The moment we feared – those of us with our eyes open — is upon us. Coronavirus, no longer happy to be last year’s COVID-19, is mutating into a more highly infectious form. So far, the new strain has been detected in England and a slightly different version in South Africa. That alone should send shivers up your spine. Even if the Brits manage to keep COVID-20 bottled up in London town (an unlikely proposition) the virus could undergo similar mutations in other nations all on it’s own. The sad reality is that this new variant has probably already begun to spread around the world.

You may recall that back in January of 2020, the very first cases, just a wee handful, were spotted in the US. And Americans were told not to worry. The risk to the general population was low. It later turned out that long before the flights from China and Europe were shut down, COVID had already been quietly circulating on both coasts. Blood samples taken in California, Oregon and Washington show between December 13 and December 16, 2019, contained coronavirus antibodies, which means those people had already been infected and recovered even earlier. I wouldn’t bet on this time being different.

Although it’s possible the new variant isn’t infectious, the fear it’s already inspired certainly is, and it’s spreading a lot faster: border closings, new lockdowns, people fleeing London, stories of looming food shortages. It’s all fuel for a global bio-security apparatus. Get ready for vaccine passports and China-style contact tracing.

We’ve seen this movie before. The 1918 influenza pandemic lasted 18 months and went through three stages, with the second wave being the most deadly. Millions of people died – an estimated 50 million worldwide. Eventually the pandemic ended and life returned to normal. Will we be so lucky this time?

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