For the past few weeks, the Coronavirus news has taken the world by surprise, leading to reactions of panic, and often diverting our attention away from challenges that are much bigger and more universal. We have seen people stocking up on food and face masks, postponing their traveling plans until further notice, and avoiding any gathering of fun or importance, while major events have been canceled, schools have been closed, even the Louvre took “a day off”, and companies are under-functioning. Although we, the Rahhalah team, continue traveling, for, after all, we enjoy a bit of adventure in our lives and the Coronavirus seems, so far, to be a rather calculated risk, we have caught ourselves jumping defensively at the sound of a sneeze, as there no immunity to the impact of all the media bombardment that can shake even the most fearless and adventurous amongst us.
It is clear that anxiety has penetrated the hearts of many, and this is the main factor one should not take lightly, but, instead, acknowledge and respect. However, like any other crisis, the Coronavirus one has two components: the practical and the psychological one, and, although there are still many details we do not know yet about the specific virus, it is worth examining what we know, as each aspect can stimulate thoughts and insights.
On the practical level, many – far more experts than ourselves – have repeatedly shared daily (even hourly) updates, with numbers that occasionally seem terrifying but, when under scrutiny, they should not cause the shock and hysteria that we see today. Granted, the number of infected people sounds large, and the speed of contagiousness seems alarming – and maybe it is. On the other hand, though, the vast majority (above 90%) of all cases (including those with an unfortunate result) are concentrated in China, while, based on the medical community’s feedback so far, we can draw some conclusions that should instill calmness amidst the frenzy:
- The symptoms are not burdensome, though they can be unpleasant. They can easily be mistaken for the common flu or influenza, which is why Coronavirus can be diagnosed only with the help of lab tests.
- The vast majority of the infected people are recovering without much difficulty.
- The people who are threatened the most are the elderly and/or the ones with significant health problems, especially in the respiratory system. They represent a segment with an increased vulnerability that should anyway apply extra caution on many fronts.
- Even in the case of a pandemic phenomenon, the vast majority of the people will recover without unwelcoming repercussions.
- Despite the repeated death toll announcements, the fatality rates of the Coronavirus are still low (actually, very low, if one takes out of the equation the China data). Death is not the immediate result of such an infection.
- The virus is not airborne; it is mainly transferred through sneezing or coughing droplets from an already sick person and/or from surfaces that still bear the germs.
Because of all the above, the precaution measures are, so far, relatively straightforward, based on general, good hygiene practices:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching surfaces in public areas, money, or animals, and never touch with uncleaned hands your face, especially eyes, nose, and mouth. The virus comes as a good reminder of a practice that is anyway obvious and self-explanatory.
- Washing our hands is not a chore with which we want to get over as fast as possible. Alcohol-based solutions are useful but let us not forget the importance of a frequent, old-fashioned soap washing, during which we rub the hands with the foam for around 20 seconds (like singing twice the "Happy Birthday" song) to ensure that all germs are killed.
- If you are already feeling sick (even mildly), be a responsible citizen and consult your doctor immediately, before mingling with family, friends, colleagues, and the general public. This is not the time to be negligent or reckless, as the health of other people depends on you.
- If you need to sneeze or cough in public, cover your mouth with a tissue which you should immediately throw away. If you have no handy tissue, use your elbow.
- Avoid touching as much as possible surfaces that are public and, thus, possibly unclean; alternatively, carry cleansing tissues to wipe them, and, in any case, wash your hands immediately afterwards!
- It is widely known by now that the face masks – which saw a sudden increase in their demand, to the joy of their manufacturers – offer no protection to a healthy person. They may only help to prevent the distribution of virus-carrying droplets from the sneezing or coughing of an already infected individual.
Some additional points to remember:
- Let us not turn any random sneeze or cough into a quarantine call. The virus is transmitted – so far – with more prolonged exposure to it and the unfortunate sneeze of a passerby bears no threat.
- There is a considerable amount of resources presently dedicated to fighting the Coronavirus challenge. Research is ongoing, as experimental vaccines are being tested, and costly precautions are being enforced. In general, the medical community and the rest of the world are on the alert, which makes it safe to assume that a solution is just around the corner.
Should I travel or not?
This is a legitimate concern, as traveling always exposes us to more viruses than our home environment. The Coronavirus is not something new on this front. So, the answer depends on the individual, taking into consideration the present state of one's health, the destination, one’s spirit of adventure and level of risk-aversion. We are not all the same, so there is no one answer to fit all. However, the following points may be of help:
- Since our interconnected world has proven that such viruses know no borders, the whole planet has been labeled as “unsafe”. It is perhaps a good idea to avoid regions which, for now, present a higher level of risk, like China, Japan, South Korea, Iran – and north Italy. The rest of the world, though, despite the occasional cases recorded here and there, is no more dangerous than what it was a couple of months before. Staying at home is not the solution.
- The airplanes – with their congested space and forced cohabitating conditions – may seem to be dangerous; yet, as their air is filtered continuously, they are much less risky than a movie theatre or a similar place. Also, considering the air hygiene techniques already used, one cannot be infected by any sick person in the plane but only by the individuals sitting in the neighboring seats, which limits the exposure and ensures a healthier environment.
- The upcoming spring and summer, during which the symptoms of the seasonal flu finally fade off, will help with the Coronavirus as well. On the one hand, the healthcare systems will be more available and better prepared than now, while, on the other hand, the heat is not a Coronavirus friend either.
Some further thoughts on the psychological aspect of the phenomenon:
Given the above, it is undoubtedly essential that we become aware of the crisis that the new version of an old virus has inflicted upon us. On the other hand, though, the mass hysteria that most countries are facing seems unjustifiable. The psychological factor appears to be, so far, the most dangerous – and most uncontrollable – component of the disease, raising many questions regarding our emotional maturity.
As a species, we seem to have a masochistic inclination to panic-cultivation, often concealing it under the legitimate excuse of "the public's right to know". We enjoy spreading omens of catastrophe instead of focusing on solutions. This tendency – predictable as it is manipulatable – is a weakness which we have not addressed yet, and we keep on demonstrating the same reactions as in less sophisticated or advanced eras.
This virus comes to remind us of our interconnectivity, helping us to acknowledge our vulnerability in the face of a challenge that is beyond our initial control. On the other hand, it offers us the opportunity to strengthen ourselves by taking control of our reaction, staying united, focused, and positive. Panic is an easy, "fast-food" recipe; however, in such cases, it is helpful to zoom out of the situation and gain some perspective.
In a few weeks or months, the whole Coronavirus frenzy will be behind us – so much so that we will have trouble remembering its name, effects, or the feelings of fear it provoked. It has happened with numerous other viruses in our recent past, or other predictions of dismay which, through the centuries, either proved to be wrong, or they urged us towards finding a solution to a problem. In the meantime, we are currently facing much bigger crises than the Coronavirus. Yet, selfishly and disrespectfully, we allocate less of our time, almost none of our attention, and certainly fewer resources to handling them, leaving many communities in distress, doomed for periods much longer than any effects Covid-19 will possibly have.
Perhaps, if we learn to take care of all the factors that ultimately define our existence and identity the same way that we currently learn to take care of our hygiene and health, we may evolve into the better beings we aspire to be. As Marcus Aurelius said centuries ago, “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.”