May 19, 2024
A Cure Worse Than the Disease?
The threat at this stage looks overblown and that this is not surprising given the propensity of the media to cry wolf over everything.
The threat at this stage looks overblown and that this is not surprising given the propensity of the media to cry wolf over everything.

American writer H L Menken provided a perspective on scares in 1918. “Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

Nothing has changed in the past 100 years. Right now, the “Let’s call it Trumpvirus”, as columnist Gail Collins put it in the  New York Times, is sweeping the world. Hatched, no doubt, in Mar-a-Lago and the Kremlin by Trump and Putin in a collusive effort to kill off Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Old folks with underlying medical conditions are particularly susceptible, we’re told, and heart-attack Bernie and demented Joe are obvious targets.

Or, just maybe, it happened by accident in a Chinese wet market selling all manner of unpalatable and unsavoury animals to be butchered on the spot. Ugh! Another theory of course is that it escaped from some Chinese biological warfare lab. Yes, that’s feasible, bugger a variety of deadly poxes, nothing like giving healthy adults a mild case of a flu-like virus to kill them off.

I do find some respite in the wall-to wall coverage of the latest coronavirus (Covid-19). Climate change, bushfires, floods and droughts are off the front page. It is as though we have switched into an alternate universe where all our troubles have been boiled down to the latest in a long line of threatening morbidities. Each abruptly disappears leaving a temporary vacuum in the space marked “the next unnamed pandemic.”

There might well, in the future, be a really deadly pandemic. Bad things can happen. But somehow, I don’t think that Covid-19 lives up to that billing. Who knows, but it will likely be contained, as have other threatening new viruses in recent decades — SARS, for example, another coronavirus which emerged also from China in 2002, and a new strain of swine flu, which was declared a pandemic in 2009. And who still remembers bird flu in 1997? As Trump suggests, we should keep our cool even if parts of the media invest in panic. Remember, the degree of panic has little to do, necessarily, with the severity of the threat. People might be trampled in rushing out of a cinema on hearing the fire alarm. Yet the fire might turn out to be of little threat.

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