Bioassays, genome sequencing and molecular technology can identify a novel pathogen. Computer modelling (in real-time) can provide us with an instant status report showing how much it has – and can – spread. Infrared thermometers give us accurate temperature readings without the need for human touch. And, ironically, computers analyze our human behaviour to determine and predict risks.
All of this is expensive, state-of-the-art technology. Yet it was still not enough to stop a lowly virus from travelling the world, inflicting mass chaos and disruption on economies and social patterns. It even overwhelmed the medical systems that were supposed to be prepared for a scenario just like this.
COVID-19 is not a sophisticated enemy. It consists of a single strand of RNA enveloped in a protein wall, and it is this RNA strip that allows it to replicate itself and infect other cells. The RNA sequence is unusually long and this makes it more likely that the RNA will make mistakes as it duplicates itself. As a result, coronaviruses like COVID-19 are prone to mutations – genetic errors that make it more likely to survive, and more problematic to eradicate.