Wuhan Corona Virus
By Ted Perton
29 January 2019
Believing that we may be on the verge of the next great worldwide pandemic could be much greater than the true nature of the new Wuhan Corona Virus. Indeed, why shouldn’t we assume this will be the next Black Death! Post the disaster of 9/11, its indisputable that we felt seriously vulnerable as a society, and our collective psychological fear made us more susceptible to health-hiccups. A key example was the major societal risk posed by the 2003 SARS outbreak, as many became convinced that this new and keen contagion was a threat to our core existence and way of life. During mass global events, such as this Corona Virus, we as a whole society, fanned by the 24/7 news cycle, jump quickly to worst-case scenarios, especially when it comes to invisible, unpredictable pathogens for which we have no existing treatments or vaccines. Eventually, the total number of SARS cases was just over 8,000, with just under 800 deaths. Proper public health measures and societal innovation stopped SARS in its tracks and, ultimately, calmed our fears.
Fast-forward to 2020, another time of great national and global insecurity, albeit for different reasons. We once again find ourselves feeling vulnerable to a mysterious new contagion, not unlike those seen in the great science-fiction classics that have captured our imagination in fictional form. The virus has jumped species from an unknown species at a wholesale market in Wuhan. People huddled close together at a market that wouldn’t be out of place in the downtown area of almost all major Asian cities. Indeed, it spread around the city and, like so many global contagions, has morphed an exotic new strain. Our quest for more direct air travel inevitably exacerbates the issue immediately, pathogen-filled projectiles hurtling to an unmeasurable number of countries. A key difference from SARS is our global state – in 2003, the length and breadth of global interconnectedness would’ve been almost inconceivable. Countries that may have only recently gained the interconnectedness so desired by less-economically-developed countries, may indeed not be prepared for a new contagion from faraway lands, oftentimes a longshot from existing diseases that have existed through many nations right throughout history. In our fear, it seems nothing can truly stop it.
Adding to our fear is the sense that the societally omnipresent symptoms of fever and cough mean that thousands more may indeed have the new coronavirus than are being told they have it. Isolated cases in Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and, finally, in the U.S. feel like many more cases exist than are being reported, even if the numbers don’t yet prove it. Close to 4000 cases, most of which exist in the misfortunate Hubei Province feel like tens-of-thousands; 106 reported dead feel like hundreds. Photos of bright white biohazard suits are almost etched into our brains, only regurgitated by the indisputable patterns created in our brains by everything we absorb, again differently to SARS, exacerbated by the rapid developments in digital media. It feels so half-hearted and timid to just say, ‘thoroughly wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze,’ like your high-school teacher may have regurgitated time and time again. Every legitimately productive cough or sneeze you may come across feels like it may contain the burly new virus. But in reality, for us here in West with world-class health systems ready to be implemented in testing times like these, or for other Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, who’ve learned lessons from a barrage of past pandemics, only made worse by us in the West shutting them off and assuming that our life is in danger there. There’s no doubt that this public-health challenge is fanned by our own timid psychology.
We as a modern society have no vaccine, and it props against our fear. All we can do is wait, and, as with SARS, our fear will gradually diminish as time passes, and no killer pandemic emerges. The Black Death of 1342, undoubtedly the worst virus to have shaken the West came with a similar fear. The Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio lived through the plague as it shook the underpinning existence of the great Western civilisation. He wrote that ‘such fear and fanciful notions took possession of the living,’
The Wuhan Corona Virus is confirmed to be evolving, and we don’t yet understand how much of a threat it could be to our global society. It is a safe bet that our nightmarish fears are far worse than the reality, and this contagion undoubtedly is less of a global danger than the garden-variety annual flu, which kills millions around the world annually. The stock-standard flu is so societally underestimated that in excess of 50% of Americans (US Centers for Disease Control) and roughly 44% of Australians (Australian Government), for example, fail to take the vaccine we do have to protect us against it.
Psychology drives our response to major health scares, such as the new Corona Virus. Sadly, but truly, those who worry tend to take fewer important precautions than those who don’t, and more viruses spread — as a result, riding on a nervous and at times hidden cough or sneeze.
Not having a vaccine or treatment adds to the overall alarm, although US and Australian vaccines should, if all goes well, move to Phase One human clinical trials within three months. It makes clear why any disease outbreak must be treated seriously, in all aspects. Nevertheless, always envisioning the worst-case scenario can do as much harm as under preparing or even underreacting.
With only five cases here in Australia, all of which are stable, it’s a far cry from the more than 4,269 pneumonia deaths amongst Australians in 2017. It is really important to remember the Corona Virus is like pneumonia that spreads more like melted butter, as opposed to solid cubes. The chance that you have this virus is currently as close to zero as possible, even if it feels like much more.
Ted Perton is a student and handles multimedia for The Centre for Optimism
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