What are the worst risks?20th Mar 2020
Okay, it’s official. COVID-19 is a pandemic – and it’s caused a national and international emergency. This is serious, and – yes – there is a risk of contracting the disease, and even of dying from it. But is this really the biggest risk? As with many things, it is easier to see the problems ‘out there’ and ignore the ones in our heads. So, while I’m not for one moment denying the seriousness of COVID-19, let’s look at the real risks.
Knowledge is power but, in the age of fake news, we need to be selective about what we believe. If a new piece of advice sounds wacky, it probably is. In the USA, a number of ‘experts’ have recommended gargling with bleach to prevent (or possibly cure) COVID-19. Hmm – Jik is great for disinfecting toilets, demoulding grout and, of course, keeping white linen bright and pretty, but it’s not a good idea to gargle with it. Although, as John Oliver said on Last Week Tonight, gargling with bleach will prevent infection, because dead people don’t get flu of any kind.
And, here’s another – garlic, that old standby that has protected us from vampires, werewolves and the plague with equal (but not significant) success, has been touted as an effective prophylactic. Eating garlic will not prevent infection, but it’s good for you and tasty, so eat it anyway. And, here’s an interesting aside, cooking with garlic may be a very effective preventive measure – whether you eat the resulting meal or not. Seriously, consider rubbing fresh raw garlic (or onion) on your hands straight after washing them. It won’t fight off the virus, but it will make you aware every time you try to touch your face. Studies have shown that people touch their faces about 16 times an hour without being aware of it. So, while it won’t protect you from viruses or vampires, it may stop you self-infecting.
That cynical old piece of investment advice, ‘when there’s blood on the streets, buy land’, indicates a terrible truism. Whenever things get bad, there will be someone, somewhere, who can make it worse by cashing in on it. From the people who’ve been hoarding masks and hand sanitiser and trying to resell them online for exorbitant prices, to the clever local scam-o-preneurs who go house to house claiming to represent the Department of Health, Netcare and/or Medicross, offering free COVID-19 testing. Don’t let these people into your house.
It’s hard to believe this even needs to be said, but – unfortunately – it does. You cannot contract COVID-19 from people of Chinese descent, or even people who just ‘look’ Chinese, or – in fact – from any foreigners. The reason we close borders in the case of a pandemic is not because ‘they’ bring disease into ‘our’ country. We close borders because it is the movement of people, not the people themselves, that constitutes a threat. So foreigners, whether Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Zimbabwean or Somalian, pose no more risk to you than your next-door neighbour who has the same complexion, eye shape and accent that you do.
It is advisable to interact with as few people as possible, as briefly as possible, and as remotely as possible. But, excepting people who actually have been exposed to the virus, all people pose the same threat, regardless of race, religion, gender and socio-economic status.
Okay, be honest, how much toilet paper do you have stockpiled? Baked beans? Jik (for disinfecting surfaces, not gargling)? Oh – and, of course, hand sanitiser? Panic, and particularly panic buying, has a particular type of energy – ask any reputable financial adviser. If enough people believe there may be a shortage of something, e.g. toilet paper, and they rush out and buy a year’s supply – ta-daa! There will be a shortage of toilet paper, and they can pat themselves on the back, knowing they were right all along. Friends from Europe have told me they’ve seen people stealing hand sanitiser and other ‘essential’ supplies from supermarket trolleys while the shoppers turn their backs for a second. This kind of thing could turn into fisticuffs in the aisles.
However, just because unnecessary panic and overreacting can exacerbate the situation, that doesn’t mean you should be totally laissez-faire about the pandemic. The possibility exists that this may become a truly immense disaster, but we won’t prevent that by being stupid and selfish. The best we can do is be calm and sensible. You’ve heard it all before – hand washing, social distance, stay away from crowds, etc. And, yes, get some sleep, go for nice long walks in the fresh air with your family, cuddle up to your pets, who will keep you happy (and do not transmit the virus), and read some good books.