There has been a lot of confusion concerning the latest corona virus to spread globally among the human population. Misinformation concerning (COVID -19) has been spread (like a virus itself) by ‘vectors’. The main vectors for the current epidemic of mixed messages have been the media and some of their chosen ‘experts’ informing us about the coming contagion. The most obvious confusion is revealed by the in-your-face daily presentation of the allegedly anti-virus (!) face mask!

How viruses live.

There is disagreement among some scientists whether a virus is a life – form or not. I personally think it is. For we know, that although, unlike bacteria, it cannot replicate itself by its own means, it can do so by infiltrating cells in animals, plants and humans utilising their hosts reproductive biology. We also know that viruses can evolve. The vast majority of the thousands of viruses so far accurately identified, are so tiny they cannot be seen by the most powerful optical microscopes. It requires an electron scanning microscope to even note their general shape.

This means that the mesh of all but a few of the thousands of face masks you see on the news channels are incapable of filtering out a virus. Only specialist face masks will do that. It follows that the cheap masks on show are mostly useless to stop infected people from spreading many vector-born viruses, but also mostly useless to prevent non – infected people from ingesting them. Those masks may soak up some, but will not prevent all the viruses expelled by sneezes and coughs from dispersing onto wearers hands and into the air around them.

That is not the only problem with wearing face masks. Irritation of the facial skin, due to long-term use of face masks, can cause skin problems leading to face and neck infections.

A virus needs to be carried to a host by a vector (air-born, food-born or liquid-born particle or by blood). Between leaving one person and infecting another, the virus is protected by a sheath or coating (a capsid or lipid envelope) which allows it to survive. In that interim condition it is known as a viron. Hence keeping hands and fingers properly and frequently clean is important to clear away the vectors and their virons and prevent their direct contact with our noses, mouths and eyes.

Where people are in close proximity (trains, planes, ships, supermarkets etc.), and share commonly used buttons (eg. on Cash machines), door handles, (supermarket baskets) banisters (on stairs and escalators), water taps (in public toilets), etc., then without frequent hand washing, community contagion of a virus is highly probable.

On gaining entry to a new host via nose, mouth, eyes, wound (or another orifice) the virus attaches itself to a cell wall and gains entry into it (by uncoating and penetration). It then uses the host cells biology to, reproduce itself. Replicated viruses then exit the damaged cell (lysis) and migrate to penetrate another cell and so on. This continues until the immune system fully kicks in and seriously deals with the invaders.

In the very early stages, the body may not manifest any obvious symptoms, but when the viral expansion reaches a certain point, the body may start to ‘feel ill’. Where the immune system is up to the task and the body is rested and nursed, then, recovery will follow and the virus will be either eliminated or become dormant. However, the elderly, the young, or adults with impaired or deficient immune systems are more vulnerable. Yet it is worth remembering that humanity has been shrugging off viruses for millions of years. So no need to go into panic mode.

How viruses go global.

A pandemic is the term used to describe a contagious infection which has started to go global. Since the development of international trade, the chances of a local source of transmittable infection spreading beyond its place of origin has increased considerably. The 20th and 21st century phases of neo-liberal economics and financialisation has seen this trading network expand to include the whole world. By structuring the global economic system to cater for the needs of profit-seeking, it has not only increased the likelihood of infectious contagion, but also the speed in which these can spread. This tendency increased when 20th century neo – liberal production methods introduced ‘just in time‘ supply chains.

The expense of stockpiling raw materials and parts in vast warehouses was abandoned by many producers of goods and replaced by continuous stock flows. This system created greater profits but the suppliers have to ensure that the day to day supplies arrive just in time for any repeating cycle of production. The frequency and global reach of this frenetic economic activity, by means of shipping, aircraft and road haulage deliveries, has obvious contagion consequences. It means that in the weeks prior to obvious ‘flu-like’ symptoms breaking out, vector and virus dispersion from an original source can have repeatedly reached even the farthest trade or holiday destinations.

These constant supply chains also mean that pandemics which interrupt these daily or weekly supplies through sickness, quarantines and cancellations, also reduces economic demand, depresses sales, lowers production volumes and creates general shortages. This in turn effects the financial stability of many firms because sales generate the income to pay wages, debts, interest and loans. So, any widespread biological contagion can now quickly lead to economic and financial contagions in which global economic and financial activity is severely fractured. And the survival of the weakest of these capitalist enterprises may be seriously threatened by this economic or financial contagion just as the currently weakest people are by biological contagion.

Capitalism has undoubtedly enabled epidemics to spread wider and faster. It has also multiplied the polluted and adulterated conditions which may increase the likelihood of extremely dangerous pathogens developing. However, the micro – biological entities which inhabit our internal and external bodies and immune systems (our good bugs) have also evolved and are capable of evolving further to deal with attacks. So consistent hygiene and self – isolation if ill, will be more effective in reducing the spread than more confusion and panic.

Roy Ratcliffe (February 2020)

This entry was posted in capitalism, Critique, neo-liberalism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. lesliehammond says:

    Panic aside, it is better to implement emergency measures 3 weeks too early than 5 minutes too late.
    I think that the powers that be (in our case the clown Boris) have been pathetically slow to react, all of your comments about the current state of economic globalisation only serve to illustrate that they are more concerned about economics than about people getting ill.
    On the point about “Ordinary” face masks, I have just read a newspaper article pointing out that the chief vector distributing air born viruses is water droplets from peoples breath and by stopping the droplets they reduce the chance of infection to one fifth, I have no reason to think that the journalistic doctor got it wrong.
    I think that the present pandemic is like a sort of practice fire alarm, if there is just a big yawn and no one bothers to move then how are they going to deal with a real emergency?
    Oh but I forget myself, we already have a real emergency.

  2. Hi Leslie!
    As I say in the article, undoubtedly some water droplets from an infected person’s coughing and sneezing will be absorbed if they wear a bog standard face mask. But that presumes they know they have it and don a mask in the first place. I have not come across the research which suggests the one fifth reduction and being somewhat cynical of the medical profession I would not myself trust one doctors opinion no matter how convinced he or she is by this suspiciously round figure.. From personal experience I have heard all sorts of opinions doctors have given which have been borrowed from the pharmaceutical supplies reps they converse with, which have turned out wrong. Smoking, anti-biotics, thalidomide and opiate tablet dispensing just to name a few outstanding examples. Nevertheless I would still advocate self isolation if one is ill rather than going out with a mask on whilst infected and hoping that cuts down the number of people you manage to pass on a virus by coughing and sneezing. And from my understanding – so far – the more likely vectors are from infected hands and fingers going on to buttons, handles etc in aircraft, ships, buses, trains, shopping malls etc.,and being picked up from those communal artifacts by the many other fingers and hands using them – before these touch nose, mouth or eyes. Regards, Roy

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