Truth be told, it is not the first time that an epidemic wreaked worldwide havoc. In fact, far from it. Recent examples of such diseases include—but are certainly not limited to—the 2009 swine flu pandemic (more commonly known as the “novel flu” in Korea), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). But beyond doubt, it is the first time in a while that the human race is facing a complete shutdown thanks to one single virus. Naturally, we are bound to have some questions. Why this much panic? Is COVID-19 anything different from its predecessors? And, most of all, is it really the life-taking catastrophe that the media portrays it to be?
Much of the information has been drilled into our heads already. The virus first broke out in Wuhan, China, in a wet market. Within months, it has claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people across the globe. This is an unprecedented figure, especially when compared to other diseases. The 2009 flu had a death toll of 80,000. SARS, meanwhile, had a relatively meager total of 776. And how does the mortality rate compare? SARS has a whopping record of 15 percent. This makes it just about three times more deadlier than COVID-19, whose global mortality rate stands at around 5.5 percent. Lest you find yourself unduly relieved, here is yet another grim reminder: 5.5 percent is not a number to be trifled with, when scientists estimate that one in 4 carriers of coronavirus may not have any symptoms. Experts also warn that the novel coronavirus is highly contagious. When this fact is combined with asymptomatic—and therefore unwitting—spreaders, the results are doomed to be disastrous. Governments around the world, ours included, are eager to have everyone cooped up at home precisely because of this reason.
Unlike SARS or MERS, which more or less stayed within Asia, COVID-19 went further and hit Europe and the US particularly hard. While statistics show that old people and those with underlying diseases are the most susceptible, there have been reports of COVID-19 causing an immunological overreaction called cytokine storms. A cytokine storm refers to a highly fatal complication of immune systems and is known to impact even those who are young, which means that pretty much everyone is at risk. Celebrities, as it turns out, are no exception. Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, and Tom Hanks, the American actor, were just two of the people diagnosed with COVID-19. We’re afraid, and rightly so.
Another key difference is the proliferation of SNS (Social Networking Service). Just like back in 2009, a good many of us are terrified to death, while many others simply do not take enough care. But unlike in 2009, we have SNS to record and reflect our reactions to the coronavirus crisis. Within Facebook or Instagram, hashtags such as #StayAtHomeChallenge and #TogetherAtHome are encouraging people to stay indoors. Using the very same SNS, people take photos of themselves outdoors and complete them with a caption saying they “failed” to keep social distancing precautions. Of course, such behavior garnered much criticism online and offline alike. It was partly deserved, too, since COVID-19 is not a joke. Jokes do not usually have a body count, let alone 70,000 of it.
On the other hand, the World Economic Forum suggests that statistics—even scientific ones—can be deceptive. Lack of effective testing means that only those who are seriously ill get hospitalized. These people are far more likely to die than a usual patient. On top of that, many asymptomatic people will live on, blissfully unaware of the fact that they actually had a touch of coronavirus in the first place. What it shows is that we might be grossly overestimating the mortality rate for COVID-19. So there’s a reason when analysts say, whether we believe it or not, coronavirus probably will not be the end of humanity.
Looking back, we soon realize that we’re no stranger to this type of nationwide fear. Sure, back in 2009 or 2015, we didn’t hunt local pharmacies for masks. Social distancing campaigns did not exist, nor did its evangels. Notwithstanding everything, we still went to school, and to work. However, underneath all that, perhaps we’ve hardly changed. Like before, there is not a lot that can be done beyond gathering accurate information and making rational judgments. But in these testing times, it may prove to be the most effective solution within our reach.