Are you kidding me?
You know that stupid ‘Hold My Beer’ meme? Well, so far 2020 has been custom made for it. Brexit, a growing shit storm of a United States election, military flare-ups, even a damn locust swarm. We’re not a quarter of the way into the first year of a new decade and every conceivable nightmare scenario has been turned up to eleven. So, of course, we now have a global pandemic to worry about, too.
Hailed by Chinese President Xi Jinping as the ‘largest public health emergency since the founding of Communist China,’ coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has killed 2,442 people and infected 76,936 in his country alone since its discovery in December.
Not content with billions of possible victims in mainland China, COVID-19 soon spread, with isolated cases trickling in from not just China’s neighbours, but also far-flung places like the European Union, United States, Mexico, and Iran. Just days after the new year, international panic ensued as new cases across the world popped up. Surgical masks started selling out and became a common sight in airports. On January 30, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health emergency.
Turns out it’s hard to contain a virus in a world constantly in motion, and February saw a rapid escalation.
On February 5, the cruise ship Diamond Princess was quarantined off Japan (passenger infection rates have steadily risen, and there have been three deaths so far). Then, on February 7 and in a case of horrific irony, Li Wenliang, the Chinese whistleblowing doctor who first alerted the world to COVID-19—only to be accused of being rumourmongering by Chinese officials—died from the disease. Countries have begun closing borders and officials are cancelling high profile events: Facebook’s Global Marketing Conference, Milan Fashion Week, Venice’s Carnival, major sporting matches, and even Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile phone event. And yet the disease still spreads. This past weekend, cases in Italy spiked from three on Friday to more than 219 at the time of writing, making it the worst outbreak outside Asia and leading to military intervention and strict lockdowns in affected areas.
‘A number of spot fires, occurring around the world is a sign things are ticking along, and what we are going to have here is probably a pandemic,’ Ian Mackay, a virus expert at the University of Queensland, told the Associated Press.
WHO experts worry the time to stop COVID-19’s spread at the source (China) is quickly passing. Virus clusters keep popping up in seemingly random parts of the world, places like small towns in Iran and South Korea with no known patient zero or outside point of contact.
The problem is, a new patient zero could be anyone.
With initial symptoms being so mild, and it already being cold and flu season in much of the world, many who are infected may not even be aware of their vector status. The WHO worries things will get worse—potentially much worse—before they get better. These concerns have lead financial experts such as the International Monetary Fund to begin scaling back predictions for global economic growth, a move echoed by Apple’s lowering sales projections based on hobbled factory output and lessened consumer demand in China.
As with any headline-grabbing event, the bowels of the Internet are rife with alarmist-driven misinformation. Claims that the virus was lab-made by Chinese biological warfare scientists have been rife, especially via news sites known to spread right-wing and Russian propaganda, yet have been shown to have no known basis in fact. Other ‘outlets‘ are grossly inflating infection and death numbers to suit their nationalist agendas.
So what the hell is COVID-19? AM I GOING TO DIE?!
No. Probably not. Well, okay. Yes, definitely. But likely not from this virus. A coronavirus is defined as ‘any of various RNA-containing spherical viruses of the family Coronaviridae, including several that cause acute respiratory illnesses.’ So, think of COVID-19 as a bad cold or flu, which can manifest in any number of ways depending on your immune system. The Center for Disease Control defines symptoms of COVID-19 as ‘fever, cough, and shortness of breath.’ You can also look for a runny nose, headache, and sore throat. Pretty simple, eh?
It’s worth noting that the majority of deaths from this particular virus have so far involved the elderly or people already prone to poor health. This means that your best bet for avoiding COVID-19 is the same as any cold: wash your hands a lot, use hand sanitizer, don’t touch your face all the time, and stay the hell away from other sick people. Which dovetails nicely into: if you are sick, stay at home. If you have symptoms and are worried you’ve been exposed to COVID, wear a facemask, isolate yourself from people and pets (there’s no evidence COVID spreads to pets as yet, but it’s still early and a developing situation), and call your doctor to let them know.
To be clear: YOU DEFINITELY SHOULDN’T PANIC. At least not about COVID-19. Yet.