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I have always been very fond of this photo, for reasons which are perhaps obvious. We are left to right Celia, Stuart, Neil, Craig and throughout our childhood we really were that close and that happy. The reason that I post this now is that my mother always told me she was amazed how good we looked in the photo, because it was taken when we were all off school sick with Hong Kong flu.

The Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968/9 was the last really serious flu pandemic to sweep the UK. They do seem extraordinarily regular – 1919, 1969 and 2020. Flu epidemics have much better punctuality than the trains (though I cheated a bit there and left out the 1958 “Asian flu”). Nowadays “Hong Kong flu” is known as H3N2. Estimates for deaths it caused worldwide vary from 1 to 4 million. In the UK it killed an estimated 80,000 people.

If the current coronavirus had appeared in 1968, it would simply have been called “flu”, probably “Wuhan flu”. COVID-19 may not be nowadays classified as such, but in my youth flu is definitely what we would have called it. The Hong Kong flu was very similar to the current outbreak in being extremely contagious but with a fairly low mortality rate. 30% of the UK population is estimated to have been infected in the Hong Kong flu pandemic. The death rate was about 0.5%, mostly elderly or with underlying health conditions.

But there was no massive panic, no second by second media hysteria, over Hong Kong flu. Let me start being unpopular. “Man in his 80’s already not very well from previous conditions, dies of flu” is not and should not be a news headline. The coverage is prurient, intrusive, unbalanced and designed to cause hysteria.

Consider this: 100% of those who contract coronavirus are going to die. 100% of those who do not contract coronavirus are also going to die. The difference in average life expectancy between the two groups will prove to be only very marginal. That is because the large majority of those who die of COVID-19 will already be nearing the end of life or have other health problems.

Let me make this important statement. I write as somebody whose heart and lungs are damaged and in poor condition, following the multiple bilateral pulmonary emboli which nearly killed me in 2004, which mysteriously appeared at precisely the time the UK and US governments were desperately trying to get rid of me as Ambassador, just a couple of weeks after I had been finally cleared of all the false charges with which the British government had attempted to fit me up. I was in a coma for days and subsequently given a maximum of three years to live (read Murder in Samarkand for the full story). If I get COVID-19 I expect I shall be fairly quickly gone off on my next adventure.

But I am OK with that. I have lived an incredibly full and satisfying life. I have no desire whatsoever to die – I have a wife and children I love deeply and I have important political battles I wish to fight. But human beings are not supposed to live forever and one day my time will come.

What worries me about the current reaction to coronavirus, is that it seems to reflect a belief that death is an aberration, rather than a part of the natural order of things. As the human species continues to expand massively in numbers, and as it continues casually to make other species extinct, it is inevitable that the excessive and crowded human population will become susceptible to disease.

As we see the catastrophic effects of human beings on the environment, including on other species and the climate, I am genuinely perplexed as to what are the underlying assumptions and goals of humankind. Do we really believe that medical science could and should eliminate all disease? There are numerous, well-funded medical scientists working very hard on research into the idea that ageing itself is a process that can be prevented. Because that is a notion very attractive to wealthy westerners, more money is being spent on preventing ageing than on fighting malaria and other tropical diseases. Where does this end? Do we really want a world – or at least a wealthy word – where everybody gets to be a centenarian? What are the effects of that on overall population, on demographics, economics and the allocation of finite resources including food and housing?

The mass hysteria around the current coronavirus is being driven by a societal rejection of the notion that the human species is part of the wider ecology, and that death and disease are unavoidable facts, with which it ought to be part of the human condition to come to terms. Let me offer a comforting thought to those of you who have bought into the hysteria. I have no doubt whatsoever that mortality rates from the coronavirus are being exaggerated. They are all based on extrapolation from those who have been tested, but there exists a very large population of people, worldwide, who have or have had the coronavirus, whose symptoms have been those of a cold or non-existent, who have not put themselves forward for testing. The Hong Kong flu had a mortality rate of 0.5% and I believe that ultimately COVID-19 will prove to be very similar. Just like flu once you get it, the only difference being it is more contagious so more people will get it.

Yes wash your hands, bin your tissues, keep things clean. Don’t hang around someone who has the flu. Take advantage of everything modern medicine can do to help you. But don’t be too shocked at the idea that some sick people die, especially if they are old. We are not Gods, we are mortal. We need to reconnect to that idea.

All human deaths are individual tragedies. I wish all solace and comfort to the grieving, and in no way wish to minimise the pain of individual loss of anybody of any age (I lost my own mother not long ago), or that even a small number of child deaths in particular will be dreadfully painful. My deepest and heartfelt condolences go to all the bereaved, and my warm regards go to all the sick and the worried. But the perspective of the wider place of human life in the cosmos is a help in grieving. The purpose of this blog remains not to shirk from saying what might be unpopular. I do hope people will start to consider COVID-19 in a more measured way.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: Coronavirus, Disease 
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  1. Great anti-hysteria article. May rational thought prevail over the madness of the crowds.

