OPINION: Mass hysteria over coronavirus does more harm than good

OPINION by Ben Sanderson

What a year.

2020 began as a year of certainty in the UK over the fate of Brexit and curious uncertainty over the destiny of the country, but by mid-March the situation worldwide has taken over the news and it is one none could have predicted.

The coronavirus (or COVID-19, to give it its scientific name), a flu-like virus sweeping Earth, has reached Europe and the UK, with over 1,500 cases and over 50 deaths in the UK*, and Europe as a whole has come to a standstill.

The endless stories from the national press (every newspaper and news website available) has coronavirus stories galore. My brother visited the BBC News website to find the top seventeen stories were all related to the coronavirus.

Seventeen.

We never have had such over-the-top coverage of any topic in the news in my lifetime, not the parliamentary crisis over Brexit, nor the Olympics in London, nor the Syrian Civil War.

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Image courtesy of US National Park Service: The coronavirus

This has affected all aspects of life in the UK, with panic buying being the most obvious example. Aldi and Tesco are just two supermarket chains finding themselves bereft of toilet roll, flour or eggs to sell.

People are buying all sorts of things they would not normally need en masse. There have been stories of people filling whole sections of their shopping trollies with tins of mackerel (who even eats mackerel?) or chicken breast. People also often seem to be trusting pasta and toilet roll with saving them from coronavirus. A regular fix of spag-bol and bottom wiping must make us all OK.

The spread it’s had to all other areas of life has been stratospheric. The media was at the forefront of getting the Premier League and Football League cancelled once Mikel Arteta was diagnosed with COVID-19 (three Leicester City players were in self-isolation beforehand). To protect players, staff and fans, the main weekend hobby of millions has just been scrapped.

All “non-essential” travel has been warned against based on government advice, including to pubs and restaurants, and cinemas are feeling the effects of it greatly, with films such as No Time to Die and Mulan being postponed for months over virus fears, meaning cinemas are destined for months of emptiness. The hysteria postponed James Bond – and all the fun places to go to with it.

The holiday companies are really going to take a sucker punch. A friend of my father’s, an air host for about 25 years, is fearing for his job, as his firm British Airways are convinced they will have to make several staff redundant. Another, who works for a company selling villas, says his company is losing £1.5 million a week. Yet another manages a company selling outdoor events. It is all looking very bleak.

Already, FlyBe have gone defunct this year (though their struggles meant COVID-19 was the final nail in the coffin), and Dixons Carphone, albeit amidst financial turmoil of their own, have revealed they are to make 2,900 people redundant due to wholesale closures. In Leicester, Apple and Urban Outfitters are among big names to close their doors. London, meanwhile, sees Trafalgar Square, Harrods and much of Central London deserted, as if a zombie apocalypse had descended.

The consequences for business and employment have been and will continue to be catastrophic. Businesses around the country are bracing themselves for a life-or-death few months and many might not survive. Jobs will be lost, as the state may be forced to grow disconcertingly in power to help subsidise for the loss the private sector is experiencing.

It cannot be said in any plainer terms – the world has changed entirely for the worse.

Looking at COVID-19, though, it is impossible to figure out a good reason for this.

That is not to say that we should not be concerned about the coronavirus. 188,167 people have been diagnosed and almost 7,500 have died worldwide* and it is definitely a mega disease.

Let us take a look at China, though. The country which gave birth to the virus has seen 80,881 cases and 3,226 deaths* related to the virus. It has already peaked there, quite some time ago judging by the speed of coronavirus events in Europe. China is a country with a population just shy of 1.4 billion. Less than 0.01% of the population have even had the virus, and far less still have died from it. The same rings true for the UK and most countries which are dealing with it.

The reason so few cases turn to deaths is because only the elderly and those with pre-existing breathing problems are at genuine risk of dying. Many “click-bait” articles came out following the death from coronavirus of a 21-year-old Spanish football coach – but he had pneumonia beforehand. Most people recover from the coronavirus.

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Image courtesy of Bay Harbour Islands: The coronavirus

Even among the elderly, the risk of death is below 15%. That is significantly less than half. For all the hysteria’s outreach threatening to, in Nick Ferrari’s words, “stigmatise” an entire group of people, most will actually recover. A 101-year-old Chinese man recovered from coronavirus. Most people, even the geriatrics, do. Those with the pre-existing condition which is most at risk of death, cardiovascular disease, are at 10.5% risk of death. This is a very low figure to get so hyperactive over.

