Last weekend I should have been relaxing in Italy on my first press trip. Admiring a mountainside view across the lake that separated us, I would have been sipping an Italian wine and taking in the glorious countryside of the Cinque Terra area, looking forward to an afternoon of cultural activities ahead of me, plus my exploration of Pisa the following day. That didn’t happen though, because Coronavirus led to me cancelling the trip. A difficult decision to make, but the only sensible one in my eyes.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronavirus is the name for a group of viruses, the most recent one being COVID-19, which began in China and has since spread to pretty much every country in the world. Similar to flu, it develops with symptoms such as coughing and a high temperature and can cause complications and even death in elderly patients, or those with low immune systems (examples so far being those with pre-existing lung conditions).
Also like the flu, COVID-19 is spread through coughing, and physical contact. It’s possible to develop it without having visible symptoms straight away, and it’s also possible to have it twice. It does have many similarities, as do the other variants of the Coronavirus group like SARS.
If COVID-19 is basically just flu then why are you so worried about it?
There’s a reason I decided to write this post, and that reason is because I’ve seen multiple articles explaining why it’s absolutely fine to travel to infected areas of the world. The majority of them discuss how similar COVID-19 and the flu are, and emphasise the fact that the majority of travellers will not experience any life-threatening symptoms because of it. Whilst these are both factual points, I’m not convinced that they give enough reason to see COVID-19 as something to be downplayed.
Whilst COVID-19 and the flu share similarities, they also share multiple differences
I’ve already gone over the similarities, but think about these key differences for a moment:
- The death rate for COVID-19 is higher than the flu (but seems to vary depending on location and demographic)
- COVID-19 seems to be more infectious than the flu by around 2-3 times
- The flu infects around 8% of the population, but we don’t know the amount for COVID-19
- The flu is seasonal, whereas COVID-19 has “absolutely has pandemic potential” (as quoted from WHO)
- There is no current vaccine for COVID-19 like there is for the flu, and clinical trials are unlikely to start for at least a few months (source of all bullet points: LiveScience)
What we need to remember is that, ultimately, this is a new strain of Coronavirus and we don’t know much about it. Assuming that it’s exactly the same as the flu is futile, yet assuming that it’s completely different is also pointless. Every day is a learning curve, and for that reason you can’t be certain how it will turn out.
The “You’ll recover” argument fails to account for anyone you come into contact with
Multiple people have told me that’s there absolutely nothing to worry about with Coronavirus because I’m young and healthy. They’re correct on one point – I am almost certain that, should I contract it, I’ll be fine. The thing that people seem to forget (or choose to ignore) is that not everyone around me will be.
Take the journey I should have embarked, for example. Let’s assume here that I had contracted the virus whilst away but had not yet developed symptoms. This is how it would have progressed:
- I would have spent the majority of my trip in Northern Italy, flying back from Pisa to the UK. I’d have walked past many people in the airport, plus spent time on a plane filled with people.
- Then I would walk past hundreds of people in Stansted airport, before driving home with my Dad who has a low immune system. We most likely would have stopped off at McDonalds and I would have had contact with people there.
- I would arrive home to my partner, who has smoker’s lungs and is immunocompromised. Dad would have gone home to my Mum, who also has a low immune system.
- Both parents would then spend time with their parents, who are elderly and vulnerable. My partner would then see his Mum, with a lung condition, and who also cares for elderly parents.
- I would have gone back to work, having face-to-face contact with potentially immunocompromised vulnerable people (I work with disabled individuals) plus encountered thousands of others during my lengthy commute each day.
There’s clearly a big risk with my family, but what about the complete strangers I come into contact with indirectly? How many of them are vulnerable, or elderly, or immunocompromised? I couldn’t tell you, and to me it’s very worrying that so many people see this as a non-issue.
Whilst the media most likely are scaremongering, we can never be sure with a new virus
The media love scaremongering – after all, it’s a great way to make money and keep relevant. I do believe they are scaremongering in certain situations, but not all of it.
Something we need to consider here is that COVID-19 is a new virus. We’ve encountered other types of Coronavirus, yet this particular one is something we’ve never come across before. It could mutate in ways we can’t yet predict, and we don’t really have all that much knowledge on it. The cause is still mostly undetermined, and every day we seem to be learning new things about it. We don’t even know if it’s seasonal, or if this is a one-off.
Usually when we come across something unknown it’s natural to proceed with caution. I think this is wise, as the relatively low amount of deaths we’ve experienced so far doesn’t really tell us anything about how it will develop. A low-risk situation now does not guarantee a low-risk situation in future, and that’s something that people really need to consider.
Previous false alarms do not dictate another one
Remember Swine Flu, and SARS? Thankfully, both of those turned out to be nowhere near the threat we thought they were going to be. And that’s great. The string of pandemic scares we’ve had in the relatively recent future offer a sort of comfort blanket, as if they’ll always turn out to be false alarms.
I’d love that to be true, but then we have had pandemics cause devastating effects in the past, too. Take Spanish Influenza, for example – it has just a 0.3% higher rate of mortality rate than COVID-19, and it killed an estimated 50 million people. Of course, our situation was incredibly different back then so hopefully that’s something we can avoid, but it still goes to show that viruses can have the potential to cause a lot more harm than we expect. I’m assuming that modern science makes us much better prepared for these sorts of things, but you never can be sure.
So, is this the end of life as we know it?
Of course not! I’m not overly optimistic in the short-term, but I still feel fairly positive about it being okay in the long-term (once we have a better understanding of the virus, plus a vaccine that works). People are right when it comes to not wrapping yourself in cotton wool, however I think it’s always good to be cautious in the early stages to ensure that we reduce how out of control it gets.
So far the main advice is really just to keep up with your personal hygiene – wash your hands regularly and effectively, and use hand sanitiser if soap isn’t available. Limit unnecessary contact with people where possible, and call 111 if you start experiencing any symptoms.
Remember that if you’re concerned about COVID-19 and Coronavirus-related issues then there is still information to help – I’ve been using the Gov.uk website to track any recent updates and changes to guidelines, and there are also regular updates on the NHS website to inform the public on how to minimise the likelihood of contracting and spreading the virus.
I think the most important thing is just to be aware of the risk to others. If you have to travel, then travel. But if you don’t, then at least consider whether it’s really worth it in the long-run.
Have you been affected by COVID-19 in any way? Share your experiences in the comments below and please like if you enjoyed this article!