Fear and myths over coronavirus further mystify the pandemic, leading to hysteria

Some South Africans went on frenzied shopping sprees for groceries and other necessities early this week, mostly driven by fear that coronavirus might drive everyone into quarantine. / Siphiwe Sibeko/ REUTERS
Some South Africans went on frenzied shopping sprees for groceries and other necessities early this week, mostly driven by fear that coronavirus might drive everyone into quarantine. / Siphiwe Sibeko/ REUTERS

By now you must have seen photos of empty shelves, lines of people buying up toilet paper and nonperishable food items.

If you haven't yet got hold of hand sanitisers and other personal disinfectants, all the best trying to find any.

I didn't need photographs to confirm this panic buying. Just this week when I went to do my weekly shopping at my local shopping centre, the shelves were bare. At one Woolworths, all the fruits, veggies and milk, poultry, meat and all baked goods including bread were sold out.

I guess those buying up the whole shop are planning to hibernate and not come out of their houses for the next several weeks or until Covid-19 subsides.

If you're on WhatsApp and other social media, you must have come across interesting "facts" about Covid-19.

There are conspiracy theories about how Covid-19 was "engineered". Other posts ask whether anyone has seen someone with the disease and where the evidence is that it is killing so many people.

Before it landed on the African continent, there was the theory that somehow this is a virus that discriminates, targeting only specific races and classes of people.

A lot has been said about how we should conduct ourselves as the pandemic sweeps through our cities and neighbourhoods.

Reasonable people will take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others, especially their loved ones. But it is becoming more evident that not all of us are reasonable people at all.

The worst and most dangerous attitudes to this virus are fear and denial.

The problem with fear is that it leads to paralysis, paranoia and hysteria. It makes us incapable of weighing options, making decisions based on available information and of thinking about solutions.

The problem with denial is that it gives people a false sense of security in the face of real danger. Even more worrying is that being in denial leads people to act recklessly, putting in jeopardy not only their own health and safety but that of others.

To a certain extent the fear generated by this coronavirus pandemic is warranted, especially given how Covid-19 has ravaged towns, cities and whole provinces in other parts of the world.

Those buying everything they can lay their hands on have been following the news and developments on this story from across the globe. They've seen how whole towns and cities have been shut down and people left locked up in their houses.

They fear not having access to the daily essentials in the event that they are placed on lockdown. But these people are hysterical.

This hysteria is clouding their judgment and ability to reason from cause to effect regarding the implications of their panic buying. They are creating shortages that deprive fellow citizens, and are endangering the lives of other people, particularly the sick and vulnerable dealing with health challenges and immune-deficiencies that require immediate access to good nutrition and sanitising products.

The denialists are just as bad as the hysterical. They too are irrational in their calculations.

Upon receiving the claim that black people are immune to Covid-19 in one of my WhatsApp groups, someone asked: "Do black people not have lungs?"

It is funny how people in denial will seize on any preposterous theory to avoid dealing with reality. And the reality is that this disease affects anyone with lungs.

The sooner we repudiate fear and denial, the better for all of us.

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