The Fear of the Lancet’s Editor: During Pandemic, Will Vital Information Be Missed?


The Lancet Editor’s Wild Ride Through the Coronavirus Pandemic

by Sam Knight/

On January 24th, four days after President Xi Jinping made his first public statement about the coronavirusThe Lancet, a British medical journal that has been printed weekly since 1823, published a clinical account of forty-one patients who had been infected in Wuhan. The seven-page paper, which had twenty-nine co-authors and was funded by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, listed the symptoms of covid-19 that the world now knows by heart. In clear, urgent terms, the paper described how twelve of the patients developed acute-respiratory-distress syndrome and how thirteen required treatment in intensive care. It spoke of cytokine storms—dangerous overreactions of the immune system—and suggested a worryingly high mortality rate. Six of the patients in the study died.

Richard Horton, who has edited The Lancet since 1995, approached the paper as an excited editor—looking for problems, checking that it made sense. It was only when the article appeared in print that he began to fully assess the public-health implications. (In the late nineteen-eighties, Horton practiced as a doctor.) “I really thought, Oh, my god. A very large proportion of patients are being admitted to I.C.U.,” he told me, earlier this week. “This is coming.” more:


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