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The Jewish Report Editorial

Covid-19 fear and fear-mongering

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When our health is challenged, everything else fades into the background. All worries, battles, and differences become secondary when our physical well-being is on the line.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Mar 05, 2020

This is the case of Covid-19, the coronavirus pandemic that has taken the world by storm, creating total havoc in its wake. Or are we responsible for the havoc? How much of the distress is caused by fear and fear-mongering rather than illness?

While the number of those infected keeps going up, so too do the deaths. However, the death rate appears to be a little over 3% of those who contract Covid-19. On last count (Wednesday afternoon), there was a total of 3 222 deaths, 94 344 confirmed cases, 51 316 had recovered from the virus, and 65 countries were feeling its impact.

According to a recent study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus most seriously affects older people with pre-existing health conditions. The study didn’t report any deaths in young children, who represent less than 1% of those who contract the virus.

But however you understand this virus, it has struck fear in us, and has had an impact on far more than those infected. It’s being felt on an international economic level.

The New York Times wrote this week that, “The coronavirus has put the world’s economy in survival mode.” The article explains that the stock markets are in “full-blown panic mode” and that “financial markets are prone to large, sentiment-driven swings that sometimes seem out of line with economic fundamentals”.

This, it says, has been exacerbated by the fact that the virus has now spread from Asia to Europe and other continents. So, risk and fear is making the situation worse, turning the health crisis into a global economic one.

People are nervous about travelling, not least of all because governments are warning their citizens not to go to particular countries. Some countries aren’t allowing certain foreigners into their countries. Those who are welcome stand the chance of having to be quarantined if any concerns arise. The threat of that alone would be a turnoff if you had a business trip or fantastic holiday planned.

CNN reported this week that the travel industry was suffering its worst shock since 9/11 because of coronavirus. For an industry that’s said to employ one in 10 people on the planet, this is devastating.

Having said that, there are many who continue to travel because they aren’t willing to change their lives because of what they believe to be fear mongering.

On the flipside, I know people who are stockpiling tinned foods and other essentials because they believe that once the virus hits us in South Africa, it will hit hard.

Others are avoiding places where lots of people gather, like shopping centres or big events. At this point, there is no sensible reason to do either of these things.

I was in a lift the other day in a shopping centre, and an Asian family walked in. As they did, four grown men shrunk into the corner, went pale, and covered their mouths. I was astonished. The Asian family were clearly Japanese, and had probably not left Johannesburg in years judging by their accents.

As astounded as I was at this behaviour, I drove past Chinatown in Cyrildene last week, and it looked like a ghost town. Until recently, this was a bustling hub and a huge attraction for tourists and locals alike, serving authentic Chinese food and other goodies.

I noticed people walking there with masks, and I wondered if it was to protect them from contamination or to show those who have prejudices that they aren’t able to pass anything on. How sad, considering that most of those who work there haven’t been to China for years – if ever – and have as much chance of contracting the virus as we do.

An article in Psychology Today put things in perspective for me. It reminds us that the numbers of people infected by this virus represent 0.0001% of the world population.

“In comparison, seasonal outbreaks of flu make three to five million people sick enough to seek treatment worldwide [up to 0.06% of the population], while many more cases go undetected. The seasonal flu results in 290 000 to 650 000 deaths each year – up to 0.008% of the population.”

The point is that this fear has brought out the worst in us. It has made us prejudiced, irrational, and quite neurotic. Perhaps it’s time to rethink just how we deal with this virus and, while I’m not suggesting we take dangerous risks, I do believe we need to be sensible.

I find it interesting that people and countries react to this virus by sticking to their own, and holding others at bay. It has made us far more parochial and distrusting. The strange thing is that it falls into what I called the “psychology of Trumpism”, where much like United States President Donald Trump, people move to look after their own, pushing back at “others”. Isn’t it odd that global politics has actually been moving in this direction over the past few years?

I don’t believe this is healthy. It fuels division rather than overlooking differences and finding solutions. It causes people to look for someone to blame for their distress.

Much like scientists across the world are hard at work to find a cure and a vaccine for this virus, we should unite to find solutions.

The only way we will solve this crisis is by working together not against each other. How about it?

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach!

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