The psychological toll of novel coronavirus

Jacob von Bisterfeld
Well, Chinese citizens, by and large, are more acutely aware that when the common good prevails, most individuals benefit more.
Jacob von Bisterfeld

Fear of the unknown is reacted to in different ways in different parts of the world and by different individuals.

Reactions around the world to the almost universal spread of the COVID-19 are bound to vary greatly, as the instinct for self-preservation tends to trigger different strategies and tactics.

In some countries this meant a rush to the nearest supermarket to stock up for the next two months during the expected residential lockdown.

Perishables, of course, are a problem: There is only so much space in the deep freezer, so dry and canned goods are the provision of choice.

Sadly, supplies soon ran out everywhere, after hordes of panic shoppers, at breakneck speeds, had stripped all shop shelves bare and combative buyers could be seen fighting over the last few rolls of toilet paper, of all things, in locations as far apart as Perth in Western Australia and Potsdam in Germany. Yet, some managed to reach home with 80 rolls, albeit with some scratches and bruised ribs.

In China there has, by and large, not been any discernible panic buying, after the government promised that supermarket supplies were to remain at the regular level and at fixed prices and that there was no need for panic buying.

The public believed in their government and shop shelves remained fully stocked throughout the epidemic. So much for keeping the body going during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But what about the soul?

Extreme reactions in some are the norm, especially with the emergence of social media. Anyone over the age of 60, or some 35 percent of the population, might have got a social message: Prepare thy last will and testament as the end might be nigh.

Mental anguish

Those with children, another around 40 percent, were very much aware that youngsters could be the next on the list of the grim reaper. Finally, the other 25 percent had better cloister themselves in their bedrooms and not emerge till the pandemic has subsided.

The forever active social media in one European country urged citizens to build up stamina and so boost the bodies’ immune system by jogging for hours on end.

In pre-COVID-19 pandemic times, no more than a few handfuls of hardened joggers could be espied in public parks and upon the open road. However, after circulation of effective social media messages, nearly half the populace in several cities rushed outside and started jogging en masse, in flagrant contravention of local government’s strict “stay at home” edict.

Other irrational behavior also prevailed when promoted on social media. There is, for instance, an eagerness for many to DO something while, often, the correct approach should be to AVOID doing something. Mental stress and panic attacks are not uncommon in pestilent times. An irrational fear that some uncontrollable disaster and a likely demise is imminent is oftentimes manifested by severe palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath and a numbness of limbs.

Again, what makes the Chinese so different from the rest of the world?

Well, Chinese citizens, by and large, are more acutely aware that when the common good prevails, most individuals benefit more.

Thanks to effective measures, including curtailment of the mobility of citizens, the number of COVID-19 victims steadily diminishes. On Monday China reported 78 new infections on the Chinese mainland, with 74 imported from overseas.

Seeing is believing and in this proven efficiency of achieving desired results, China has a message for the rest of the world.

Jacob von Bisterfeld is an emeritus professor at several universities in Shanghai, and is currently active as a business consultant. He is also involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The views expressed are his own.

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