I want to hear his views on the outbreak that is happening right now: coronavirus. I wonder if we are not overreacting. After all, so far it has killed a fraction of those who die from seasonal flu.
“I’m not the scaremongering type,” he says. “But I think this is serious in the sense that we can’t afford not to consider it as a serious threat.
“It could be that, indeed, it’s going to be over in a few months,” he continues, crunching into a tempura-covered sage leaf. “But just take the counterfactual. We say, ‘OK, it’s fine and we don’t do anything.’ I bet that we would already have had far more cases in Singapore, the UK, Germany. Let’s not forget, we are already well over 1,000 deaths. That’s not a detail….”
“It’s clearly not Sars,” he continues, referring to severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed nearly one in 10 who contracted it 17 years ago. “That’s the good news. But the bad news is, it spreads much faster. The Sars virus sits deep in your lungs. With this virus, it seems that it’s in your throat and that’s why it’s far more contagious.
“Secondly, we have no vaccine. All we have is medieval ways of containment: isolation, quarantine, contact tracing.”
Piot remembers hearing about the first cases of a mysterious virus in Los Angeles in 1981. “The first report of HIV was six or seven gay men in California. Cumulatively, now we have, like, 75m people who have been infected. Who would have thought that then? Nobody. I’d rather be accused of overreacting than of not doing my job.”
Read it all (subscription).