An endemic is a disease constrained to a geographical area. But once a disease spreads around different geographic regions at the same time, it becomes an epidemic. A pandemic is a disease that puts the entire world into jeopardy. The SARS-CoV-2; one of the coronaviruses that cause an illness known as COVID-19, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Moreover, they are zoonotic, meaning they transmit between animals and people. Earlier SARS-CoV-1 was transmitted from civet cats to humans. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003 spread to more than twenty countries infecting 8000 people and caused 800 deaths. Later another coronavirus known as MERS-CoV was identified, that transmitted from Arabian camels to humans. MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) was first identified in a patient from Saudi Arabia in April 2012 and later spread around 26 countries primarily in the Middle East. There were more than 2500 reported cases of MERS and the virus caused 862 deaths reported by the WHO. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. Still, the possibility of transmission to the human body is not zero.

COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is the second-largest pandemic after HIV/AIDS. The historical pandemics include cholera, that began in Bengal around 1857 and caused more than 2 million deaths. The first influenza pandemic was recorded in 1580, and since then, influenza pandemics occurred every 10 to 30 years. The deadliest influenza pandemics in history include: flu of 1889 that caused a million deaths, Spanish flu of 1918 exterminated 150 million people from the face of this earth, Asian flu in 1957 caused more than 2 million fatalities, and the Hong Kong flu of 1968 ended with more than 1 million human casualties. The most recent flu pandemic in the US, initially known as swine flu, occurred in 2009 and led to the death of half a million people worldwide.

Similarly, during crusades, the bubonic plague and typhus started spreading like a pandemic in 1489. It killed around one hundred thousand soldiers. Typhus reappeared as a pandemic in 1618 and caused eight hundred German deaths, and once again, there were about 25 million infections and 3 million deaths from the epidemic typhus in Russia from 1918 to 1922. Moreover, 5.7 million soviet prisoners of wars died in Nazi custody.

During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox as a pandemic was responsible for 300-500 million deaths. Only in 1979, the WHO certified a complete eradication of the disease. To this day, smallpox is the only human infectious disease that has been completely eradicated. Measles killed around 200 million people worldwide over the last 150 years. And in 2000 alone, out of 40 million reported cases globally, measles killed some 777,000 worldwide. Now measles has turned in an endemic disease, meaning that it has been continually present in a specific community.

Likewise, malaria was an epidemic that caused the decline of the Roman Empire and then turned into a pandemic in later years. Each year, there are approximately 350–500 million cases of malaria. Purpose of providing these statistics is to realise the rise and fall of the pandemics in the documented history of human society and the human loss that has been caused by them. Another purpose is to calm down the anxiety and look at the matter from other perspectives.

To put this virus argument in context, let us take an example of the USA where the seasonal flu affects and kills far more people each year than the coronavirus has to date. There are already 18,000 deaths this year from the seasonal flu, while only 18 deaths this year from coronavirus in the US among which 90 percent of those who die from seasonal flu each year are elderly, often with underlying chronic conditions, according to the US CDC (Centre for Disease Control). The CDC has published the following figures for the seasonal flu’s impact on the US between Oct. 1, 2019, and Feb. 29, 2020, that points out 34 million to 49 million people have suffered from flu-like illness, 16 million to 23 million have visited doctors, clinics or hospitals because of flu symptoms, 350,000 to 620,000 have been hospitalised for the flu, 20,000 to 52,000 have died from the flu, an average of 7,000 per month. Don’t forget it’s due to flu, not COVID-19. Wish some data of such sort might be available with our bureau of statistics that covers the health sector at a federal and provincial level in Pakistan! Do we have any? If yes, then come up with the comparative data, and stop freaking us out with shallow argument with a negligible number of cases.

The latest death estimate report of WHO reveals that tobacco kills up to half of its users, means more than 8 million people each year, from which 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Why didn’t we ever launch a strong, convincing campaign to shut down cigarette manufacturing units? If a small statement of “smoking is injurious to health” suffices the need then for COVID-19 we can mention the precautionary measures.

Another standpoint to consider is that social media and sensational headlines, in particular, tend to perpetuate such situations, which in turn can create unnecessary panic. In the media, there’s a phrase that ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ meaning news is based on compelling headlines, and viewership increases when there’s hype. Hype drives numbers and numbers drive advertisers. Hype and misinformation deliberately cause panic. This helps those who lack accountability and integrity and may wish to capitalise on increased sales, panic buying, travel chaos, online scaremongering, or the disruption of the financial and economic markets; yes, even the belt and road initiative is in peril now.

Anyways the flu isn’t news, but the coronavirus is. Highlighting the worst-case scenario on every local station draws people in because when it’s local, it feels personal. This has created a critical shift in behaviour, and that behaviour is driving economics. Anytime economics are impacted, you’re going to see the headlines show up. The construction of hype through media does help the interest groups and ultimately helps media in response. Alongside all arguments mentioned above, still, everyone is right to be concerned about the coronavirus. Because we are just at the beginning of this pandemic, we are not sure how it will end. Still, we also need to calm down and must be capable of differentiating between the real threat and augmented threat to avoid COVID-19 hysteria.