more.

    Interesting if true: –

    ‘Leaked video reveals Joe Biden’s ‘hush hush’ migrant invasion ‘

    Under cover of darkness, every night the federal government is transporting illegal migrants as fast as it can away from the border on secret charter flights into unsuspecting communities around the country. Officials have lied and obstructed the few journalists who have tried to reveal the truth.

    This is nothing short of a betrayal of the American people.

    And that’s not just me saying it — those are exactly the words of one federal government contractor employed to transport migrants from the southern border to the airport in White Plains.

    “The government is betraying the American people,” the contractor told a Westchester County police officer in a conversation that was recorded on the cop’s bodycam on the tarmac of the county airport on Aug. 13, 2021. The men were standing beside a Boeing 737 flown in from Fort Bliss, Texas, by iAero Airways under charter by the federal government.

  24. js

    “Well, I guess an economic collapse wouldn’t change anything, if you don’t consider the freaking economy collapsing to constitute any sort of change.”

    This happened in 2008. Yes it changed things for most people for the worst. The result was an absolutely massive global financial system bailout and years of bad job market for everyone else, and further increase in income disparities. That’s all. I mean ok there was Occupy Wall Street, and it did try, but the long term results of that have not been revolutionary. There wasn’t a big enough movement. You could say in some sense the result was Trump. But that’s just another negative result. I mean significantly change things for the better, not have some impact, but largely negative.

  25. russell1200

    “People who bet what they can’t afford to lose, in my experience, tend to lose more often than the odds suggest.”

    From the point of view of an outside observer: I suspect this could be true as an observation, while being incorrect as a general fact.

    I seem to recall a study somewhere that showed that entrepreneurs were not risk lovers; entrepreneurs simply don’t see/understand the risks they take. But outsiders do see the risk: particularly retrospectively. What the outside observer does not see most of the time is ALL the risks that are being taken.

    By way of example: we are taking risks with Covid. We see that. But we are also taking risks with a whole bunch of other potential pandemic diseases. MERS would a case we occasionally pay attention to: think of the ones we either don’t know about, or maybe don’t exist yet. Given the mobile nature of our society, one of these is going to blow up badly in our face.

    So you could say the % risk of Covid was much higher than what was at first stated – when it could be just as true to say that the % risk was accurately predicted for a dangerous contagious disease: it’s just that COVID is the one that got through.

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