Right now, a deadly virus that’s already taken the lives of 41 people, is spreading from its origin, China, to the rest of the world. Europe has confirmed its 3 first cases over the last 24 hours along with the U.S in Chicago. And with claims that over 250,000 people could contract the Coronavirus in only ten days, it’s becoming glaringly obvious the world is facing a significant threat.
Over the past decade, we’ve been exposed to various hazards that could pose a risk to our safety and security: terrorism, climate crises, and conflict in the Middle East. But the difference between these events and the Coronavirus outbreak is perceived danger: the chance of falling victim to them was a small probability. We were also told the stock market would crash, the death of Iranian General Soleimani would create a full-scale war, and New York would be underwater by 2020. Yet, none of these predictions came true.
This perceived danger has created a sense of fake fear within us. A feeling where we know bad things are happening, but we overlook them as the chance of actually being affected is slim. We know we have yet to be influenced by recent events because we’ve done nothing in response: the number of terrorist attacks still rises, we still drive our diesel and petrol cars to work, and any tensions in the Middle East subside in a matter of days.
The combination of “boy who cried wolf” scenarios paired with the sensationalist coverage of each and every narrative has prompted the majority of us to let our guards down. We see this everywhere: As people continue to lose their lives to the Coronavirus, others are fantasizing about a global health crisis: sales of the pandemic-themed game, Plague Inc, are soaring and the app is now the sixth most-downloaded in China. Websites and blogs who primarily profit from selling fear are posting real-time updates and, as a result, are receiving record web traffic. And even government bioweapon conspiracies you would see exclusively in Hollywood movies are making their way into mainstream media.
Because we are addicted to sensationalization and the fake fear it creates, we are now accustomed to crying wolf, and, consequently, we will fail to react to genuine hazards. What’s scary about the Coronavirus is it looks to be the real deal, and the outcome could well be a pandemic. The Black Plague, perhaps the most notable one in history, killed up to 200 million people in seven years between 1346 and 1353 without a globalized world. Nowadays, as a species, we are fully connected and available 24/7 so the virus has the potential — plus the will of mother nature — to spread faster than the Black Plague ever could.
Based on how we, as a human race, have reacted and responded to panic over the past decade, we will vastly underestimate the threat the Coronavirus poses to humanity. Hopefully, though, this article falls victim to its own irony, but if the Coronavirus turns out to be a real crisis — and it’s looking that way — we may fail to escape our false sense of security before its too late.