The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic on March 11th, 2020. A pandemic is a disease epidemic that has spread across multiple countries or worldwide. According to the Director General of WHO, it is not a word they use lightly. With more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4291 lives lost as of March 11th, this is the first pandemic caused by a Coronavirus. WHO states that more than 90% of these cases are just in four countries and many countries have reported 10 or fewer cases.
With the Coronavirus being the most widely covered news globally, it can easily spark fear and panic among the public. When people panic it is easy to succumb to misinformation. While a pandemic is cause for concern, it does not time to become hysterical.
It is especially necessary, in times like these, to ensure that the information we are consuming and disseminating is correct and credible. The first thing to do once we receive information regarding the pandemic is to confirm that it came from a credible source. Credible sources on the COVID-19 for Pakistanis include the World Health Organization (WHO), and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and its provincial branches in Pakistan.
Global healthcare emergencies often create mass hysteria resulting in the formation of doomsday scenarios. The Ebola epidemic in 2014 had masses reacting similarly with citizens in the US buying canned foods and toilet paper in bulk and fearing for their lives and the Zika Epidemic in 2016 is another example of mass hysteria as a result of a healthcare crisis. The public reaction to each of these was disproportionate to the actual threat and while the COVID-19 pandemic is a bigger threat, there is still no need to react in panic.
It should also be noted that most news outlets are reporting only diagnosed cases and resulting deaths, while in truth a vast majority of those diagnosed with the virus have also recovered. According to statistics updated on March 9th by WHO, around 57% of the confirmed cases have already recovered, while only 3.5% have resulted in deaths.
Alana Shaikh, a Global Health Expert, says that only around 20% of confirmed COVID-19 cases need hospitalization, while 80% of those diagnosed can be treated at home by self quarantining to prevent spreading. She also says that contrary to what most believe, wearing masks does not help prevent the virus and that we should only wear masks if we have a cough or flu or other symptoms. Otherwise, she advises that the masks be left to be used by medical professionals who are actually coming in contact with patients of COVID-19.
Knowing the facts, it is important to take all the necessary precautions but to refrain from panic. The media plays a vital role here to refrain from sensationalising coverage of the pandemic and to provide information from credible sources. Their role is to help prevent mass hysteria while conveying all necessary news. They can also play the role of conveying all the precautions people need to take to protect themselves.
The government must also ensure that they are being transparent about disseminating information to citizens in terms of the confirmed cases, locations of these cases as well as the measures being taken to control contagion. They must also ensure that healthcare facilities are prepared to diagnose and handle all cases as they are confirmed. Healthcare must be accessible to all citizens regardless of socio-economic status or location.
As a society, we must also play our part. We must abstain from sharing false information. We should also make sure that any information we receive is correct and verifiable from credible sources. We need to refrain from panicking and spreading fear. In addition, we also need to ensure that we take all the necessary precautions. If we suffer from any symptoms, we should self-quarantine to protect those around us from getting infected.
The Government and NDMA have both released detailed statements about the measures being taken to delay and lessen the inevitable impact of the novel coronavirus. They have also released information as to what measures citizens need to take to prevent contagion.
These can be summed up in two words; social distancing. Refrain from going into crowded spaces. All educational institutions and some government institutions have also been closed. A limited number of COVID-19 test kits are available free of cost at select government hospitals all over the country and criteria are in place to use them efficiently. It is now upon us to take precautions to protect ourselves and those around us.
Right now, it is important to strike the right balance between taking the pandemic seriously and controlling social fear. Panicking and fear mongering will do no one any good. It will only serve to redirect efforts that authorities are making to prevent or delay infection to managing fear and hysteria amongst the public. It is our responsibility to stay informed and stay safe.