It is the preoccupation of the entire world. It is our biggest worry, fear, and concern. I am talking about the Coronavirus. It has cast fear all over the world. Almost everywhere, people are showing signs of panic as the spread of Covid19 is racing beyond the epidemic stage and becoming a full-blown pandemic. Paranoia has begun in many places and it is manifesting in panic-buying, fear of crowds and even racial discrimination against Chinese since everyone knows that China is the origin of this deadly virus.
I do not know anyone who does not follow the stories and news reports daily about the development and spread of the virus. Many people have started to avoid crowds by shunning malls, concerts, movie houses, etc. People are washing their hands many times every day. People are wearing masks. Travel has slowed down considerably as more people just opt to be safe by staying at home.
I have been thinking about this. In many ways, this is THE virus of our particular era. In the age of globalization, it has spread and infected people on a global scale and is debilitating many nations. At this time where everything is almost communicated instantaneously, the speed of its transmission is faster than other viruses man has known. And those infected may not even show signs of symptoms; Covid19 has literally gone viral in every sense of the word.
For many years now, movies and media have exploited the themes of alien and zombie invasions. People have been consuming such themes as entertainment for a long times. Because of this, I am not surprised that their reaction to the pandemic is the way it is. In such movies, there is a sickness or a virus that is so horrible it transforms infected people into zombies or some deadly, ugly creature. Transmission is via contact with another zombie. In these stories, nobody really knows who the zombies or the monsters are since the infected look like normal, ordinary people until the infection becomes full-blown. And then they become ugly and terrorizing.
People seem to be looking at Covid19 much like a zombie infestation. It can drive people into great fear because the virus-stricken person can appear totally asymptomatic. To a nervous, fearful public, everyone in the world is suspect.
At this stage, there is still a lot we do not know about Covid19. But one sure thing is, it strikes fear in the hearts of a great number of people and causes them to be in a state of panic. Panic itself has also become a pandemic.
As I write this, it is good to know that as of RIGHT NOW, the chances of getting the virus are still lower than someone winning the lotto, except if you live in China. The other thing to know is, the survival rate so far is pretty big except for older and sickly people. Many can take temporary comfort in this until we know more about the virus and where it’s spreading.
This is certainly not merely a health issue. Covid19’s economic impact is already being felt in practically all economies all over the world. Factory closures, megacities are on lockdown; the closing down of many offices and services, travel restrictions, etc. are negatively affecting markets, companies, and trade all over. Financially, socially, psychologically and, of course, health-wise, many will suffer everywhere.
But as in every situation, there is also the bright side.
On the other hand, the closure of millions of manufacturing factories, businesses in China since the end of January has cleaned the air in many places and many cities in China. Where there used to be heavy pollution hanging in the air, the air quality has greatly improved in Beijing and many other locations. People say the haze is gone. Oil imports all over the world have slowed down considerably. Polluted rivers are showing signs of some recovery. This sudden major interruption in manufacturing and economic activity has been beneficial to the environment.
I confess I have asked myself if this virus is nature’s way of reminding us to take pause and see what we have been doing to the earth. Is nature striking back? Is she “correcting” or healing the world by releasing such a virus? I am sure I am not the only person who has asked these questions. And I really do not know the answer.
But I do know that endless march to ever-greater material progress, the obsession with an ever-growing economy, the creation and pursuit of more and more wealth has not been good for the planet. Unbridled greed and capitalism are killing it.
The past 100 years have turned people into consumers enslaved by the thought that the newest, the latest, the upgrade, the “improved,” the next generation of products, the quest for more, more, more are what we must strive for. This has defined for many what the pursuit of happiness is all about. This insatiable thirst for material pleasures has caused so much garbage, pollution, and destruction of the environment. It has also caused so much alienation, meaninglessness, and depression among many people.
And now comes Covid19, which has disrupted the chain that runs the whole mean machine of greed. It is doing severe damage to the manufacturing center of the world. It is putting great pressure on its social balance and threatens its authoritarian grip on its people. And I am not just talking about China. The impact of all this seems cataclysmic and biblical in proportions. I am not a religious man but the recent massive flooding, fires, volcanic threats and now the onslaught of viruses bring to mind the plagues of the Old Testament.
It will be quite long before things get back to normal if they ever do. The worst-case scenarios keep changing almost weekly as scientists continue to learn more about Covid19. One thing sure is, we humans are NOT in control of the situation right now. I do hope we can get a grip on it. But even if we do eventually, the human cost is already great right now.
And since the virus is a direct threat to human life, it is perhaps appropriate to reflect on the spiritual dimension of our experience of it. An Australian psychologist has pointed out the reason why people have engaged in panic buying. It is because we want to control the situation by throwing money at it. I am sorry to say that a complete stock of toilet paper, canned goods and other groceries, etc. will not save you. Depriving other people of basic needs just so you can survive is NOT the answer.
Maybe writer Joseph Campbell was right when he said that the first rule in life is not the survival of the fittest. The first rule is that we are one! As one humanity, we must solve this. If we think along these lines, maybe more of us will survive this plague.