Yet they are being told not to go out for fear that they will get the virus. 14 care homes were shut down to visitors in the North-East due to the fears. There are plans to make the elderly self-isolate for four months. Imagine being elderly yourself, having rheumatism or arthritis or a heart condition and barely being able to stand, and spending most of the week alone in a chair watching re-runs of Only Fools and Horses. The highlight of the week, the thing that brightens up life, will be visits from loved ones or trips out walking or swimming. The government are threatening to take that away and consign these people to abject misery over fears these people might die from the coronavirus. If they are all put in self-isolation “for their own good” by nut jobs who know no better, they might well wish they had it.

The young and middle-aged are not even at great risk from the virus’ effects. Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi, both of whom had coronavirus and whose cases led to the postponement of elite football in England, have immediately started to feel better. To them, it was little more than an ailment which got them a tad under-the-weather.

I generally am cynical of those who blame the media for life’s problems but this time they really are blowing an issue out of proportion. As the media machine churns out more and more stories to cash in on the hysteria, there seems little awareness among people as to how the virus really will affect them.

People are genuinely prepared to go into virtual lock-down for months over the flu. That is just ridiculous. People are going to disrupt their entire lives over heightened risk of catching the flu.

At a first whiff of the virus, elite football was postponed, and viral growth, while quick, has seen even faster responses, as the US and EU locked down their borders and the stock market prepares for a crash even worse than the 2008 financial crisis, all because people cannot brave the flu.

I am no sceptic to the idea it will be painful and I would not wish the coronavirus on anyone but it is a virus, it exists, and it will win eventually, unless people are literally willing to never mix with the outside world again to combat the virus. We know we cannot stop this virus, and maybe the “herd immunity” approach suggested by Sir Patrick Vallance will actually be the sensible option.

Better to go down with a bout of flu than plunge the stock market, the foundation of world economy, and several businesses and jobs into the abyss. I, for one, am not prepared to lose everything over worries about a virus it will take a matter of days, or even hours, to recover from.

That is not the way that the media and Twitter brigade see it, though, with many tweets making clear the absurd extent to which people are hyping up the virus.

As these tweets show, Twitter has been incendiary over the coronavirus. From the endless calls to suspend football, to the endless calls for a school or work walk out, to calls for martial law and China-style containment of the coronavirus.

It is worth noting how in line with this over-reaction on Twitter has been with government policy (though they are always blamed on the app for actually being too laissez-faire over the issue), as more and more public buildings and events face the axe over coronavirus fears.

Italy and Spain have gone into lock-down over the virus and sometimes the UK are urged to follow suit, in spite of the fact that the UK is an island nation and so will have less to fear from the spread than continental Europe due to the English Channel’s fluid barrier. In addition, the UK’s first case came twenty-four hours after Italy’s, yet Italy has seen over 2,100 more deaths and over 25,000 more cases*.

The media has led the charge which has created all this insanity. Who can forget Piers Morgan likening it to a war? We should all be very sure that staying home in pyjamas and watching Netflix is no match for risking aerial suicide to save thousands from having homes bombed, or slogging over thousands of miles of Russian land to meet terrifying tank resistance in Kursk. We are not fighting a war. If anything, we are cowering away.

The media think they are doing the right thing by informing people regularly (constantly) of the coronavirus, making them aware of its reach and effects and its status in the country and world. No one has changed their minds due to coronavirus, though. The panic has not been an effect of genuine fear of catching the virus and dying from it (well, that is, in rational minds). The panic has been a knock-on effect of the panic. The panic buying, holiday withdrawals, university cancellations and cinema closures were all results more of the hysteria and its calls than genuine reasoning about the coronavirus. All the media have really done by incessantly hammering home chaos concerning coronavirus is not inform us more but scare us, and so leave shops bereft of essential supplies due to stupidity.

This is the same stupidity that has told us that the UK would become a “Third World country” after Brexit or that the world is genuinely going to end in a decade due to global warming. Supposed experts fed into the orchestrators of such ill-founded logic which was supposed to change our minds and our ways.

It never did, and neither of those doom-and-gloom prophecies have been proven true. We, rightly, never listened to the “experts” then and we should not now. (To be fair, it is actually the other side who are committing worse offences now, with the Daily Mail and Telegraph having a field day with the scare stories). Nobody has a clue what is going to happen. The coronavirus could last until Spring 2021, but it could also peak in early April. For some reason, we all seem drawn to see things from the worst-case scenario. Especially in times like this, that is highly inappropriate.

The reason why coronavirus hysteria has gained more impetus than that of the same ilk which characterised the “Bremain” campaign and the climate change student strikes is because there is no clear political motive for the crisis calls, and it is of course a public health emergency. When health is brought into the question, even for a fairly low-risk disease such as COVID-19, people are much more prone to jump out of their seats. This is not informed preparation for a crisis. This is stupidity and it will drag this world down.

