John Lee John Lee

Our immune system is the pandemic’s biggest mystery

Our bodies’ defences work in ways we still don’t understand

What have we been witnessing these past few months? A worldwide crisis caused by the arrival of a new virus of exceptional virulence — or a crisis of awareness, in which incomplete information led to a wildly disproportionate reaction? Have lockdowns, face coverings and the rest saved millions of lives worldwide? Or have they had relatively little effect on the course of the pandemic, and ended up causing more harm than good? And why, so far, is Britain not seeing the surge of Covid-19 infections reported in Spain and France? What are we missing?

We still know a lot less about Covid-19, and about viruses in general, than you might have been led to believe. Viruses are older than mankind — and more numerous than all other forms of life put together — but we have only found out about them in the past century. And the sum of what we still don’t know is huge.

Why did you catch a cold yesterday, rather than last week, last month, or last year? Were you in contact with someone who had a cold or did you just happen to inhale the virus? Was it because you breathed in 1,000 viruses or just the one? Was it because it hit just the right cell, or because your immune system was out of kilter after a heavy night out? Was it because there was a critical imbalance among the other myriad pathogens in and around your body? The simple, truthful answer is that for most real-world cases, we have no idea at all.

It may help to view Covid from a radically different vantage point, and go back to the start of life on earth. Bear with me: what follows may help explain why I believe that much of what is said about this pandemic is either highly misleading or just plain wrong.

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