Thursday, 20 February, 2020
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OPINION

Role Of Emotions In Tackling COVID-19



Hira Bahadur Thapa

 

As the spread of coronavirus becomes faster killing around 1,300 and infecting almost 50,000 people despite efforts to slow it, pseudoscience is obstructing global endeavours to contain it in the opinion of Gabriel Leung, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Dean of Medicine at University of Hong Kong. He has joined fellow scientists in the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva to coordinate scientific research to find out the lethality of the disease and evaluate the success of containment measures. Coronavirus has been named as COVID-19 by the WHO to avoid any stigma against any country or location or people from where the disease has originated.
With the scope of epidemic on the rise despite first-rate preventive measures taken by China, there are anxieties that prolonged disruption in supply chain of goods traded globally would badly impact then world economy at a time when even China’s annual growth has not exceeded 6 per cent for some years. The significant issue is when the virus will be contained in order that economic activities in China, the world’s second largest economy, resumes at full swing.
The concerns expressed by the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus are noteworthy. He said, “This outbreak could go in any direction. The accurate grasp of the situation in China is necessary for the safety of the rest of the world. The country is so central to the world economy that it can easily “seed’ epidemics everywhere”.
Conversely, professor of Economics at Fudan University, Zhang Jun, the Director of the China Centre for Economic Studies, has provided some optimistic note arguing that because of China’s unparalleled ability to mobilise resources to fight the disease, the duration of economic downturn would be short-lived. He explains China’s national campaign to identify any citizen who had travelled to and from Wuhan since the outbreak began towards the end of December to show how seriously the government has been handling the epidemic. This is why many people in Nepal too believe that the students in Wuhan, the epicentre of the disease, who have been waiting evacuation by the government remain safe as assured by the country’s ambassador.
Nevertheless, the Government of Nepal is in constant touch with Chinese authorities and preparing for its citizens’ evacuation as wished by them, who have already submitted their applications through Nepali Embassy in Beijing. As required by the international health regulations and practice our government has now almost completed necessary preparations to safely evacuate the students and their quarantine at least for two weeks has been arranged at Bhaktapur. The date of evacuation has been finalised and Nepal airlines would fly on Saturday to bring back the students, whose parents and relatives can obviously feel relieved.
While the government was effortful to do the preparations with regards to evacuation, there were protests from those in Bhaktapur living in the vicinity of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) training building where the students would be quarantined stating that their health would be jeopardized as evacuees might have contracted the virus.
Apparently, their demands look reasonable but seen from the perspectives of medical professionals and health experts, there is no justification behind their initial protests. Doctors explain that all those would -be evacuees are not sickened people as the protesters assume. There should be no concern for the health of the people in the neighborhood of the quarantined hostel because the students in Wuhan have not been in contact with any infected people because the Universities have been locked down to prevent any possible transmission since January 23, when the Hubei provincial government announced the measure barring any transportation to and from Wuhan.
It is in this context that the expert opinion from a sociologist psychologist from the US becomes so relevant for us to understand why battling epidemics like coronavirus is comparatively turning difficult notwithstanding the collaboration from so many countries plus the World Health Organization. The WHO’s expert team is already in China to help the Chinese scientists explore the possible vaccines to treat coronavirus.
Dr. David Desteno, a professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, and a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership, an author of a book “ Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride”, has articulated how a lack of firm trust in expertise has been making us too much the victim of fear, which has resemblance to the situation in Bhaktapur.
The Psychology professor further contends that emotions can bias our decisions that don’t accurately reflect the danger around us. He elaborates this based on his experiments on people giving them options to choose in times of emergencies. When the options are framed in terms of deaths rather than cures we will accept more risks to try to avoid deaths.
Additionally, Dr. Desteno gives us an example of the US where only 12 people out of almost 50000 globally sickened cases have been confirmed to have the coronavirus, and all have had or are undergoing medical monitoring. Yet the fear of contracting the virus is rampant in the country.
Therefore, when people spend more time considering an issue but don’t have the relevant facts at hand like we have the situation in Nepal to make an informed decision, there are more opportunities for their feelings to fill in the blanks. Conforming to this reality as news about the virus in China claiming more than two hundred lives in one single day (February 12) stokes our fears, it makes us not only worried than we need be about contracting it, but also more susceptible to embracing fake claims and potentially problematic, hostile or fearful attitudes towards those around us as opined by the expert.
Fortunately, the voice of protest has disappeared and there would be no obstruction in putting the students, who themselves are doctors, where isolation beds and other medical facilities are in place, to ensure that there is no transmission of virus. The government is sensitive to this issue and thus needs public support.

(Thapa was Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. He writes on contemporary national and international issues. thapahira17@gmail.com) 

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