2. CORONAVIRUSES: Maracanazo

Coronavirus is a type of virus. Viruses need to enter a cell to reproduce, but not just any cell. For example, there are viruses that affect only plants, only bacteria, or a single animal species. Viruses that affect a mammal can, with the help of mutations and chance, infect another mammal species. Thus, the coronavirus that we are now dealing with, SARS-CoV-2, was competing in its bat category until it made a splash in the Chinese Federation and promoted to the human category. An unexpected success. Something like the «Alcorconazo», which was Alcorcón’s 4-0 win over Real Madrid in the 2009 spanish cup (Copa del Rey). Alcorcón was in bat league (Spanish 2B league) when Real Madrid showed up at the stadium Santo Domingo de Alcorcón with Raúl, Benzema and van Nistelrooy, but somewhat weak in defense. After the 4-0 infection, back at the Bernabéu for the second game, and after ninety minutes in the ICU, Real Madrid could only beat Alcorconavirus 1-0, and Real Madrid was eliminated. Similarly, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus went from defeating bat cells to winning a battle against human cells, including some of our respiratory systems, and thereafter we are vulnerable to this coronavirus 1.

Alcorconavirus casualties are not a daily occurrence. They are one-off events, such as Uruguay’s Maracanazo in Brazil (1950 World Cup), Depor’s Centenariazo at the Bernabéu (2002 Copa del Rey final), or the 1986 European Cup final that Barcelona lost against Steaua from Bucharest in Seville. These are accidents which happened in the past, just like the historical coronavirus epidemics.

The name of the current virus is SARS-CoV-2. SARS is an acronym for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and CoV an abbreviation of coronavirus. If you’re thinking that as this is number two, there was already a number one; you would be right. SARS-CoV debuted in China in 2003. That SARS affected 8.000 people in 26 different countries, but maybe it didn’t arrive where you live and therefore it remained something alien. Like when you (if you are not Italian) saw Roberto Baggio’s penalty kick towards the clouds in the 1994 World Cup final, in the US. It caught your attention for a few seconds, but then you finished your beer and got on with something else.

Another coronavirus caused MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) between 2012 and 2014. MERS killed 30% of those infected. That virus was no laughing matter. But neither you nor I found out, did we? Or if we did hear, we ignored it; didn’t we? The Middle East sounded, and sounds, very far away. Nor did we learn about the very important goal of Saudia Arabia’s Fahad Al-Muwallad vs Japan. In Jeddah, where temperatures rarely dip below 28 degrees, Fahad’s goal secured his country a place at the 2018 World Cup. But in Arabia they wear turbans and veils. They are strange and foreign. So we didn’t really care much about MERS or Fahad’s goal. But maybe you were curious about Fahad’s story when he signed for Spain’s Levante for a few months, paid by Saudi Arabia. Or the diplomatic mess that ensued when he went missing in Valencia. Fahad disappeared for a few days and nobody knew where it was.

By the way, the disease that causes SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19. This does not mean that there have been eighteen previous COVIDs. It just signifies that it appeared in 2019 (from COronaVIrus Disease 2019).

And one last note for this chapter: whilst SARS-CoV-2 is a solid and fearsome opponent, it does have a fundamental flaw. On top of the protein wrap, SARS-CoV-2 has another fat (lipid) wrapper and this makes it easy to wash away with soap —remember what happens when you scrub dishes and pans, and put a drop of detergent on greasy water—. Moreover, the SARS-CoV-2 only survives a few hours, or a few days, on external surfaces. By washing our hands, we can suffocate it. When you wash your hands with soap frequently, you are pressing your opponent and not letting them get the ball out of their feet.