Wherever you are in the world, the news over the last few weeks has almost certainly been dominated by one story – the ongoing efforts to stop – or at least contain – the spread of Covid-19, a disease better known by the rather misleading name coronavirus. In fact, coronoviruses are a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases like SARS. Covid-19 got its name becuase it was identified last year, so its ID was discovered in 2019.
As the disease continues to spread around the world, the news is full of stories about the number of people who have now been infected with the disease and the rising death toll. As I write, more than 3000 people have already died after contracting the disease, a figure which is expected to keep on rising. Despite the fact that they’re closing schools and universities in some countries, cancelling big conferences elsewhere and even restricting free movement, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a mass outbreak is still highly likely.
In effect, what this will mean is that the disease becomes a pandemic. In other words, it will spread in mutiple countries and continents at the same time. It will become a disease that exists around the world, like AIDS or cholera or malaria. Much of what’s driving the current mass hysteria is a fear of the unknown. The worst pandemics of the past killed tens of millions of people, and so far, no-one really knows quite what effect a global outbreak of Covid-19 will have. However, it’s probably not going to be as bad as the worst-case scenario predictions are suggesting. So far, fewer than 2% of those who’ve tested positive for the disease have died, but if you’re aged 70 or over, you’re obviously more at risk.
One major worry is how well the NHS – the National Health System – will be able to cope. Since the financial crisis of 2008, it’s been cut to the bone and even though they’re now taking steps to make sure they’re ready for the disease, it’s still one area of concern. Another fear is that people employed in the gig economy – people who have temporary contracts or who are doing separate pieces of work, each paid separately, rather than working for one employer – won’t be able to afford to take time off if and when they get sick. They don’t get sick pay as they’re not properly employed, and so may carry on working even if they have some of the symptoms of the disease – a bad cough, a temperature and trouble breathing.
In many parts of the world, shops are running out of the essentials like toilet paper, soap . . . and face masks! People have been stockpiling things – buying large amounts of things they think they might need. This allows them to self-isolate – to stay inside for a long period of time, away from other people who may be carrying the disease. Of course, when there are shortages, a black market usually develops and you can buy things you want – at a price!
Perhaps inevitably, some people are reacting to the current situation in a very superstitious way, believing in the power of luck or magic or God to ward off the disease. And, of course, some people are responding to the never-ending news stories about the disease in a more cynical way. They think the newspapers are simply fearmongering – spreading fear and panic to attract more readers – and they complain about people panic-buying things in the supermarkets.
Unsurprisingly, there are already lots of different conspiracy theories about the disease. In fact, these ideas seem to be spreading faster than the disease itself! For example, some people believe the whole thing is just a way for the government to keep people scared and easy to control, while others think it’s a way for rich business people to inflate prices and make more money!
One thing’s for sure: there’s going to be a lot more news about Covid-19 in the coming days and weeks as governments step up their efforts to combat the disease, and start introducing emergency measures like the Italian government did this week, when they announced that all Serie A football matches will now be played behind closed doors!
Stay safe out there.
And don’t forget to wash your hands.
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Work in groups. Discuss these questions.
- How worried about Covid-19 are you? Why?
- How well prepared do you think your town / city / country is for a mass outbreak?
- What else could be done?
- What lessons do you think we can learn from this whole situation?
- Have you heard of any superstitious ways of responding to the disease?
- Have you heard any conspiracy theories about the disease?
- Do you think the story is being well reported or do you think there’s some fearmongering going on?