A new version of coronavirus – labeled 2019-nCoV – was discovered recently in Wuhan, China after people began developing pneumonia without an obvious cause. So far no existing vaccines or treatments are effective at treating this outbreak, which has been spreading internationally.
The disease can be transmitted from human-to-human and the transmission rate has been escalating with cases reported in North America, Europe, and across the Asia-Pacific region. The world is in the grip of a panic and people are reporting that they are losing sleep because of coronavirus anxiety.
As of this writing (January 29, 2020) there are 6,162 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with China being hit the hardest. There are confirmed cases of this disease in every single province in China.
There are 132 confirmed deaths, with the first fatality occurring on January 9. The case fatality rate is 2.2%.
Although the disease first started in China due to their poor sanitation practices, it has begun spreading internationally. The first case of local transmission of this virus occurred in Vietnam when a father transmitted the disease to his son; the first non-familial transmission of coronavirus took place in Bavaria, Germany when a businessman contracted the disease from a Chinese business visitor at a meeting.
What has the government response been?
The Chinese government placed Wuhan and and 15 other cities in the surrounding Hubei province on lockdown, including termination of public transport by plane, train, and bus. The government closed tourist attractions and canceled events throughout the country due to fear of transmission including the Forbidden City in Beijing. Hong Kong declared a state of emergency and closed all schools until mid-February and canceled its New Year celebrations.
Most countries throughout the world have placed a travel advisory on Wuhan and Hubei province. Authorities are advising anyone who thinks that they may have the virus to wear surgical masks and to call their clinic instead of visiting in person to prevent the virus from spreading.
Airlines and other companies in the travel sector have been issuing refunds and no-fee cancellations to people who have booked tickets to Wuhan. Airports and train stations have already started implementing temperature checks, health declarations, and have posted signs in an attempt to identify people who are infected.
Scary stuff, right?
Between 2002 and 2003, and outbreak of a viral respiratory disease of zoonotic origin broke out in southern China leading to 8,098 confirmed cases and 774 deaths reported across 17 countries (a 9.6% fatality rate).
SARS – Severe acute respiratory syndrome – created a global panic and sensational media coverage, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the Chinese government attempted to cover up the illness. In 2003, Chinese runners were forced to pull out of a marathon in the Netherlands. People worldwide avoided Chinatown districts in their cities over fear of the disease. No cases of the disease were reported after 2004 and the world moved on.
In 2014, hazmat crews boarded a plane in Boston because they heard that there was someone coughing on the flight. A woman started feeling sick on a bus near Washington, D.C. and all traffic was halted near the Pentagon. A schoolteacher from Maine was placed on medical leave after a trip to Dallas that put her 10 miles away from a hospital where an Ebola patient was being treated.
Ebola is a particularly gruesome disease, causing severe internal bleeding and other terrible symptoms. The 2014 outbreak originated in West Africa and spread globally, with 4 cases occurring in the United States. Like the SARS epidemic before it, people became hysterical about the disease for a brief period of time before completely forgetting about it.
In the winter of 2016 women who wanted children were frantically trying to get pregnant so they could get through their first trimester before the summer mosquito season. Zika – a 70-year-old virus – created a worldwide panic because some researchers linked it to microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with tiny heads.
Headlines screamed that Brazil was “badly losing the battle” against the tiny-head-causing illness and that the virus was “spreading explosively”.
Out of the few people who contracted the Zika virus in the United States, only one case was linked with microcephaly. Meanwhile there are 25,000 cases of microcephaly in America every single year but no one cares because they aren’t linked to a pandemic.
Meanwhile malaria causes an estimated half million deaths globally every single year. Influenza causes tens of thousands of deaths in the United States alone every single year. Coronavirus has killed 132.
How the media manufactures pandemics
News articles that promote pandemic hysteria are taking advantage of a strategy known as the availability heuristic. This is the strategy that people use when they’re trying to find out information and make a decision. They rely heavily on frequency estimates – how often they’ve heard about something – when making their decision.
When you’re trying to determine whether a new disease is something that you have to worry about you’re relying on the availability heuristic. If you aren’t a doctor or scientist you don’t have all the facts about this disease and most likely wouldn’t understand them if you did. Instead you rely on the fact that there are a large number of media publications that reporting on coronavirus. Since the Wuhan virus outbreak has such a high frequency estimate, your natural inclination is to assume that this is a serious problem that you definitely have to worry about.
Without having access to all the facts about the disease, you can only substitute the quantity of coronavirus-related news to estimate the extent and seriousness of the virus. When using this strategy you’re basing your judgment on availability – how easily and readily you can come up with examples. Since the media is bombarding us with nonstop stories about the virus, there is no shortage of relevant examples you can draw from. It’s no wonder everyone is panicking.
How to stop worrying about the virus and get some sleep
When was the last time you lost sleep over malaria (435,000 deaths in one year) or the common flu (killed 61,000 in one year)? Most likely never, because you can’t quickly think of any examples of these illnesses. Your fear and anxiety is caused by the fact that you can’t stop reading bullshit news articles that are designed to make you panic so you keep clicking on their articles and viewing ads.
That’s it. The media is making you feel all of these intense negative emotions because every single time you get scared you read another article, netting them a cool $0.000001. The first step to getting sleep is to remove the sources of anxiety in your life. Stop reading the news.
We always recommend mindfulness strategies – such as meditation – to help reduce your inner turmoil. If you can maintain your grip on your own mind then you’ll be able to fall asleep quickly and easily while the world panics and stresses out over nothing.
If you haven’t already, we recommend that you get your sleep hygiene in order. We’re used to thinking of the word “hygiene” as referring to cleanliness, but in reality it means “best practices”. Keeping your room cool, not using gadgets in bed, and other basic aspects of sleep hygiene can help you fall asleep easier.
Make sure that you have a comfortable mattress and pillow. Most people don’t realize that your sleeping position plays a major role in which type of bed you should buy. Your age, medical conditions, and other factors also play a role and it’s important that your sleeping area is designed to accommodate your own needs.
Don’t worry. No matter what happens nobody will be talking about the Wuhan coronavirus in January 2021.