Coronavirus: why panic is usually more harmful than the actual crisis

Clara Kelly

Animated coronavirus - under a microscope

The Coronavirus or Covid-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. 

The virus that causes Covid-19 was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China, and has since spread to various countries throughout the world. With the number of cases in Ireland rising steadily.

The CEO of the Health Service Executive (HSE), Paul Reid, said this week that the HSE cannot dispute claims that 1.9 million Irish people will contract the virus in years to come.

Meanwhile, Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch told the Wall Street Journal that it is likely that between 40 to 70 per cent of the population will contract the virus this year. However, a number of cases will likely be asymptomatic.

With figures like these, it’s worth asking, why shouldn’t we be panicking?

Firstly, all of these figures are not completely accurate, as of now, they’re just an indication. While we should take the predictions of health care professionals seriously, we also have to take them with a grain of salt. 

Paul Reid, the aforementioned CEO of the HSE, even said that while the figures can’t be rebuked as of now, they simply don’t know enough as of now to refute them. The new form of the virus is exactly that: new. 

According to the CDC, Swine Flu killed between 151,700 and 575,400 people globally, making coronavirus, more deadly with a significantly higher fatality rate.

While it would be ignorant to downplay the severity of these illnesses, it is worth mentioning the vast numbers of people who will get sick, get treatment and get better. It is also worth noting, the disease will impact the sick and elderly the most – for most young and healthy people symptoms would be manageable. 

Todd Ellerin, director of the infectious diseases department of South Shore Hospital, wrote in the Harvard Health Blog, that “it is important to remember that early on in an epidemic, there is a ‘tip of the iceberg’ phenomenon where we overestimate more severe cases and mild or asymptomatic cases go unrecognized, so the mortality seems higher than the reality.” 

When the Ebola crisis hit the country of Sierra Leone in 2014, within weeks city life was put on heavy regulation. Like we’re beginning to see here, schools and colleges were suspended, travel restricted, and small clinics shut down. 

When ordinary people are asked to put their lives on hold the results can be as detrimental as the illness. Kids’ education gets paused, clinic closures and hospital overcrowding means treatment for otherwise mild illnesses becomes difficult and sometimes deadly.

We just need to look at how it has already impacted Irish society: shops have been cleaned of sanitizer and toilet paper, and racism towards the Asian community has sky-rocketed.

However, bulk buying will do nothing except ensure that our elderly and at-risk community members – who live on small weekly wages and can’t afford to stock up, are left even more at risk than before. 

It is crucial that society continues to operate in a dignified and orderly way during this crisis.

By Clara Kelly

Image: Pixabay