Covid-19: could we see it coming?

Covid-19: could we see it coming?

I have been searching for predictions of coronavirus to see if this was foreseen by anyone. I haven’t come up with anything yet but a few people have pointed to the similarities with a novel written in 1981 by Dean Koontz called ‘The Eyes of Darkness’ about a killer virus called Wuhan 400: ‘In around 2020 a severe pneumonia like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments. Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will quickly vanish as quickly as it arrived…’

How did he get date right and moreover why did he chose to name it ‘Wuhan’? Forty years ago the city name was unknown outside China.  However, the novel  positioned the virus was a biological weapon with a kill rate of 100%, so perhaps this wasn’t an accurate prediction but it  does explain why conspiracy theories abound about its source as a man-made virus . I have heard this rumour in Italy so it is not confined to the US.

In the sixteenth century astrology carried much more credence than it enjoys today. Princes and Emperors paid for forecasts of ‘what the stars foretold’. Both Nostradamus and John Dee were well aware of the power they wielded in foretelling the fate of leaders, and took care not to give bad news. Nostradamus was approached by Catherine de Medici to write horoscopes for her seven children, but this provided a challenge of diplomacy as he had already foretold their tragic fates.

Nostradamus not only used astrological calculations but he also relied on his visions which came to him through the medium of water. In the same way a clairvoyant might use a crystal ball he used a bowl of water and stared into its depths until he saw images. He then wrote up what he saw in a series of four lined riddles we now call ‘Quatrains’. Many books have been written claiming he foresaw specific events in succeeding centuries, but I have found no mention of our current plague.

John Dee born only 25 years after Nostradamus was feted by Queen Elizabeth for his ability to predict the future through astrology and conjuring ‘magic’. The latter got him into brushes with the authorities, especially with regard to alchemy and his pursuit of the philosopher’s stone and the transmutation of base metals into gold. Dee survived to outlive Elizabeth and anyone interested in him should read ‘The Queen’s Conjuror, the life and magic of Dr Dee’ by Benjamin Woolley.

Today in an age of science astrology has fallen from grace as a predictive tool, replaced by statistical models and algorithms used by investment banks and hedge funds to make financial forecasts.  It is not about predicting success on the battlefield but in the stock market. Probability has become a matter of data processing not patterns in tea leaves or entrails. Technology should have predicted the 2008 financial crash and it should have predicted the 2020 one, but it didn’t. Accurate prediction is impossible without an element of luck. Uncertainty can be reduced but it can never be eliminated.

Who knows what inspired Dean Koontz to choose the date of 2020 for his global pneumonia virus or to give it the name Wuhan 400. Maybe he used the Nostradamus method of visions or maybe he used the planetary alignments forty years ahead, or maybe he just got lucky.

Written by Garry Honey, SAMI Associate and founder of Chiron Risk 

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

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