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The epidemic of fear can be worse than the virus


naction, irresponsibility or lack of credibility are loaded words used to describe reactions to the coronavirus initial stage and beyond. Consumer spending is falling — now, people have more pressing health concerns. Stock markets continue spiralling down despite governmental institutions around the world taking steps to shore up economic recession. The steep decline of oil price — because of power struggle — comes in a bad time.

Not only the economy is a victim of the virus: religious rituals, people’s emotional distress; the death toll; isolation and worst not knowing what will be the consequences. Coronavirus pushed the world into a humanitarian, economic and social cost disaster.

Little attention is given to the psychological factors that contribute to the spread of the infection and its association with emotional distress, including social disruption.

The epidemic of fear, interpretations and actions can cause severe consequences, especially, when the disease is new or developing in different ways. Feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty are almost normal during a pandemic.

Public health is a scary, personal and deeply emotional issue susceptible to disinformation campaigns. A thoughtless cover-up information can be harmful — making it harder for people to separate fact from fiction. It is either someone broadcasting that garlic soup helps or those who take advantages of the disinformation to push their ideologies: religious, racist movements, discrimination and ageism.

Are our reactions to the virus worse than the virus itself? Hard to say. I never thought this day would happen when the Pope would livestream prayers — not because he is Internet-savvy but because of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. The decision broke with centuries of tradition.

Cruise liner ships has shown to be an eye-opener for public health concerns. The people on board are on voyage for pleasure and typically calling in at

several places.

Passengers had to stay in their rooms, wear masks and only walk on the deck for a couple of minutes each day. They had their meals delivered to their rooms; people become anxious about their health. Floating aimlessly for days or even weeks can create long-lasting mental and emotional disturbances.

We shouldn’t panic. It is a situation we have no control. Nevertheless, we can ask! How reliable are the tests? How many people can be tested on a single day? Who get medical care? Who are left out? Is there age group, nationality or race favouritism? What factors shape the selection? What are the effective responses to the situation? The questions toss us back to centuries ago when many epidemics took millions of lives worldwide. Books on The Back Death and The Psychology of

Pandemics are trending.

More, crushing shortage of medical supplies in normal times can be regretful during crisis. For how long are medical supply chain available? Has the country adequately fund to be the front line defending the population (everybody) from such health threats? Fortunately, being proactive about one’s mental health can help to keep both the mind and body stronger. For example, we can avoid the herd mentality — we shouldn’t jump on a bandwagon just because other people are wearing masks or performing specific cleaning rituals — unless recommended by the health authorities.

Are there lessons on public health to be learned from this crisis? For one, about medical supply chains. Reliance on a just few sources might prove risky. Manufacturers of medicines and medical suppliers can technically shut down healthcare systems. Public health and prevention are still the best formula to keep the population safe. Open and credible communication, better hospital and health clinics management, better port-of-entry scrutiny, thorough inspection of eating places (including fancy places), better health and hygiene education are just a few points to take into consideration; none of these come cheaply but a bargain when faced with health crisis.

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