Ten years after we overcame corona, a new virus appeared.
Most of us thought we’d put all that behind us. We could watch people shake hands in movies without being nettled by nostalgia, attend ball games with friends, drink coffee at thronged cafés (albeit with roomier seating than before). We knew we’d been scarred— the kids shuttered at home, the business owners who’d had to claw their way out of debt, the elderly who’d remained quarantined long after everyone else had been freed, waiting for the storm to settle. But an understanding dawned on us only once the next virus arrived.
It was crueler, sharper, more lethal. With an incubation stage of ten days and a reproduction number that was twice greater than Covid-19’s, the new virus had no intention of letting us off easy. The name it was given, for some reason or other, was SV96, and this time, at least according to preliminary reports, it mostly attacked the kidneys and spleen, breaking out in a single burst, with sharp abdominal and head pain; it was blind to age, sex, and race. Everyone was in danger. Those capable of comparing, understood that this was a virus that made corona seem avuncular. SV96 stormed humanity with a true and holy rage.
Much had happened worldwide since the arrival of the last virus. On the margins, there was a slight rise in social responsibility, a wave of sensible political decision-making, and a bevy of new procedures. But most changes—quite naturally—related to the fresh surface of possibilities that had been exposed and which, mankind seemed to realize, could be exploited for gain. There was room, on this surface, to invent, to make a lot of money, and to take revenge for all the virus had done.
Automation was accelerated across the board. Many companies began pledging a “human-free” production cycle, spanning the entire assembly process—from the robots on the manufacturing line to the autonomous trucks that transported the supplies to the computerized warehouses, to the drones that delivered the packages to the doorsteps or balconies of the customers. The message conveyed by these companies to its customers and investors was clear—the zombie apocalypse may be upon us, but the jeans you ordered are going to arrive on time. Nearly every cultural event was available for streaming on the internet and the first buds of holographic video conversations were featured on the news. Eight European countries began doling out a Universal Base Income to their citizens; five countries deemed cash payments off limits, for reasons that were at least presented as health-related. Nations started depending less on imports and more on themselves. When a dark day comes, no one wants to be reliant on others.
Additionally, hundreds of new biotech companies were founded, riding high on the wave of concern and government grants. Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into investments and, in the first few post-corona years alone, dozens of patents were registered, emergency measures were updated in a host of countries, and an emergency-footing lifestyle, with which everyone was already familiar, for better or worse, emerged. When Covid-19 came our way, it took us days to map its genome and more than a month before the information was disseminated worldwide. This time, even though SV96 was also discovered in China, the process was far shorter: Six hours after suspicion arose that perhaps a new virus had been discovered, doctors were holding in their hands the virus’ entire genetic composition. Within twenty-four hours, the information was in labs all around the world. International biotech firms got cracking. It was a real opportunity.
Targeted artificial intelligence software, written during the age of corona and infinitely improved since then, analyzed the virus’s genetic composition and suggested possible vaccines. One month after the discovery of SV96, there were fifty international companies claiming that they’d found the formula for a vaccine. The fact that the bureaucratic procedures were shortened and improved upon in the wake of Covid-19 made it feasible for three of the proposed formulas to be tested, approved, and prepared within nine months. But that, too, was slow as compared to the medications.
University labs and pharmaceutical companies started running their newly developed algorithms, and may quite possibly, within six months, have been able to declare a pharmacological cure. Only there was no need. On the day the genetic code was made public, startups around the globe began conducting advanced simulations and found a host of possible and effective medical cocktails. Within a month, once millions of simulations had been run and the efficacy of thousands of medicines had been checked, no less than 230 possible cocktail combinations were found to be promising. Some were irrelevant—either because they included rare medications or simply too many of them (one suggestion listed 11 ingredients, including Optalgin, Famotidine, and cannabis)—but among the thirty combinations comprised of three ingredients or less, five of them included materials that were readily available in nearly every hospital in the world.
Those concerned that attempts to curtail the spread of the new virus might once again batter the economy, were mistaken. Toward the tail end of the Covid-19 contagion, every store, mall, and airport had installed automated breathalyzers—small devices into which you could exhale and allow the device to detect whether you’d been infected. Once Covid-19 was beaten, the devices were sent back to warehouse shelves, but the companies that made them did not stop production and did not disappear. They added additional options, including the detection of SARS, Zika, and even flu. Two weeks before the outbreak of SV96, Apple announced that its newest iPhones would come equipped with a breathalyzing sensor capable of detecting fifty different viruses, and that, in the future, with the outbreak of new viruses, compatible updates would be made available for free and immediate downloading. True, the company wasn’t able to market the device before the outbreak, but all the businesses and companies that wanted to remain open during the new virus pulled the old breathalyzers out of storage, downloaded the most current software update—which included all the necessary information about SV96—and reverted to customer checks at the entrances.
And of course, there was the disinfection routine. There was not a single movie theater, plane, mall, or assembly hall that had not already, six or seven years earlier, set up an automatic disinfection system. Most had used it continuously since then. Often the systems were UV-based, with robots that went aisle-to-aisle on planes, large light fixtures that moved on tracks across the ceilings of movie theaters and wedding halls, and carefully plotted and designed lights placed all around houses of worship. During the late hours of the night, with no need for the touch of a human hand, the automated systems were turned on, the slate wiped clean, and the places where people had congregated were able to start the new day virus-free, irrespective of who had been present the previous day. Most of the movie houses and theaters disinfected their interiors between screenings and performances; newer airplanes, made in the last two years, imbedded the system in the aircraft as part of the manufacturing process. Every place that was equipped with a breathalyzer at the entrance and a sterilization system approved by an official disinfection technician (a new and common post-corona profession) received authorization to open its doors and operate as usual.
Of course, not everything went smoothly. The breathalyzers created long lines at airports and the entrances to malls, and when people found that their movie was delayed on account of an unexpectedly long disinfection routine, there were those who took to social media with daggers drawn, but the ordinary rhythm of life continued more or less as usual. If you were infected—at some point, rather early on, even before the presentation of symptoms, someone would detect it, whether at the entrance to the supermarket, at the barber, at the gates to the university, or at the door to the local café. The places you’d visited would be disinfected and the information would be passed on directly to your doctor’s office. All you had to do was to go home, wait patiently for up to 24 hours, and receive one of the approved medical cocktails, either by standard delivery or—if you’d downloaded the appropriate app—by a delivery drone.
There were occasional mishaps. A breathalyzer that issued several false negatives, halls that neglected to sanitize their grounds overnight, kindergartens that forgot to check the children for a day or two, an old gym that never installed a proper disinfection system and continued to operate as usual without anyone noticing. But in the end, each of the cases was pinpointed and outbreaks did not immerge as there were simply too many virus checkpoints along the way. The infectious episodes were limited in scope and contained by the frequency of the disinfection cycles.
SV96 showed up, churned through the news cycle for several weeks, and then disappeared.
Less than 12,000 people were infected worldwide; the recovery rate was 98 percent.
Once the headlines were filled with news of the engagement of Kim Kardashian’s daughter, we knew that the new virus was behind us. Over and done.
Only then did we understand the true meaning of the era during which we’d battled corona. It was history’s last plague.
Inspired by this Hebrew blog post from Dr. Roey Tzezana