  2. VICB3 says:

    Unlike Mr. Murray, I’m in no great hurry to die, and am more than excepting of any and all technologies that might extend one’s life. Indeed, it’s modern technology and modern civilization in all its many forms that’s kept you, is keeping you, alive right now. (It sure as hell kept him, Mr. Murray alive when he was in a coma.) Without it you the reader could expect a lifespan of 35 years on average, the norm about 2000 years ago. So hurrah for modern technology and the fear of and fight against death; let’s have more of it.

    (Let’s add that Mr. Murray is also a bit too enamored of the evils of a human population of any sort on the environment, but that’s the climate change theology for you. It’s a mass self-hatred belief system that posits that, for example, a beaver building a dam is a fine thing, but otherwise is an abomination if a human does it. Topic for another time I suppose.)

    That said, Mr. Murray nails it when he points out that the current panic has come off the rails more than just a bit. Here’s what I said elsewhere on the same topic:

    “Regardless of where [the Corona Virus} originated or how (or if) it escaped, this thing is being completely over-hyped. It generates ratings and web hits to be sure, but it also – and dangerously – validates and empowers every control freak bureaucrat who wants to limit and intrude on your freedom in the name of ‘protecting’ you.

    “Anybody remember Y2K? Nothing happened then, and really nothing is going to happen now. As then, there will be a lot of pissed off survivalists wondering what they’re going to do with a garage full of toilet paper. More dangerously, there will be a lot of incompetent government agencies such as the TSA/Homeland Security who will try and extend their already objectionable mandates. But that will be it.

    “So relax and take a nice vacation. Right now you can probably get a hell of a deal at a great resort.”

    In other words, it’s government you should be afraid of in the midst of this media driven panic, and not the flu. Inasmuch as he implies he was the victim of a bungled assassination attempt by his former masters, I believe Mr. Murray would concur.

    Just a thought.


  3. Dr Ival says:

    Decay and Renewal

    Empty the self completely;
    Embrace perfect peace.
    The world will rise and move;
    Watch it return to rest.
    All the flourishing things
    Will return to their source.
    This return is peaceful;
    It is the flow of nature,
    An eternal decay and renewal.
    Accepting this brings enlightenment,
    Ignoring this brings misery.
    Who accepts nature’s flow becomes all-cherishing;
    Being all-cherishing he becomes impartial;
    Being impartial he becomes magnanimous;
    Being magnanimous he becomes natural;
    Being natural he becomes one with the Way;
    Being one with the Way he becomes immortal:
    Though his body will decay, the Way will not.
    — Lao Tse, “Tao Te Ching”

  4. Nice article thanks.

    UK Column News – 6th March 2020.
    (Some info on the CoronoVirus from a UK perspective from 32.50 min plus some other interesting info)

    Brian Gerrish and Mike Robinson will be joined by Mark Anderson from American Free Press for this episode of the UK Column News.


    START – European defence and security: news arriving from all sides
    The big bad bogieman is still Russia…
    Brookings Institute: Mark Anderson asks an awkward question
    Tobias Ellwood: we must continue to work with the EU on defence and security
    Brexit – but we seem desperate to get back into the EU’s Galileo project
    UK-EU future relationship negotiations begin – security and defence not listed…
    NATO’s top cyber capability is located in Estonia
    Ben Wallis visits the Atlantic Council in Washington DC
    Ben Wallis: war is peace in the modern world…perpetual war is the new constant
    1984: continuously reinventing a new bogieman as required…
    A huge rise in Islamic extremism in the African Sahel: it’s just a coincidence
    None of Ben Wallis’s comments have been debated in the Houses of Parliament
    Who is really running UK defence and foreign policy…?
    Who runs the Atlantic Council ‘think tank’…?
    26:35 – Second Atlantic Council meeting: Completing Europe
    Latest ‘globalese’: Great Power Competition (no surprise – the main rival is Russia)
    Three Seas Initiative: cross-border security, transportation & digital infrastructure
    32:50 – CoronaVirus: recovery rates expected to be high, health experts say
    Recovery rates are not being publicised by the MainStream Media
    Fearmongering: MSM has been hyping up the dangers to instill fear in the public
    Testing regime for CoronaVirus not completely trustworthy – false positives common
    Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty: 600,000 people in the UK could perish…
    Misinformation: the statistics are being used incorrectly when studied carefully
    No context between deaths from CV against deaths from seasonal flu and tuberculosis
    Is the CoronaVirus man-made…are vaccines the answer…?
    BBC CoronaVirus fest: nothing else matters…
    BBC puts story from August 2019 on main page to further drive the fear factor
    Rob Ryder: member of the public questions UK government vaccine policy
    Diptheria and Tuberculosis death rates were already falling before vaccinations began
    Why is a WHO Vaccine Safety Summit needed if vaccines are safe…?

  5. Coronaviruses would never have been called ‘flu’. Influenza viruses are part of a different family, order and phylum. Even people back when you were a kid knew better than that. Nice rose colored glasses, though. Hopefully when members of your own family die to this disease, you don’t feel too shitty about it.

