Corona-Virus: A "Collective Fear Event"

Razer g2s at
Sun Mar 8 19:47:34 PDT 2020

"In essence, then, we are dealing with a collective fear event. In our
prosperous, technically controlled and automated world, we are no longer
used to things being unpredictable. And so therefore we like to assume
the worst."

Opinion: We need to deal with our coronavirus panic

It's right to take precautions; the coronavirus is not to be trifled
with. Even without a vaccine, there's no need to panic. But we do so
anyway, says DW's Jens Thurau after covering the outbreak.

The taxi driver who drives me from our editorial office to the Robert
Koch Institute in Berlin has her own view on the number one topic in

She asks: "What happens if the newspapers write: 'Don't be afraid of the
pink elephant! Then people will say: 'Oh God, we have pink elephants here?'"

That is an accurate description of what Germany is currently
experiencing with the new virus from China. Business trips are being
canceled, including domestic ones. Bottles of disinfectant are suddenly
mounted on office walls.

People want to be tested even if they show no or only minor symptoms.
Trade fairs are being canceled, party conferences are on the brink. And
yet every morning the train is tortuously full as usual. And why
wouldn't it be? Should we really follow the advice of scientists and go
into closed quarantine?

Do we have to stockpile now?

No we don't. Although, the scientists are also right, strictly speaking:
If everyone would sit still where they are for two weeks the virus would
hardly stand a chance. But unlike in Italy, for example, the epidemic in
Germany is, as the experts tell us, still in the "containment" phase. In
other words, infected persons are isolated and treated, contact persons
are tracked down. A kindergarten or a school might be closed down, but
not the whole country.

So do we have to do our "hamster-shopping" now, as some have already
done here and there? When a whole society is gripped by fear, all good
manners fall by the wayside: Unfortunately, one must say, especially
German society. So people are hoarding protective face masks, even
though, the experts tell us, they are of no use, but are urgently needed
in hospitals and doctors' surgeries. Not only, it is obviously criminal
to steal masks and sell them at a marked-up price on the internet. But
it only works because people easily fall into hysteria and create the
illegal market in the first place.

At press conferences with Health Minister Jens Spahn or the experts from
the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's main public health authority,
questions are asked that actually only prove how stupid journalists can
be. Why is there still no vaccine, one asked, with accusatory undertone?
The virologist Christian Drosten, now known throughout Germany and a
regular guest on television, who is feverishly researching a corona
vaccine with his international colleagues, is forced to make an effort
to control himself with difficulty and repeat the same lines: The virus
is new, many things are still unknown, we are working on it, but there
is no faster way. His expression shows that he thinks the press
conference is wasting his time.

So we grope our way through the epidemic. The ITB international tourism
fair in Berlin is canceled, the Hannover industrial trade fair
postponed. But the Bundesliga is still playing in full stadiums. The
president of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, isn't really
getting through with his message that most new infections are now
happening within Germany, so people are hardly bringing the virus from
abroad anymore. This is good news because it means that there are
probably fewer contact people to find and the experts can concentrate on
fighting the virus at home.

<Infographic on ways to protect yourself from coronavirus>

A collective fear

In essence, then, we are dealing with a collective fear event. In our
prosperous, technically controlled and automated world, we are no longer
used to things being unpredictable. And so therefore we like to assume
the worst.

What we have been familiar with for a long time are the flu waves during
the cold season. Just for comparison, as of Friday, March 5: Since the
beginning of the year, over 100,000 people in Germany have fallen ill
with flu and around 200 have also died of it. Among them are many old,
already sick and weakened people. But this number does not make the

It is like flying: Experts and statisticians never tire of pointing out
that the airplane is the safest of all means of transportation. The risk
of dying in road traffic is much higher. But the images of horrible
plane crashes just keep on etching themselves onto our brains. The many
thousands of successful take-offs and landings, every day, just happen,
and aren't worth a headline.

'Chill out, Germany!'

On the whole, my impression is that doctors, nurses and scientists in
Germany are still managing the coronavirus well. Certainly, the health
system has weaknesses, the health authorities in the municipalities are
overstretched and short of staff. And globalization has its insane
sides, which has become apparent by how many drugs are produced in China
that we are now short of.

When I get really upset about little things at home, my kids like to
tell me: "Chill out, Dad!" Which really annoys me. But now I can say it
too: "Chill out, Germany!" Let's take the virus seriously, listen to the
experts, and keep our nerve. Don't forget to wash your hands, refrain
from shaking hands in greeting, and instead smile nicely. And let's not
assume the worst.

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