Fear sells when it comes to this coronavirus so I’m not buying

PUBLISHED: 09:55 26 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:55 26 February 2020

Tourists wearing masks walk in Milan. Italy has seen a number of cases as the virus spreads to Europe. Picture: Antonio Calanni/AP

Tourists wearing masks walk in Milan. Italy has seen a number of cases as the virus spreads to Europe. Picture: Antonio Calanni/AP

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

James Marston says it’s best not to panic about coronavirus, for it has probably been whipped up by the media as something more serious than it really is


I don't like the sound of all this coronavirus do you? A few weeks back I wrote along the lines that it's all a bit of a storm in a tea cup but I'm wondering if don't know best after all.

The Italians have closed down areas of their country in a bid to contain it - and I can't help thinking it all sounds a bit medieval and frightening. We've been putting people in quarantine and the government assures us the planning and procedures are working so far. But still, I'm wondering if I ought to go and buy some tins of things and a bottle of gin just in case things get in short supply, because in rural areas it's not as if we can get to a shop quite like one can in a town, and how will food be distributed anyway? Is society going to break down? Is panic just weeks away? Let's hope not.

The idea of putting towns or regions into what is now known as "lockdown" - and the concept that we might have to self-quarantine - I think that might be quite difficult without roadblocks and a massive military or police presence - seems a bit of an alarming, if not impractical, proposition.

Yet with my journalist's head on I can't help thinking of the old maxim - fear sells. People trapped on cruise ships, and towns inaccessible, freedoms restricted, masks, specialist hospitals, people in those white medical suits - it's how a Hollywood Armageddon blockbuster might start, isn't it? It's all quite a good story and, we might reflect, if it wasn't for journalists - the much maligned "media" to which much blame is applied - we'd know little about it.

I'm no expert and I might be cynical, but I suspect the coronavirus genie is probably out of the bottle - but I am in no mood for panicking. Apparently washing one's hands helps and using a tissue - perhaps this might put an end to the street spitting one sees nowadays.

Moreover, while this coronavirus might be spreading and the world is being advised to prepare for a pandemic, there haven't been large scale deaths yet - so far it looks like the virus might kill around or just less than 1pc of people infected. In terms of population, the number of deaths so far is, well, negligible.

It is one of those times, of course, when we have to put our trust in our public services, our leaders, our experts - the very people, in recent years, it seems to me, we have been knocking at every opportunity.

Anyway, as I said, I'm in no mood to panic. I've got a pantry full of soup and enough tonic to last the course. I checked on my mother's freezer and she could survive a year on breaded fish, minced-based dishes and blinis, if need be.

Time I think, perhaps, to take it in our stride and, dare I say it, see the wider perspective.

Is James right not to panic? Are you worried or not about coronavirus?

James's Mailbag

Thanks to all those who wrote, this week on the subject of social media and bad manners. Here are a few of the emails:

Dear James,

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In response to your article topic of social media, I agree with you that it is now not only irritating but also has the potential to do real harm to those who take it to heart.

When it first came to my notice, I found the concept of minding everyone's business and them minding mine totally alien and still do as I was brought up to respect privacy.

I could not understand why anyone would want to broadcast what they ate for breakfast or why others would be interested anyway. I hoped it would fizzle out but no such luck!

I cannot quite recall the point when postings really got out of hand but it has not been overnight. I totally agree with you that anonymity should not be an option, that some form of traceable identity is a "required field" so those abusing others have the courage of their convictions and face the consequences.

The alias-using trolls are cowards and bullies who ought not to be allowed to air their cruel judgement.

There should be more patience and kindness in all aspects of communication.

Mandy, Witham

How refreshing to read that I am not the only one in the country not to have ever taken part in social media. Nor for that see any reason to do so. I am in my late 70s and quite active in organising various sporting events so fully aware of how to utilise the internet.

Like you, I see no reason why I should have to let the whole world know what I am doing, where I am and what I am about to do, or understand why they would be interested. A lot is said in the press and airwaves about the 
drug problem engulfing the country, should not this latest scourge be classified as on such, it is no doubt the opium of the masses.

Terrey Sparks , King's Lynn

Dear James,

I do agree with you that social media creates more trouble for everyone

I was so sad to hear that Caroline Flack died, she had so much going for her. Someone once said that if you are down, things can only go up and it is true or perhaps I have just been very lucky.

I've always had a job, good friends, and somewhere to live.Perhaps more people should look round them and remember the three prayers: Thank you, wow and help, which cover everything. Kind regards

Dear James, Its no wonder courtesy, respect and manners are unfashionable. Take 'please' and 'thank you'. Don't expect to hear those responses to 'Alexa, turn out the light'! H Lee

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