  6. @VICB3

    Nothing happened from Y2K because hundreds of billions of dollars were spent to avoid calamity. Serious disasters of all kinds don’t just go away just because the original author imagines them to.

    • Replies: @VICB3
  7. VICB3 says:
    @Someone who knows wikipedia

    Agree that it was a problem to be dealt with. And is was. A couple of lines of code from retired (but recalled) Fortran and Cobol programmers, doubtless happy to have the work. But as you might recall, the hysterics and hyperbole surrounding it was off the charts.

    This is the same thing. And despite the gyrations and posturings of whatever interested parties seeking (enhanced) position and fortune – never let a good crisis go to waste – in three or four weeks nobody will remember it.

    Just a thought.


  8. JohnR says:

    Where do you get the idea that Murray is in a hurry to die?

    I suppose you meant “accepting” rather than “excepting.”

  9. @VICB3

    Without it you the reader could expect a lifespan of 35 years on average, the norm about 2000 years ago

    That’s a common misunderstanding of how life expectancy works: people think that ‘life expctancy’ means roughly the same as “the age at which the average adult dies“.

    The big thing that has changed life expectancy since the Industrial Revolution, is a dramatic decline in infant mortality.

    When life expectancy was 35-ish (from Ancient Greece all the way through to the end of the 18th century), the main drag was infant mortality: in Ancient Greece, it seems that about 25% of children died before their first birthday, and 55% of all people born died before they turned 15. That’s not out of whack with the rest of history until the 18th century.

    As late as the 1950s in the poorer parts of London, more than 1 child in 5 died before their 5th birthday – although the global infant mortality rate was already down to 16% (and mortality-to-15 was down to 27%).

    Today, global infant mortality (and ‘to 15’ mortality) are tiny – 2.9% and 4.6% respectively… and in advanced Western economies it’s even lower (e.g., Iceland, those numbers are 0.16% and 0.29% respectively).

    However in all of recorded history, if you lived to adulthood (as most readers here have done), the likelihood that you lived until your 60s was about the same as it was in 1950.

    Life expectancy assuming at adulthood, really only started going up in the last quarter of the 20th century – which is roughly when medicine started to be a bit less “pulled out of someone’s ass” and when Europe managed to avoid war for more than a generation.

    That said, the 1970s et seq is also when diets went horribly wrong and the groundwork for metabolic syndrome was laid – the results are the reduction of adult life expectancy throughout the West.

    • Replies: @BDS Always
    , @TheJester
  10. Terrific piece, Mr Murray – although I disagree on this whole pessimistic “mortality is inevitable” wheeze.

    I am firmly on board with the eventual Kurzweilian goal of virtualising human cognitive mechanisms, and housing our personalities in much more robust (and much more energy-efficient) substrates – whereupon those of us who do so will “slip the surly bonds of earth, and dance through space on laughter-silver’d wings“.

    Mine will have a red racing stripe.

  11. Here in Hong Kong most of us refer to this virus as the ‘WuFlu’. COVID-19 is what an astronomer would name an asteroid or a star cluster.

    Panic here has subsided considerably since late January/early February, and shelves in most markets are well stocked thank God.

    We’re ‘social distancing’, wearing masks, using tissue to press buttons, open doors, etc., but that’s not panic. It’s just sensible.

    We know that the WuFlu is here to stay and will be a regular migrant across the planet. What can we do?

    It’s a bit surreal to watch other countries freak out now…

  12. baythoven says:

    Love this column. And reading it while listening to the Cherubini Requiem made it even better. (The c minor one, though the one in d minor is also wonderful.)

  13. @Kratoklastes

    “Today, global infant mortality (and ‘to 15’ mortality) are tiny – 2.9% and 4.6% respectively… and in advanced Western economies it’s even lower (e.g., Iceland, those numbers are 0.16% and 0.29% respectively).”

    American Children Compared to Rest of World: Among Sickest and Most Vaccinated.

  14. Please, please make the correction: Memento mori (a reminder of death, such as a skull).

  15. TheJester says:

    Today, global infant mortality (and ‘to 15’ mortality) are tiny – 2.9% and 4.6% respectively… and in advanced Western economies, it’s even lower (e.g., Iceland, those numbers are 0.16% and 0.29% respectively).

    The Icelandic numbers are not correct. The Icelandics, like other Western countries, practice wide-spread abortion … a euphemism for prenatal infanticide. It’s a eugenics program: they kill physically and socially defective children before they are born to avoid the ugliness of doing it after they are born. But who can argue with results? Iceland has apparently eliminated Down’s Syndrome. Other Western countries are working on similar programs with similar results. What a medical miracle!

    You must include abortion rates in the statistics to construct a more accurate picture of infant mortality rates. For example, an estimated 54 million babies have been killed in the US since Roe vs Wade legalized abortion in 1973, which exceeds the slaughters so often used to demonize Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Maoist China.

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