Compared to SARS which created panic in the early 2000s, the coronavirus is definitely worse, but then we should not be comparing it to SARS just because it was the most recent outbreak of a virus close to home. Why don’t we compare it to influenza? That was one of the deadliest epidemics in human history (which the media and Twitter would have us believe about the coronavirus), with around 500 million getting Spanish flu and at least 17 million dying. That was after the Great War, and hospitals, still very flawed by today’s standards, were dealing with a high overspill of war injuries while influenza made its mark. The people did not stand a chance. We are treating coronavirus as if it has that potency, but in fact the death toll will end up being so far short of that total it will not even be worth comparing the two.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: Chinese President Xi Jinping did a tour of coronavirus-hit Wuhan amidst the January outbreak in China

It’s all well and good saying that if the coronavirus ends soon and until then life coming to a standstill seemed like a complete over-reaction, that the right thing was done and we came together to kill a virus. We would all like that, but it’s just not true. By encouraging this doomsday mentality, the oversensitive lunatics calling for a lockdown have thought about nothing else.

The bottom line is that businesses are going to go under and people will lose their jobs if we keep acting like a bull in a china shop, and the stock market will be so crippled that financial prospects afterwards will not look pretty either. The coronavirus will then be a tragedy not just because of illness and death (which is undoubtedly an absolute tragedy) but even worse – because of the sheer number of people affected – the world will be destitute.

Never underestimate the coronavirus. That is not the message. There is no need, though, to make the virus even worse than it already is by making tons of people fear for their livelihoods. It achieves nothing but depression, worry and fear for the future.

If we really are using the war theme, then urgency certainly was important (and it has had more than its fair share of representation in terms of coronavirus coverage).

What was also important was that the mentality to get through a war is not to continuously press panic buttons like a bride whose wedding dress does not fit, but to “Keep Calm and Carry On”, like the film puts it.

That is the exact mentality that should be advised. Drastic action will only prompt more confusion and panic than is at all necessary. At this point in time, what we need is a calm head.

What we definitely do not need is this insanity-driven hysteria, which has turned the world into a Y2K-esque cult. It will, if we let it go on, do far more harm than good. Let’s grow up and take coronavirus in our stride. We can beat it – and we don’t have to end the world to win.

*Figures correct at time of writing

Coronavirus in sport: Nationwide postponement of football matches affects Leicestershire clubs

By Ben Sanderson

Leicester City’s games against Watford, Chelsea and Brighton have been postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The Premier League announced on Friday, March 13, that, in conjunction with the English Football League, it would suspend all games until April 4 as the UK tries to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Scientifically named COVID-19, the virus has caused 1,543 cases in the UK and 55 deaths at the time of writing.

It has affected all aspects of life in the UK, including sport, and all elite clubs are casualties of the cull of public events.

Hinckley AFC and Coalville Town have also had games postponed in the Midland League and Southern League, respectively.

The lack of football raises significant questions over what to do with the rest of the Premier League season.

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Image courtesy of US National Park Sefvice: The coronavirus

Some advocate ending the season as it stands, an outcome which may suit Leicester City, given their positioning within the Champions League spots.

Others, including former UEFA executive Lars-Christer Olsson, believe the season must be played to an end when possible for the good of European competitions.

There is also a (weak) argument that last season’s top four may be allowed the top four spots given the unique circumstances of this season.

That would see Arsenal, 9th this term, qualify for the Champions League, due to Manchester City’s 2-year ban from European football for falsifying sponsorship revenue.

It is known that if that were to be the case, Liverpool, Manchester United, Wolves and Sheffield United would all oppose the move in league with the Foxes.

Unfortunately, a 14-team majority would fill the quota needed to agree to the season’s end now with honours given to last season’s frontrunners, so two other teams would need to join Leicester’s camp.

The relegation strugglers would not be in that camp, with West Ham chairwoman Karren Brady firmly backing ending the season now as null and void.

There remains a general consensus Liverpool with their 25-point lead should be crowned champions as recognition of their excellent season, with Brady even retracting her original comments on that, but little on Leicester’s final position, which some may say is unjust given Leicester have an eight-point cushion within the Champions League spots.

Photo courtesy of Mark Charles: Leicester City thrashed Aston Villa 4-0 in what may be their last game of this season
Photo courtesy of Mark Charles: Leicester City sit third, eight points clear of 5th-placed Manchester United, and whether they would be in next season’s Champions League remains to be seen with the Premier League quite possibly prepared to ask the 20 clubs if the season should end early

De Montfort University moves classes online due to coronavirus

By Ben Sanderson

De Montfort University has suspended all classes until further notice, with classes moving to an online format.

