Covid-19 may not kill us all, but we’re not completely safe.
Over the last 13 months, the world has become engrossed in the tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, as we enter 2021, we are in the third year during which this virus has shaped and shifted the very foundations of our society. As I am writing this, the UK has passed 81,000 deaths from a global total of 2 million deaths and 94 million cases, with global cases rising exponentially. This begs the question: how deadly is Covid-19, and what would it take for it to eliminate humanity? For this, I have turned to Plague Inc. - an increasingly real pandemic creation game in which the user crafts their custom bacteria, fungus or virus.
Since Alexander Flemming revolutionised the medical world with the invention of penicillin, bacteria have largely found themselves on the back foot when it comes to infecting widespread portions of the human race. Whilst still deadly and widespread, these bacteria are increasingly able to be countered with steroids and antibiotics, reducing the risk of a widespread uncontrolled pandemic such as we see today. Thus, I found the easiest way to eliminate the human race in the event of a pandemic is with a virus.
wMy “research'' on Plague Inc. showed that the great dangers the mutations of viruses pose (such as we have seen with Covid-19’s multiple strains) hinder progress on a cure. Because of this deadly combination of no antibiotics and mutating disease, the most infamous diseases of recent times have been viruses such as SARS, Covid-19, swine flu and even the common cold, which is one of the world’s largest annual killers. As with the real world, in these pandemic simulations, the easiest way to kill humanity is with unpredictability - and a virus does just that.
Not only is a virus the key to an unpredictable disease which may one day wipe out humanity, but the origins of said virus are key. My “research” concluded that the most efficient way of killing humanity is to have the disease spread in a semi-developed country such as China; it is far easier for viruses and other diseases to spread in less developed countries - but in order to successfully achieve global transmission, a host country must have the substantial international infrastructure to spread a pandemic worldwide. Using this strategy in my “research”, I was able to play a game of Plague Inc. wherein the spread and threat of Covid-19 seemed minimal by using China as a perfect starting point to wipe out humanity. The key, as it turns out, is the spreading of the virus - something that Covid-19 has proved can be done very easily in our modern globalised society. The journey from China to Italy spreading the plague across Europe took almost 40 years back in the middle ages: in 2020, it took a mere 40 days for widespread outbreaks to begin in Italy spreading across much of Europe.
My research into the historical spread of pandemics and my attempts to create my destroyer of humanity illustrates a significant disparity between what happens in the real world and the measures one may find in a simulator. Political realities and measures many may consider “draconian” or simply unrealistic heavily impact how a pandemic may spread and the eventual impact it will have on humanity. Using Plague Inc., I was able to effectively kill off humanity in around a year using a fast transmission of virus, which also became gradually more lethal. This is essential to ensure the near-universal transmission of the virus, and to penetrate measures such as increased border security and isolated regions once the knowledge of the pandemic spreads. Whilst it is unlikely that humanity will be wiped out any time soon, it became clear to me that instead of nuclear war, alien invasion or the looming threat of global warming; the real threat to humanity and the eventual destruction of our species may come from something as simple as bacteria. While we like to revel in our scientific advancements of the modern era and the ascension of humans as Earth’s alpha species, it becomes clear that, when we adapt, our environment and the threats it poses adapt with us. Plague Inc. showed a clear pathway to killing off humanity - though, luckily, the Covid-19 threat in the program was combated due to immense political pressure, restrictions and record-making vaccine paces. The real threat, however, remains clear: if humanity becomes increasingly lax with preventive and managerial measures, it is obvious what the future may hold for us.
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