Opinion Piece By: Isabel Loubser
I think that everyone is aware of the seriousness of the situation that has been brought about by the outbreak of Coronavirus. Having been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation on 11th March, governments around the world have taken drastic action to address the ongoing crisis. From closing borders to shutting down schools, the response has illustrated the severity of the situation and the need for everyone to take collective responsibility for ensuring the isolation and delay of the infection. However, the social attitudes and actions that have arisen as a result of mass panic are symptomatic of latent feelings of xenophobia, racism and individualism rooted in our society.
The outbreak of coronavirus has come with a sharp increase in explicit xenophobia. This has been displayed through constant racist incidents and the political rhetoric used by far-right parties throughout Europe and articulated by Donald Trump. The far-right leader in Italy, Matteo Salvini, inaccurately linked the outbreak to African asylum seekers and used this assumption to urge for border closures. Trump decided to use the situation for political gain, citing it as a further reason to build a wall at the Mexican border. In general, distrust and stigmatisation have escalated just as quickly as the virus has spread.
The division that has been engendered by the current health crisis is characteristic of a much broader problem in our society. It seems that politicians and the public alike are constantly searching for a scapegoat for the problems that emerge. A pandemic like this one was was not avoidable. Pandemics have occurred throughout history and they will continue to happen in the future. The problem is how we manage them. Blame shouldn’t even play a part in our response. Through incorporating accusation and culpability into the ongoing dialogue surrounding coronavirus, we simply cause further damage to socio-cultural relationships across the globe and exacerbate the ethnic and racial divisions that are already exceptionally problematic.
Not only has the response to coronavirus been reflective of the xenophobia present in our society but it has also been representative of our individualism. Across social media, we have seen pictures of empty shelves in major supermarkets and people fighting over household necessities, such as toilet paper, in an effort to hoard essentials and non-perishables in case of needing to self-isolate. This type of response is largely illogical and based on a type of self-serving attitude that has become the cornerstone of actions taken in society in times of mass panic and hysteria. Any reasonable person would realise that to contain coronavirus, everyone must practice good hygiene, and by stockpiling goods such as hand sanitiser, you are preventing this from happening.
Scientific advice has highlighted that it is the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions for whom coronavirus will be most impactful and, in the worst-case scenarios, fatal. For those over 80, the fatality rate of COVID-19 is 14.8% in contrast with it being less than 0.4% in those under 50. Therefore, now is exactly the time to think of the greater good and to go out of our way to help those who need it most. It is absolutely essential to act with others in mind. This mentality doesn’t just pertain to hoarding practices but also to the way in which we approach social practices.
If you are young and you contract coronavirus, the likelihood is that you will only experience mild symptoms and you may feel as though it is not necessary to self-isolate. However, this is not the case. Through exposing yourself to others, you increase the chance of spreading the virus to those who are vulnerable and for whom contracting the infection could be disastrous. It is not the time to act in self-interest and let either fear or convenience control our actions.
Coronavirus is currently affecting 162 countries and territories around the world and it has resulted in 7,070 deaths. This is the time for everyone, regardless of age or race, to take care of one another. This is the time for solidarity amongst governments rather than blame-shifting. Some individuals have not responded well to this crisis and this is certainly worrying. The way many have acted does not reflect well on our societies and communities and does not bode well for the future. Let’s hope that we can reflect on the way we have initially reacted to the outbreak of coronavirus and adjust our attitudes and behaviours to ensure we can get through this crisis, and respond to the next one, with kindness, altruism and logic.