The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.
By Metin Rhawi
It is not relevant if the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is a conspiracy or one of nature’s many dangers that humanity will overcome.
Cough and fever, general fatigue and an aching body are symptoms that I have been experiencing for the past six days, but I do not know if it is COVID-19 or another virus or just a common flu.
In all honesty, I do not care much if it is the novel coronavirus or another virus, it is what it is. However, that is not the reason why I’m writing this post. I would like to share with you my thoughts on how an epidemic that has developed into a pandemic is devolving into mass hysteria and mass psychosis worldwide.
There can be no question that the spread of COVID-19 is at pandemic levels. The real question we must answer is how do we handle it?
You have probably heard of many conspiracy theories that China developed this virus and that they lost control in handling it. Another theory is that America planted the virus in China to damage China’s economy and growth. A third theory is that a consortium of wealthy and corporate interests has developed this virus to benefit economically. There are too many to list.
Regardless of the virus’s origins, the fact remains that we as humans do not seem to have developed adequate enough tools to handle this kind of extraordinary situation. I presume that on a global level we have a lot to learn but even down to the regional and individual levels we are governed by factors other than common sense.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened, and in contrast to the conspiracies and doomsaying on one end of the spectrum, we still we see citizens and governments alike downplaying the seriousness of the problem.
As responsible members of global, national, and local communities, we must take the necessary precautions to limit the spread of the virus. The same goes for our children.
Companies must take responsibility and maintain proper hygiene as recommended by relevant authorities. Health authorities must dare to publicly recommend proposals based on their extensive knowledge and not shy away from those deemed “politically difficult”.
As a Swedish citizen, I call on parliament and the government to listen to the experts in this particular field and not succumb to populist pressures. It will be a time of difficult decisions, some unpopular, but that is the role of leadership in trying times.
Anyone who is a decision-maker must relate to two basic conditions: to rely on knowledge or emotion.
The United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) must take a clearer position and decide on unambiguous guidelines that apply to all U.N. member states and not merely act as an information gatherer. The WHO’s comprehensive datasets and expertise make it a pivotal actor in the global campaign to contain COVID-19. It must not become an institution of statisticians and observers like its parent organization, which looks on as world and regional leaders engage in decision-making based on emotion and wishful thinking. One reason for the current state of things is the lack of a fundamental part of social governance: trust.
At the individual level, it seems that we no longer trust anyone but ourselves, we want information available and then make our own decisions. We search the web for information about symptoms and treatment and find conflicting results. We look for the number of infected, the number of deceased, and what can be done to mitigate the situation, if anything at all. The same lack of confidence seems clear at the intergovernmental level. That is, countries are not transparent with one another or their people because they think they would be considered less competent. Some countries withhold the truth because they do not want to be vulnerable; other countries that are totalitarian are taking advantage of the situation to steer their citizens even more strictly. Iran and Syria are examples of such countries. Just over a month ago, the Iranian government said they had no confirmed cases, now it says the death toll could amount to millions. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad states that the country only has five confirmed cases, a low number discounted by experts due to daily flights between Syria and severely affected Iran.
I believe that the most important thing that exists right now is to access expert knowledge in the fields of medicine, psychology, and economics. This must take place at global level if it is to have the greatest effect.
First, we must realize that no one else is better suited than virologists, epidemiologists, and infection control experts on how best to combat a viral pandemic. What they recommend most of all is that all the sick should stay inside and not meet so-called risk groups.
Then we all have to realize that our psyche always manages to control us more strongly in difficult and critical situations. When we think we do not have all the facts on the table, we as human beings start to act according to feelings and beliefs. We are emotional and social beings. We are afraid of what we do not know. We simply become worried when we do not know enough and tend to blame others instead of taking responsibility ourselves.
Finally, we come to economics. We all understand that past actions will affect us financially at the individual level and also the world economy. When decision makers quarantine a country, we cannot be surprised that this will have a far-reaching negative impact on the country’s economy. When support packages are deployed, they must address the most essential aspects of the economy related to dealing with the crisis first and foremost. But all members of society affected by a crashed economy must be accounted for.
We must not forget that emotions, like viruses, also infect. Mass hysteria brings no benefits to any of us and to blame others is of little value. It is best to take care of each other and help each other during these times.
Metin Rhawi is head of Foreign Affairs of the European Syriac Union.