MICHAEL WOLSEY: Don’t panic! It’s flu, not the end of the world
IT’S flu. It’s not the Black Death or the Bubonic Plague. It is carried by humans, not by the Horsemen of the Apocalypse .
Influenza viruses come in many forms and they come every year. They make a lot of people feel quite ill, some people feel very ill and for a few people they prove fatal.
In Ireland flu kills dozens of people every winter, thousands across Europe, hundreds of thousands around the globe.
This coronavirus does not appear significantly more dangerous than any of the flu strains we regularly encounter. If anything, it seems a bit less virulent, although that may be down to the stringent measures taken to contain it.
From the figures we have seen so far, Covid 19 appears to have a higher rate of fatality than, say, the strain of flu which struck around Christmas. But the difference is not huge. It kills people who already have a serious illness, mainly old-stagers like me. Younger people can mostly brush it off and, unlike flu in general, it seems hardly to bother healthy children at all.
Globally, Covid 19 is killing far fewer people than meningitis, measles or the motor car. But nobody wants to hear that because we enjoy a bit of a scare. Scares sell newspapers, boost the ratings for TV and radio and add to the clicks on social media rumour sites.
A tabloid newspaper editor I knew used to chuckle about how he would love to print the banner headline: ‘DON’T PANIC!’.
“By God, that would make them panic alright,” he would say.
The man has gone to the great newsroom in the sky where he is no doubt inventing stories about St Peter having an affair with Mary Magdalene. But his heirs to the red top throne have have been happily fulfilling his ‘Don’t Panic’ ambition in recent weeks, ably abetted by editors and programme makers at RTE and Newstalk.
They know their audience.
“I wants to make your flesh creep,” warned the Fat Boy in Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, and, in truth, we all quite approve of that, providing no real flesh of ours gets harmed in the process.
Most of us will suffer no serious hurt from Covid 19, even if it spreads more widely. We know that from experience. In recent years we have lived through Pig Flu, Bird Flu and Sars. They all give rise to shock headlines and dire warnings – but the world kept spinning.
We are being told that Covid 19 could cause a world recession, halt the Olympic Games, drive airlines into bankruptcy and bring the travel industry to it knees.
The virus will do none of those things – but the alarm it is generating might.
Covid 19 is a new virus and it is right to treat it seriously. Wash your hands, avoid northern Italy, stay home if you feel ill and don’t go sneezing and spluttering over your friends and colleagues.
But, above all, heed the message of the late, lamented tabloid editor.
It’s flu. DON’T PANIC!