As the coronavirus spreads around the world, so does many people’s fear. Whether you live in Europe, the US, or elsewhere in the world by now you probably are starting to get a little worried. But there is a better response during these times: it is to “do something” for others.
It is our civic duty, you could say, to think about others as well as ourselves as the virus spreads. It will help us give us the calming feeling that “we did what we could” and will build societal resilience at a time that it could easily break down. And actions we take for others, such as hygiene, often have benefits for ourselves. So what can we do?
Stay well informed and ensure others are too
As fear spreads faster than facts, our duty is first and foremost to inform ourselves about the reality of the spread and danger of the virus.
Think about it. Do you even know what a “coronavirus” is? Do you know how you get it? (answer: 80% of viruses spread through our hands) Do you know what you can do to prevent getting it? (Answer: wash your hands, and stay in if you’re sick.) Do you know how mortal COVID-19 is, both for people of your age and health, and for those of other groups? (Answer: low if you’re under 50, high if you’re sick or over 70).
Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
Reading up on this, and pointing others to such basic information, will go a far way in preventing “fear” and “panic” from becoming more contagious than the virus itself. The reality of the situation changes by the day, and so do the societal consequences. So regularly look for basic facts and figures, which will help you understand the situation.
Think and act mostly to keep others safe
If you drill down on the available figures, you’ll notice that if you’re younger 40, you shouldn’t worry as much about COVID-19 yourself: the mortality is very low when you’re young. That number is more akin to the flu’s overall US mortality rate of 0.1% in the US in 2018-2019, than that of previous coronaviruses such as SARS (10%) or MERS (34%). You’re also ten times less at risk when you’re in good health.
So when you’re young and healthy, your primary concern may not so much be yourself, but those around you who are older or sick. So do your best effort for them. Check in with your parents, or older relatives. Make sure they are extra careful: the number one thing you can do to prevent getting and spreading a virus is to wash your hands, keep a social distance from others, and stay in when you’re sick. In doing so, you’re doing something which benefits others as well as yourself.
The media should share crucial Coronavirus updates with all
Many news media have a paywall for most of their news coverage, including that on COVID-19. That’s fair, as subscribers pay for the salaries of journalists. But when it comes to a public health treat like the coronavirus, the most important thing to do is to keep the public informed.
My advice to those media is to open their coverage. Some have already done so, such as The Local in Europe, the Sacramento Bee in the US, and publicly funded media such as BBC, as well as Sweden’s equivalent to the New York Times, “Dagens Nyheter.”
The editor of Dagens Nyheter in Sweden, Peter Wolodarski, told me why they took this decision:
“In a crisis situation, journalism plays a key role in providing people with reliable, balanced, and well researched reporting – especially when a lot of rumors and disinformation is proliferated online. In this respect, we have a democratic duty, millions of people count on us. Journalism needs democracy and democracy needs journalism – we have to fulfill that role as best as we can. Taking away the paywall in a public health crisis, feels like a very natural decision and I think that are subscribers want us to make decisions like that”
But you as a consumer can take steps too: you can go to “open” news sites and share their news with the world. If you do have a subscription on paid websites, you can share the critical news on social media, and implore media to open their coverage. And, if you believe in Karma and can afford it, you can consider subscribing to news websites who for “civic” reasons have opened their coverage.
If you’re a pundit, stay in your lane
The last thing we need in a public health crisis is misinformation. As noted, fear is more contagious than anything, and “hot takes” can be more viral on social media than dry facts. But your social media followership, or getting kudos from others for “revealing” alleged conspiracies are not helpful for others. Let virologists talk about virology, policymakers make policy, and media report on news updates.
And what should you do? Talk about what you’re an expert on, but leave the “hot takes” for other topics. If you do want to share a lot of info on the coronavirus, make sure it’s verified facts, or official guidelines, or messages that may help others.
Follow guidelines and do what is sensible
Policymakers and experts everywhere are monitoring the situation of the coronavirus. We should trust them to advise on whether it’s safe to travel, go out, or organize events. If they give the green light, it’s good to go on with your life as planned. If they pull the breaks, it’s necessary to comply. Decision makers will prioritize public health concerns, while being aware of larger societal and economic concerns. There is no need to second-guess in either direction.
Speak up to ensure your organization is doing the right things
There is no hierarchy in doing what is right. If you feel like your work could improve on some precautionary measures, or in keeping your colleagues informed, then tell your boss, or write to HR. Chances are you’ll get a pat on the shoulder, rather than a reprimand, for doing so and showing your care about your organization and its people.
There will be a day when we look back at this time, and be clear-headed about what happened. The coronavirus will not be the end of humanity. But its impact on public health, the economy, and life in general can vary according to our response.
We should do our part, and make sure that whatever happens, it’s a high point of “civilization” and a time of “civic duty” as well.
Peter Vanham writes on the world economy and its most inspiring leaders, and helps others do the same. As Head of the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum, he brings together the editors-in-chief of the world’s leading media outlets.