The Null Device
An expert on virology looks at the potential of the bird flu. Extrapolated from mortality rates and 1918 influenza statistics, it could kill one billion people; then again, it might not.
Scientists now estimate that the 1918 pandemic may have killed 40 to 100 million people worldwide. If you take into account the current world population, a direct extrapolation gives you 325 million deaths. If that's not sufficiently scary, there's more. Epidemiologists estimate the 1918 virus killed 2.5% of those infected. But we know that GenZ kills 70% of the people it infects. In other words, the true worst-case scenario based on 1918 could be 1 billion deaths worldwide. This is what Davis means by the monster at our door and why he believes scientists, and the press, are right to sound the alarm.
1 billion fatalities worldwide would be a 1/6 of the Earth's population. Which is a fatality rate comparable to the Black Death or the Great Plague. The social, political and economic ramifications of a loss of 1 billion people would be profound.
Then again, it may never happen. Flu is one of the deadliest pathogens in nature's arsenal, but is also one of the sloppiest. Like all viruses, every time it replicates it makes mistakes, some of which may render it less infective. That is the conundrum of H5N1. It could be a huge threat to the human race or none at all.Of course, flu is also governed by natural selection; less infectious strains compete with more infectious ones, and you can imagine which one would spread more rapidly and crowd the others out of the gene pool. Then again, a virus that is highly contagious but not fatal would have an advantage in reproductive opportunity over one that kills its victims rapidly. (Though causing its victims to melt and splatter infected blood everywhere, as H5N1 does to chickens (though not yet humans) is also an effective strategy.)
Anyway, while it's too early for mass we're-all-going-to-die-I'm-a-teapot hysteria (not that it would help much, as there's not much one can do other than minimising one's exposure), claiming that H5N1 is nothing to be worried about and that life will go on as always (see also: global warming, peak oil) seems foolhardy.
While the rest of the world is closing its doors to refugees, Belarus's neo-Soviet dictator Alexander Lukashenko, is allowing them to settle and get full asylum — with the proviso that they settle in radiation-contaminated areas near Chernobyl. They will even get fully-furnished houses (as abandoned by their original residents some 19 years ago), and will live a life of luxury, as long as they don't mind getting cancer.
"Lukashenko wants to draw a line under the Chernobyl catastrophe and allow the area to regain its economic value." The government is especially keen to get the agricultural sector back on its feet again. Berries and mushrooms, which absorb radiation especially well, flourish here.