History suggests that pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, when the death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease goes away. Most pandemics, in fact nearly all, fall into this second category. It’s not that the disease itself goes away, but that people grow tired of panic mode.
However, sometimes you don’t even need the disease in order to have an epidemic. For example, in 2014, more than 11,000 people in West Africa had died from Ebola but no cases had occurred in Europe. Still, public fear was palpable and just having the wrong colour skin was enough to earn you the side-eye from your fellow passengers on the bus or train. Cough once, and you would find them shuffling away from you.
At that time, Dr Murray of the Royal College of Surgeons wrote “If we are not prepared to fight fear and ignorance as actively and as thoughtfully as we fight any other virus, it is possible that fear can do terrible harm to vulnerable people, even in places that never see a single case of infection during an outbreak. And a fear epidemic can have far worse consequences when complicated by issues of race, privilege, and language.”
However, it’s easy to analyse a situation in hindsight, what’s difficult is for the governments around the world to know when the medical end of the Coronavirus has arrived, rather than the social end. For example, Elon Musk is currently protesting the state of California for extending their lockdown, sharing his belief that the medical end of the virus has already come, and that the government is irresponsibly waiting for the social end to arrive before reopening businesses.
This is where the balancing act comes in, we know that sacrifices need to be made to keep the COVID19 pandemic under control but with many cancer patients currently receiving no treatment, family members distancing themselves from their dying loved ones and business and jobs being lost at increasing rates, there’s a real debate as to when the lockdown will start doing more harm than good.