For weeks, the coronavirus was just a topic in the news. It was rampant far away in another part of the world. It did not affect one. In the last few days, that has changed.
Now some may involuntarily take a step back when someone coughs at the bus stop. Every normal wave of influenza affects more people, it has been said for a long time. This was a way to calm down. But now it is heard that there are supply bottlenecks for breathing masks. You want to buy disinfectant gel and you are told that it will not come in for three more days. The twelve-year-old son comes home and says: "someone told us that we will soon no longer have to go to school." supermarkets report hamster purchases.
Worshipers should no longer shake hands on the peace grave. Trade fairs and tournaments are being cancelled, and there are questions about whether the olympics can be held in tokyo. In china, more than 50 million people are under quarantine, more than ever before in history.
Christian drosten, virologist and institute director at berlin’s charite, defends himself on "maybrit illner" against "excited debates," but also emphasizes: "we are not talking about a normal seasonal flu, this comparison is lame, but about a pandemic event." it had happened for the last time in 1957 and 1968. "Practically no one can seriously remember." when asked, he clarifies: "it’s going to be bad."That makes you swallow as a spectator. "Bad." and this from a renowned scientist.
In the case of the coronavirus, several factors come together to strengthen the sense of threat. At first, risks that were not observable – such as radioactive radiation or viruses – were generally perceived as more threatening, says ralph hertwig, director of the max planck institute for educational research in berlin and a specialist in the psychology of risk. "Moreover, newer risks trigger a stronger reaction than those to which people have already become accustomed." another factor is the uncertainty: it is still unclear how many people will ultimately be affected by the virus. "In addition, there is the feeling that the risk cannot be properly controlled: for the time being, there is no vaccine available."
All this has the potential to cause fear. People who are afraid tend to stop behaving rationally. He thinks first and foremost of himself and his immediate family. In the extreme case the mother runs unannounced with her snuffy child into the doctor’s office, because she fears that it could have the new coronavirus – not considering that she was endangered in this case many others with her behavior. People are perceived first and foremost as potential carriers of disease – and not as someone who could theoretically also be infected themselves.
But it’s not just the way people interact with each other that can change. Epidemics could worsen relations between states, says maike voss, who is responsible for global health at the foundation for science and politics. "The member states of the world health organization have agreed on how to deal with each other in such a case, and that is legally binding," she says. "You can compare it to a reporting system: when a country has an outbreak, it reports it to the WHO so that the other countries can prepare themselves. But then it is not punished by the others, for example by being isolated."
Against it, however, had already died. "Russia has completely closed its borders with china, and that’s not really allowed under international law." also the USA had introduced trade and travel restrictions. "This will stay in people’s minds even after the pandemic is over," voss believes. But there is also a positive counterexample: "in the EU, we are currently seeing a real unity of forces. There is a very strong narrative that unites the member states: a pathogen that threatens everyone and that they want to contain together."
How did people react to epidemics in the past?? The worst plague of the 20. Century was the spanish flu. At the same time, 25 to 40 million deaths were assumed, says epidemic historian manfred vasold. "In germany alone we had 250.000 to 300.000 flu deaths."So it was incomparably worse than it is today.
Panic broke out at that time? Not at all. Many diarists did not mention the flu even once. Restaurants and cinemas remain open. There was hardly anything about it in the newspapers – because it was 1918, the final phase of the first world war. The governments forbade the press to inform about the flu, on the grounds that it would weaken the morale of the population. The only country to report in detail was neutral spain. This gave the impression abroad that this country was much more affected. Hence the name: spanish flu.
People in those days accepted epidemics with equanimity, says vasold. Life was generally much less safe than it is today. "When someone came back from a trip, he first asked: did someone from the house die?? Who died from the neighborhood?"Today’s excitement about the coronavirus would not be understood by a person from 1918.
Risk perception researcher hertwig from the max planck institute advocates not exaggerating the risk posed by the coronavirus. He also has a tip on how to keep a cool head. He finds the following significant: a few days ago, it was reported that 3059 people died in traffic accidents in germany last year. This news was coupled with the positive message that the number of deaths was the lowest since the beginning of the statistics. "There is some framing going on here," explains hertwig. ""It’s going down, people, relax!" and still more than 3000 people died."Hertwig thinks: it can help and counteract the feeling of panic to put a risk back into perspective in this way.