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Coronavirus outbreak

If you want an infection virus to become an epidemic virus, press the panic button. Viruses need measured, scientific, thought through responses. Panic blocks the ability to think, measure and respond in a logical manner. The latest coronavirus issue is in danger of becoming bigger than it deserves not due to the nature of the virus but due to the nature of human beings. So much has been said, heard, seen, discussed, debated, searched, researched, viewed, videoed, shared, facebooked, twittered that it is becoming increasingly difficult to sift the real out of the fiction.

The World Health Organisation describes the Coronaviruses (CoV) as a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Chinese coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

While social media has made information so accessible, it has made misinformation even more accessible and spreadable. Coronavirus news of all sorts, types, have flooded everybody’s timeline and given rise to such monstrous speculations that fear has become the biggest carrier of this disease. Uncannily this was predicted in 2018 – “I predict that the next major outbreak – whether of a highly fatal strain of influenza or something else – will not be due to a lack of preventive technologies,” warned Heidi Larson, the director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, in a 2018 article in the Nature. “Instead, emotional contagion, digitally enabled, could erode trust in vaccines so much as to render them moot.” Social media, she added, “should be recognized as a global public-health threat.”

From showing bustling towns becoming ghost towns to the big powers planting viruses in countries, conspiracy manufacturers have been working overtime. The thrust of this theory is that the coronavirus is somehow owned by Bill Gates and was unleashed for nefarious purposes. One Twitter post, for instance, racked up 1,000 retweets by linking out to a strange website running a headline claiming the coronavirus was “a patented virus” and that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was “one of the primary owners.” The filmmakers and watchers are already comparing it to movies in the past and preparing scripts of drama, thriller and horror movies that will be in their opinion show blockbusters.

In all this frenzy of fear and fascination, the actual virus has become an object of desire for some and object of horror for most. The only problem with this objectification is that human lives and safety are being endangered more by the epidemic of panic than by the epidemic of coronavirus. Yet to give method to this madness and to raise a sane voice in this insanity we must at all costs inject sense, logic and calmness through more reality checks and bites. The need to understand the reality behind the fantasy is very important as unchecked and unverified information will lead to unchecked anxiety driven actions that may lead to more damage than benefit. Let us look at some myths that are circulating and the actual situation to develop health measure correction:

1. Coronavirus is a killer virus that is more dangerous than all viruses – This is definitely untrue. Many other viruses that have spread in the world have been more deadly than Coronavirus. SARS and MERS had a mortality rates of 9.5 percent and 34.5 percent respectively while Coronavirus just 3%. It is difficult to generalize on numbers alone. In the US, for example, influenza has a case fatality rate below one per 1,000, roughly 200,000 people end up hospitalized with the virus each year in the United States, and about 35,000 people die.

2. Coronavirus cure is not developed – True and false. Yes, it is a new type of virus and research is on going to explain its occurrence and treatment. However, it is a virus and thus its treatment like most other viral diseases is more about management than about cure. As for most viruses, the standard operating procedures of quarantine for 15 days to ensure limiting the spread of virus, mouth masks, temperature scans, hand washing are to be followed as treatment guidelines.

3. Governments must evacuate their citizens from China to get them in safer places – Again False as immediate evacuation can lead to undetected cases reaching their countries causing it to spread even more. The US government has already reported a lady coming back to US also infecting her family with the virus. Evacuation should only be done if the Chinese health authorities have declared it safe to exit.

Governments all over the world and Pakistan in particular are pressurized by media, students in China and their families back home to bring them back to the country. That is where caution is most required. A media awareness about the ultimate safety of the people must be run on all forums. China is the best place for early detection and treatment as they are the only ones who know more about this virus than many countries. In Pakistan, premature evacuation will face dual challenges: firstly, the detection and management facilities and secondly, the education to the families of restraint and quarantine. With such panic and emotional hype on social media the safety measures will be disregarded causing damage to the patients and contagion to other patients.

In times of crisis where the media and politicians are screaming for quick fix policies, the need for a measured and calm response is imperative. Daily public briefings, Public Service clarification/education Campaigns and social media videos are the best way to deal with the epidemic and the panic about the epidemic to contain, control and counter coronavirus.

(The writer can be reached at andleeb.abbas1@gmail.com)

ANDLEEB ABBAS, "Coronavirus outbreak," Business Recorder. 2020-02-10.
Keywords: Health sciences , Coronavirus , Panic blocks , Kidney failure , Human beings , Respiratory symptoms , Social media Fever , Cough , Influenza , China , SARS , MERS , 2020

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