By Marcus Wilson 04/03/2020

I’ve had enough of COVID-19 now. No, I haven’t had it (well, not that I’m aware of), what I mean is I’ve had enough of reading misleading headlines, hearing xenophobic attitudes and dealing with outright selfish behaviour.

Let me elaborate:

Point 1

We know that every outbreak will be accompanied by a kind of tsunami of information, but also within this information you always have misinformation, rumours, etc. We know that even in the Middle Ages there was this phenomenon.

– Sylvie Briand, WHO Health Emergencies Programme. (Quotation sourced from The Lancet, here).

And the New Zealand media are no exceptions here. At the weekend I saw headlines along the lines of “COVID-19 more deadly than SARS, MERS” and “I’ve had coronavirus: It’s not that bad“.  What’s wrong with the first? Well, it depends on what you mean by deadly. The article went on to explain that COVID-19 has killed many more people than SARS and MERS. However, the death rate (that is, the chance of you dying from it if you get it) is far lower (considerably lower than MERS). But just to put in a headline that it is more deadly than MERS is unduly frightening. On the other hand, the second headline creates the other impression. This was an example of a particular person’s experience. Yes, for some, for many, it won’t be ‘that bad’. But for some, it will be (or has been) much worse. Yes, to be fair to the journalists here, the articles themselves said things more clearly, but if you just read the headline you could get a very wrong impression of what we have here. Headlines are what people read first, and sometimes all they read, and they should not be misleading.

Point 2

Panic Buying. Don’t get me going on this one. “I’m just providing for my family.” The trouble is, your “providing for your family” is denying your neighbour the opportunity to do the same. There’s a word for that: Selfishness.

Point 3

Xenophobia. I have heard people say that they are frightened by having Chinese students on campus here at Waikato. This is xenophobia, in the sense of ‘fear of foreigners’. The fear, I assume, comes from misinformation. I think it is not much more likely that a Chinese student on campus here is carrying the virus than anyone else on campus. Chinese students just haven’t been able to get here – any that are here now were either here already when the NZ government’s travel restrictions were put in place a few weeks ago (and have had plenty of time to show symptoms if they were infected) or have come through a round-about route to the country keeping them out of China for 14 days before arriving here. Fortunately, I haven’t yet heard any xenophobia in the sense of ‘hatred of foreigners’, though going from some media reports, that’s around too.

Point 4

And finally, why haven’t I heard any decent COVID-19 jokes? Of course, it’s not funny to make jokes at others’ expense, and COVID-19 itself is no laughing matter, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility for jokes here. There are comedy shows about climate change, for example. There must be some good ones out there somewhere, that help educate about COVID-19 and tackle xenophobia but at the same time are rather funny. Anyone?

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