This morning I realised that we were running low on tomato soup in my house. I was already facing the prospect of going outside, having arranged to meet a few friends for coffee in Westwood Cross, so I braced myself to endure storm Ciara.
The winds were high and carrying whipping rain and the weather has only got worse since. That’s not the only news for today, though. We now face the possibility that the coronavirus has hit Thanet, right in the middle of the storm. Does this mean it’s the end of the world? Will there be panic in the streets, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria?
When I left to go to the shops I didn’t need to dig out my hazmat suit and respirator to venture outdoors to my nearest supermarket. Neither did I need any weaponry—there are no marauding hordes, no zombies. I just needed a coat.
No one else was wearing protective clothing either, and that is because the actual risk to us all is incredibly slim. As in, basically the same as last week.
After picking up soup, I visited Westwood Cross. There were plenty of people and nothing out of the ordinary. It was just a bit windy.
I did overhear a couple having a conversation. One was concerned they might need to buy face masks. The other was saying that coronavirus was bat flu and it had mixed with pig flu. Neither of these things is true—that’s the plot of the film Contagion. In that case, it was all Gwyneth Paltrow’s fault. In reality, the worst she’s done recently is started selling an odd-scented candle.
Coronavirus is not flu. It is a group of viruses that include the common cold, and has been around as long as humanity, and probably before. It is not a new thing. There is one new strain, coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which hasn’t previously been seen in humans, and that is the one in the news. It is a respiratory illness, much like flu, and if you catch it you will have a bad cold. The symptoms are coughing, high temperature, and shortness of breath.
If you are worried, please take a look at the NHS guide to coronavirus.
The main risk with this particular strain of coronavirus is that those who become infected are more likely to catch pneumonia as well. Currently, the worldwide mortality rate for coronavirus (2019-nCoV) stands at 2%.
Suspected cases are being investigated everywhere, including Thanet. Coincidentally, there also happens to be some bad weather at the moment. That doesn’t mean this is the apocalypse.
To stay safe you just need to wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face, mouth, or eyes. If you are going to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth. You should do this anyway, as it is just good manners.
If infection is suspected, the people concerned will be quarantined. If the case turns out to be a positive infection (99.6% in the UK have been negative) they will most likely be moved to a specialist hospital. The NHS is excellent. The staff care and are compassionate and wonderful people, and in this regard I expect they will take the utmost precautions.
There is no need to sound the alarms. You don’t have to stock up on tinned food. You will not need gas masks. People have died, and that is terrible, but that does not mean we are on the brink of societal collapse.
Now I’m going to eat some tomato soup.