Coronavirus is certain to become the biggest story of this year - and indeed the first big one of the new decade. The fear of the population is palpable, all the while concerns over its effects have led many to stockpile and become angry at the government about failing to act sooner.
Film releases have been postponed, sports leagues cancelled and even elections have been pushed back. It has garnered endless media coverage and caused mass panic. From all this, you could assume that society had broken down and that the end times are near.
Yet, you wouldn’t know all of that if you’d spent any time outside of the media hysteria. In my local area of Bishops Stortford, people continue to live as normal, businesses still operate and nothing much has changed.
It’s quite standard, and you wouldn’t have guessed that a pandemic is on the loose. Even on entering London, not much seems different. A few more face masks than usual perhaps, but nothing out of the ordinary.
That being said, is the coronavirus something to be concerned about? Of course. Is the mass hysteria justified, however? No.
While it has spread quite rapidly, the fact is that most of the people who catch don’t die from it (the mortality rate is currently just under 4%), and nearly 45% have recovered so far.
The knowledge that most cases, in general, are mild and non-fatal should give us a sigh of relief, not a cause for concern. This isn’t trying to claim it’s just ‘flu’ (as some do), but rather point out the absurdity of the mass panic about a virus which is less likely to kill you in Britain than normal activities such as driving and taking the train.
What should be far more concerning is how quick we are to panic and what we’re willing to tolerate from the state in order to combat the supposed threat, even when civil liberties are at risk.
Take for example the panic buying. One can simply be aghast at the way people who don’t want to catch the virus are in such an irrational state that they buy heavy quantities of ineffective material (like toilet roll, which is rather pointless, given that the virus doesn’t affect bowel activity) or not allow others to access basic and important goods like hand sanitiser.
There are even scenes of other countries such as Australia where people are fighting for these goods as if it was Black Friday. If we are meant to be fighting this pandemic together, how is that possible if we’re fighting for basic necessities as if we were living in a Hobbesian war of all against all?
It seems counterproductive, and to make matters worse, it demonstrates the selfish hedonism of a post-Christian Anglosphere where it’s all about oneself and not caring or aiding your fellow person.
What’s more troubling is the very real threat to our basic freedoms. Pushing back film releases is suspect enough (possibly to try and get reshoots in for big projects), but at least it’s done on behalf of private movie studios.
This is very different from the elections being put back by the British state, which seems rather alarming, given the dire implications of how such measures could be used in the future. Suggestions for closing all pubs in the country and banning mass gatherings make this even more relevant.
To make matters worse, people are demanding even more dramatic action, like closing schools and forcing people to self-isolate, with no evidence as to whether this would work or not. There are even renewed claims to reintroduce the authoritarian notion of identity cards. Is society so passive now that it can’t be bothered to defend basic freedoms without even a whisper of resistance?
What it indicates overall is how society has become so dominated by mass hysteria that it chooses heart over head, leading to mass panic and scaremongering over rational discourse and logic. This isn’t the first time this has happened in recent times.
Columnist Peter Hitchens in his classic work The Abolition Of Britain noted that Britain ‘was far more easily manipulated by emotion, and had forgotten it's instinctive self-reliance and suspicion of authority’ following the lack of criticism among the public towards the government's actions over the 1996 Dunblane massacre and the banning of British beef that same year.
The numerous terrorist attacks in the 2000s led to the biggest peacetime erosion of basic freedoms under the guise of combating the threat. It’s understandable as it calms the public - who are scared and anxious.
That being noted, shouldn’t we perhaps be more concerned about when such events are taken advantage of to do so? Filmmaker Peter Davies, when discussing his documentary Hearts And Minds touched on how America suffered ‘amnesia’ post 9/11 after being sceptical of war after Vietnam. The sentiment is similar here.
All this shows is how society is more easily manipulated by emotion and fear than at any other point in history. That, not the deaths and those infected, shall be the true legacy of the coronavirus pandemic.