Coronavirus and the more recently used COVID-19 are probably one of the most spoken and typed words in the world right now, and as a result, I’m sure almost everyone will know the facts.
In brief, it’s a virus with respiratory symptoms, originating in Wuhan, China and spreading out across the world. Vulnerable people are at risk and countries are behaving in a way that many people in my generation haven’t seen before.
For a simple, reliable source on corona facts, have a look at this CDC information sheet!
Countries are implementing travel sanctions to affected countries, group gatherings are being cancelled, quarantine and self-isolation are recommended and some countries, namely Italy and Spain have gone into total lockdown, with others well on their way. The UK is one of those countries.
The main risk is for those already vulnerable- the elderly and people living with weakened immune systems. One group that isn’t a large concern is my group. Early 20’s, generally healthy people aren’t really under a serious health risk.
If not the virus then, what is our biggest threat?
First of all, young people are being affected by the measures being put into place to protect people who are most vulnerable right now.
Young people are included, if not the feature, of nations’ advisories against non-essential travel and big group meetings, as well as the need to self isolate if you expect yourself to have symptoms.
This isn’t exactly a risk, more of an impact and really it goes for most people. But if you’ve seen the videos/ watched the news you’ll find some groups of young people are more bothered about this than others.
From the people that I’ve spoken to, mainly in the early-mid twenties range, there are a few different views about the situation and all of them have worth.
Some think that the measures are overreactive, friends who have made travel plans are sticking to them against work’s advice. I’ve heard people say things like ‘I’m not going to get it’, ‘I’m at no risk if I get it’ and ‘everybody’s going to get it anyway’.
Then there are some people who don’t care too much. For them, it’s business as usual with a few hiccups and a longer wait at Tescos.
You’ve got the ‘working from home is basically time off so I’m happy’ people and the ‘am I going to get paid if this company closes’ people. Then there’s the view that I share, which is kind of in the middle. While I’m not at great risk, I don’t want to be responsible for putting other people at risk.
I cancelled my travel plans with Stephen, before he flew back home, after being advised by my supervisors. I wasn’t told that I couldn’t go, but that they didn’t want me to. I received a pretty startling email from one of my supervisors, clearly listing the risks if I chose to go.
I was frustrated at first.
There were no cases in Amami, the islands I planned to visit, and I knew that I wouldn’t get the virus. Then after a while, I saw the email as a sign that my supervisor was scared. Everyone is. I live in a small rural town with an ageing population in Japan and I work in a classroom surrounded by children (usually).
I knew that if I went and by some weird chance caught the virus, I would feel so guilty. This isn’t a preach about my martyrdom. It’s a gateway into what I see as one of the biggest effects (and threats) of the coronavirus on young people.
It isn’t just in Japan and it isn’t just young people, people are feeling scared everywhere.
On one side you’ve got the fear of spreading the virus, of being ‘responsible’ for someone vulnerable getting sick. We’re worried about killing our grandparents.
Then on the flip side, we’re scared of missing opportunities. I know myself, with only a few months left in Japan, I wanted to spend as much time travelling as possible. The restriction to travel is just one missed opportunity, other people have missed anniversaries, exams, proms and countless other important events.
Another fear is fear. Just the plain emotion of being scared.
Almost every article shared online and on social media right now is about COVID-19. It’s all I speak to my family and friends about when we call, I get stat updates from Stephen and then we’re reading about panic buying in the news and… panic buying.
The biggest risk for us is fear.
I was speaking to my Legolas, aka Keilyn, on the phone recently and she mused that this whole situation reminded her of The Dark Knight. She quoted Heath Ledger as the Joker (pretty well to be honest).
‘Madness is like gravity, all it takes is a little push’
I completely agree. I’ve studied moral panics and for those who remember or have at least heard of it, think of the Mods and Rockers at Clacton Beach. The sensationalisation of the situation led to… the sensationalised situation actually happening.
Reporting and the news is crucial. I completely agree that the public should have open access to all information. But that’s just it, it isn’t open information. We’re focusing on a very funnelled version of life right now and we’re saturated in it.
People are still living, working, achieving and making memories despite this virus. The waters in Italy are running clear, pollution over China has reduced and the world is working together to get on top of COVID-19 as quickly as possible.
We aren’t hearing about the people who get over the virus, about the triumphs that this adversity has caused. We just hear who’s dying, overcapacity in hospitals and the disappearance of toilet roll.
I’m not making light of the situation; my point is that we’re all very aware of the medical dangers of this virus and not as aware of the mental effects.
Humans are a pretty resilient bunch.
I know especially in the UK, it’s our culture to take the bad news with humility. We laugh at spilt milk because ‘if you don’t laugh you cry right?’. Humour is our armour and looking on the bright side (not Mr Brightside, Brits, calm down) is our shield and we need them to power through.
The worst thing we can do, not just young people but everyone, is to let fear take over. Don’t panic buy 1000 packets of Andrex and enough tins of soup to build Optimus Prime. On the other side, don’t let the fear of missing opportunities lead you to be careless or dangerously selfish.
Most importantly, address the fear of being guilty. You did not create this virus in a secret laboratory to destroy the world. You are not responsible for this virus.
But you are responsible for your actions, they can have repercussions for yourself and other people, some that you wouldn’t expect. You’re also responsible for the mindfulness of your decisions. Risk is everywhere at this point in time and only you can decide which risks are worth taking.
That said, it isn’t your place to judge other people without knowing their situation. If you see someone stockpiling baby food, before splashing them with holy water, consider the alternatives. Maybe they work at a nursery or are caring for their friend’s kids while their friends work in the NHS?
I know that things are grey now.
I know that things are stressful and you’re worried about your parents, your grandparents, your friends, your kids, losing your job, having no toilet roll to wipe your arse, cancelling travel plans… there’s a lot to worry about. One thing you’re probably not worrying about is your mental health.
We’ve got an opportunity to innovate. Restaurants are closed for date night? Look up similar recipes online and cook together. Stuck inside? Declutter the house, fix those bits that you’ve been putting off, meditate, order a load of board-games and books and better yourself in ways that you wouldn’t normally have the opportunity, or time, to do.
Get outdoors and go hiking or start running; your chances of catching someone’s dirty droplets are pretty low up a mountain or in a field somewhere. Plus, I’m sure we could all use some fresh air!
This virus is going to have long-term effects. Not just the actual quarantines and caution, but on our mindsets.
We’ve been brought into a situation that should allow us to have empathy. This type of national panic and fear isn’t new to some people, so maybe now we’ve had a taste of the medicine we can be more empathetic?
Young people especially, we’re part of this community, even though we aren’t at the most risk. Our decisions at this time will construct who we become and how we will view ourselves in the future.
Finally, this one may be small, with people too worried about the present just now, but there’s the ‘threat’ of the future, the danger of change.
Will life ever go back to normal after this virus?
Will the virus lead to a long-term push to more isolative living?
While a more isolative society means less risk from this and future viruses I can’t see us living in windowless apartments, kissing our webcam-boyfriends with robots delivering our meals and sanitising our coats when we get home… I’m confident we won’t lose our connection.
If anything, this experience might make it stronger. People are thinking about other people. It’s been some time since we, as people, have collectively done that. We’re more resilient than we think and hey if this is the start of our new Total Recall existence of non-essential contact… Johnny Cab anyone?
Wash your hands,