In a bid by the university to minimise the scale of the effects of the coronavirus among students and staff, the university issued a statement to students on Monday, March 16, making clear that classes were going to be taught online.

It said: “As the number of cases of COVID-19 has increased and become more widespread we have taken the decision to move our classroom teaching online.

“From Wednesday morning (18 March), all teaching of this type – which includes face-to-face lectures, seminars and tutorials – will be suspended as we transition to online provision. This means that any scheduled classes and lectures that you have will not be offered Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week.

“Then on Monday 23 March, we will begin delivering our classroom teaching and lectures online. The online delivery will include any material missed as a result of the suspension of teaching activities this week. This will carry on until we break up on Friday 3 April.”

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Image courtesy of US National Park Service: The coronavirus

The university has cancelled classes, but some buildings will remain open albeit subject to reduced hours.

“The campus will remain open and the library, food and drink outlets and other buildings will remain open and available. The library will open between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm on Saturday and 11am-6pm on Sunday, but please keep an eye out for details of the opening hours of other buildings,” the statement said.

“Workshops and practical sessions will continue as scheduled this week and studios and laboratories will remain open for students requiring those facilities. But there will be no more classroom-based teaching or lecturing until further notice.

“We know that many of you have been asking for this for a number of days and we are pleased that we are now in a position to announce this move.”

De Montfort University pledged to follow “national guidelines” as it becomes part of a national effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Coronavirus has gathered pace in the UK in the past few days, with cases steadily growing to a current number of 1,543, including 1 in Leicester.

A total of 55 people have died nationwide.

The latest government advice has told people to avoid public buildings and “non-essential” travel.

Universities have since been casualties of the cull in places open to visitors, with DMU following the lead of Durham University, the London School of Economics and the Manchester and London Metropolitan Universities, the first to announce the moving of lectures to an online platform.

Classes are definitely off until the Easter Holidays, but it is unclear whether they will begin afterwards, as the coronavirus and uncertainty around it continues to spread.

Unrecognisable transformation taking place at Regents Court

By Kira Gibson

From boring and a lack of space to shelves, hidey holes and so much more.

The incredible transformation at the Regents Court student accommodation flats in Leicester has shocked almost everyone.

In just under three weeks per section, the construction team is refurbishing four floors of bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms.

Installing new beds, fridges and freezers, each resident is getting a brand new flat to live in.

The construction work started in mid-January and at three weeks per block is due to finish in mid-August.

One resident, who wished not to be named, said: “It’s completely unrecognisable as to what I am living in now. I’ve already rebooked for next year and I can’t wait to move in.”

Another resident at the property, Emmanuella Ezeocha, stated she is looking forward to moving into a new flat in the latest move over.

“I’m happy about it because it’s refreshing to move somewhere that doesn’t look so vintage and out-of-place from the other accoms.”

The accommodation houses both De Montfort University and University of Leicester students and is an ideal distance away from both universities as well as the train station and the Leicester Royal Infirmary.

To book a viewing in the brand new Regents Court, contact Sulets and ask to see the fantastic refurbishments. If you would like to rebook, contact one of the receptionists who will help you with your inquiry and show you around the show flat.

Coronavirus: DMU and UOL cancel Varsity

By Luke Williamson

Varsity 2020 has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic, De Montfort University and University of Leicester have announced.

De Montfort University’s QEII Leisure Centre

The annual sporting competition, which was due to start on Thursday [19MAR], was abandoned after UOL entered its period of social distancing due to the disease.

In a statement to students on Friday, DMU said: “Due to the UK Government’s latest advice to delay the spread of coronavirus, DMU and the University of Leicester have jointly taken the decision to cancel all Varsity fixtures.

“We realise this might be disappointing at short notice, but the health and safety of our community must always be our highest priority.

“Both Universities are saddened that they’ve had to make such a difficult decision,” the statement said.

The decision came in the light of new national and international developments, but the University did state that it had had no cases of COVID-19 at DMU.

In addition to this, DMUSports released a statement to coaches and players in its sports teams surrounding University sport, and released a condensed version to Instagram and Twitter on Monday [16MAR] afternoon.

The statement read: “Due to the Government’s latest advice to delay the spread of coronavirus, we’ve taken the decision to cancel the following activities until at least the 27th of April.

“Club training, DMUActive and active leagues, all competitions and tournaments (including BUCS and club run events), Sports Awards and all other student activity related to sport,” the statement read.

The news came after the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said that everyone in the UK should avoid non-essential travel and social contact with others to help delay the spread of the disease.

This meant that the DecolonisingDMU event at the Edith Murphy building on Wednesday [18MAR] was also cancelled.

There have now been five confirmed cases in Leicestershire with 1,543 cases in the UK according to Public Health England at nine o’clock this morning.