European Hustle

Dangerous Times, Fake News

We’ve talked about how dangerous ideas have a tendency of spreading in dangerous times, when people panic and abandon all reason. But there is more to it than just dangerous ideologies and policies. Panic can also open us up to dangerous and downright ridiculous news and information.

The current coronavirus epidemic has led to the spread of exaggerated tales and wild rumours. This fake news creates a lot of uncertainty that can easily be exploited by new factless and fantastic narratives.

Tall tales

Just today, I was told by a shop owner that Poland has entered into a state of emergency (or state of war, as we call it) and people are forbidden from leaving their houses. That is nonsense. The mayor of a town in Poland, which has had several reported cases, has publicly appealed to people to try and minimise their stays in public spaces and to help the elderly isolate and protect themselves, by buying groceries and medicine for them. That is all. But exaggerations like this spread and with each telling the tale grows taller. Unless you check your sources, it is easily possible you will believe something that is not at all true. And if you don’t have trusted sources in your country, because your media has come under attack by certain political forces, it becomes all the easier for you to fall for tall tales and lies. And that is dangerous. Because fake news like this can incite already fearful people into a true panic. People will start stockpiling food and household materials for no reason, causing shortages for people who actually need those items.

But even the shortages are being exaggerated. Because as soon as stores realise there is a bigger demand for a particular product, they will order more stock for the next deliveries and within two weeks time, you will have an overabundance of items, which by then, nobody will need anymore, once everyone has calmed down. This will lead to a lot of waste, particularly food waste.

So we want to once more ask everyone to remain calm and to reflect on what they are hearing from people, before they jump to conclusions. To help you with this, we are going to take a brief look at the facts surrounding COVID-19.

The facts about the coronavirus

Some parents are worried about their little children getting the disease (as parents do), but children rarely get the disease and even if they do, they mostly remain without symptoms and if anything, only spread the disease further to adults.

Adults also only experience mild symptoms for the most part. These include light fever, coughing and respiratory problems. Some people have also reported diarrhea and nausea as symptoms in early stages of the disease. Symptoms are usually light and only few cases lead to further diseases, such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.

But it is worth noting that symptoms can appear from 5 to 9 days after a person has already been infected. The incubation period for the virus can take 2-14 days, which is why people are being asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days. After that, people who had the virus, will no longer be contagious or be able to attract the virus again, due to natural anti-bodies.

Most cases that have led to complications were limited to people over the age of 65. About 3.4% of all infected cases die. The mortality rate of the common flu (Influenza) is around 0,1%. That is a stark difference. However, the flu tends to actually spreads to far more people than COVID-19 has thus far. The main issue is that the coronavirus is fairly new and unpredictable, because we haven’t had the time to study it yet to predict how it will spread and how long the outbreak will last. The symptoms are also far weaker than those of the common flu, which means that chances are very high, many of us have actually had the virus and have neglected to report it.

After all, if it takes 5 to 9 days for us to develop symptoms and we can then potentially recover in 2 days, we might think it was just something bad we ate or the weather affecting our mood. It is also eerily similar to the flu and not easily diagnosed. Meanwhile, we are out and about, spreading the disease. This also means, that the mortality rate is probably actually far lower than it is currently being reported, because so many of us get it and never report it.

From those that did report it, we know that about 81% of them develop mild symptoms and are completely fine. 14% get properly sick for two weeks and 4-5% are truly in danger. At the time of writing, 67,000 of 119,000 reported cases have already recovered. So unless you suffer from a natural immune system deficiency, are over 65 and/or suffer from other chronic diseases that impair your respiration or make you succeptible for pneumonia, you will be fine.

What to do

If you are one of those cases, you should be extremely cautious and perhaps you can ask younger friends or family members to help you with your daily needs, such as groceries, to ensure you are safe. If you are young and healthy, please take care of your elders and make sure you limit your physical contact with them to avoid contaminating them in the process.

But what about travel, you might ask? Unless a government has decided to shut down all travel routes in and out of the country, you should not face any difficulties. In fact, flights and trains are very cheap right now and there are few queues at airports. So if you already have your holiday trip booked, make sure to inform yourself of the situation in the country, but unless you are going to Italy or China, don’t worry too much about it. Just make sure that before you travel, you are not going to risk other people’s health by infecting them. The best thing to do is to have yourself tested 14 days in advance, avoid public gatherings during that time and then proceed on your trip. Alternatively, if you have already recovered from the disease, congratulations, you are completely worry-free now.

If you would like to track where the outbreak has spread most so far, you can use the live online map developed by the Johns Hopkins University.

Source for figures: Barcelona Institute for Global Health

Dominik Kirchdorfer
Dominik is a European writer and entrepreneur of Austrian and Polish descent. His passion is storytelling and he wants to do everything in his power to give the story of Europe a happy ending. He is currently the President of the EFF - European Future Forum, Editor In-Chief of Euro Babble and EU Adviser to the Austrian Savings Banks Association. Dominik recently published his first SciFi novel, The Intrepid Explorer: First Flight under the nome de plume Nik Kirkham. Twitter: @NikKirkham

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