87 years later, the spirit of the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt is still alive and kicking! Not only when the European Commission coins the term Green Deal – a transparent echo of the New Deal program launched in 1933, but also when we are forced to admit that “the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself”.
Fear of a coronavirus pandemic
We fear the coronavirus – and this is what we can all understand. The World Health Organization (WMO) says the threat of a coronavirus pandemic “has become very real” as global cases surpass 110,000. Against all criticism, WMO has so far resisted describing the crisis as such, saying the word “pandemic” might spook the world further and lead some countries to lose hope of containing the virus. “Unless we’re convinced it’s uncontrollable, why [would]we call it a pandemic?” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week.
Some people say that threshold has long been met: the virus that was first identified in China was identified by now in 115 countries, the disease has managed to gain a foothold in Europe and multiply quickly even in countries with relatively strong public health systems. On March 6, the virus hit a new milestone, having infected more than 100,000 people worldwide, far more than those sickened by SARS (8,089, of these 774 died) MERS or Ebola in recent years.
However, 70% of the cases are in central China, mostly in the Hubei province (58 million inhabitants). 74,4% of them are already recovered, and the numbers of new cases has steeply decreased since Feb 18, and steadily since Feb 29 at less than 30 today.
The numbers in Italy are worrisome as the new cases of infections rise steadily from 17 on Feb 21, to 573 on March 1st and 1,797 on March 9th. Similar trends seems to emerge from Germany, Spain and France – however, the numbers in these countries are much lower. In the US, the same chart, but no more than 708 cases identified at present.
In Romania, 17 infection cases were identified until now.
Fear of a coronavirus infodemic
The same Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared in February already: “we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.” The WHO defines an infodemic as a situation where there is “an over-abundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
In an infodemic, the engine of panic is social media. Around 2 million tweets containing conspiracy theories about the coronavirus were published over a three-week period in January and February, according to a report in the Washington Post.
The traditional media in not immune to such infodemic lure. Economic forces push the newspapers, the TV and radio stations alike to the shortest, largest and most colorful punch-line title, even though some reasonable opinions are also published, and some contextualization is provided – most of the times outside the audience’s attention span.
The politicians are also among the great drivers of coronavirus infodemic; it is useful to care about the voters health, and who can say precisely when too much precaution is too much? Some experts are also among the fear-spreaders; when forecasting millions or billions of infection cases and then projecting the number of casualties based on last month’s data, as if nothing else would change (people behavior, public health measures, treatment schemes etc.) or when calculating the impact of a global recession or when…
Balance precaution with reason
Most probably, the next 2-3 weeks will clarify if Europe can manage the containment of coronavirus. Italy (over 9,000 cases) placed its entire national territory under quarantine, only two days after it locked down much of the country’s north. UK (over 300 cases) prepares to ask even mildly sick to stay home, and Israel (50 cases) introduced a 14-day quarantine on anyone who arrives from abroad. Romania (17 cases) banned all public gatherings of more than 1,000 people, closed the schools for two weeks, cancelled all flights to and from Italy, and imposed a strict surveillance, checking and registration system at borders.
We should already confront the possibility of moving from containment to mitigation measures, while keeping our economies running and society functioning. However, we are not there yet! We should not let fear de-structure our lives more than it is necessary for protecting us from greater threats.
This is not a pledge for not being afraid! It would be worthless and inconsiderate in respect to emotions we all feel these days. However, this is a call for a responsible, alert and courageous approach when dealing with what we fear. Our focus must be the same as always – creating value for our families, the organizations and the societies we are part of; and just like always, we should do this eyes wide open while confronting risks and challenges.