There is a state of fear in people of many countries which are far from the epicentre of the 2019 nCoV epidemic in Wuhan and Hebei provincial, China. Even though there are only a handful of patients in their countries, and most of these patients have been to the epicentre, or being in contact with people from there, the state of fear of being infected by the coronavirus is extremely high. People scan the news media frequently (sometimes every few minutes) to see the latest tally of infected cases and death as one will follow the Olympics medals tally. Fear is visceral and irrational. One will rather believe the latest rumour or fake news than follow reputable websites or official announcements. Fear leads to mass hysteria, like hoarding of food, and of toilet papers!
To deal with our fear of the outbreak, let us ask ourselves a few questions.
Firstly, what are the facts? The virus outbreak started in January 2020 and have 44,730 infected confirmed cases in China and 45,171 worldwide (including China). The coronavirus now named COVID-19 are associated with the death of 1,114 people (only 1 death outside China). [WHO 12 Feb 2020]. It is a contagious disease which transmits by droplets and contact but not by aerosol. It must be noted that after a month there are about 45 thousand cases among 1.6 billion people. The majority of people who were infected had mild symptoms like, fever, cough, and runny nose. Some have abdominal pain and diarrhoea. This is common to any virus infection. Only about 2.4% died from respiratory complications. The majority of death occurs among the elderly with other medical ailments such as diabetes, kidney failure, heart conditions, and lung problems. All but one of these deaths occur in China itself. Not exactly a pandemic (WHO is reluctant to label it an epidemic), a worldwide outbreak. And, not exactly, an end of the world scenario. People are not dying in the streets. Why the fear?
Secondly, can we control the event? Obviously not. An epidemic that is happening thousands of miles away is way beyond our control. Even the China health authorities and WHO cannot control the outbreak. What they are doing is trying to contain the outbreak and they are doing a good job in this. The China authorities worked hard in quarantine a city (something no one had done before), limiting travel, building quarantine hospitals (within 10 days!), and sharing information. This is a new virus and by sharing the newly sequenced genome, the Chinese scientists have enabled the rest of the world to quickly work to understand the virus and to create a vaccine.
Thirdly, can we do anything about it? Again, no. What we can do in our little part of the world is to maintain our personal hygiene and trust our own healthcare services to do their job.
Finally, if we have do not control over, and we cannot do anything about the outbreak, then what we do with our fear? We can submit to our fear of the outbreak and live in a constant state of stress. Or we can submit to the One who is in control and can act on the situation. Jesus gave us some good advice in Matthew 6:25–34 (NIV)
Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Why do we worry over things we have no control over, and cannot do anything about? That irrational worry is fear. The choice then is ours. We can choose to submit to Fear or to submit to Him who has overcome fear. How shall we live our lives in this time of a coronavirus outbreak?
updated: 10am 13 Feb 2020