Normally, when the whole world goes woowoo over something, I tend to back away and withdraw from the discussion. Usually there’s so much debate and sensation that hard news facts are tough to find anyway and so I try not to. But this time with the Corona virus it’s different. The news has come to my back yard since the virus has reached our town this morning. An anonymous employee from our local hospital’s been tested positive. Ouch.

When abstract news becomes reality

A hospital’s not a good place to work when infected and I sure hope she’s not infected anyone else. But looking at the statistics of the past week, I’m holding my breath. And I’m wondering: are the government doing enough to stop the virus? We are such a wee little, but super crammed country; shouldn’t we just go in lock down for a fortnight? I know it would cause unbelievable practical discomfort and the economy wouldn’t flourish from it either. But turning to the statistics again, it looks like we have a serious outbreak going on in our country and thus far the percentage of casualties seems to be between 1% and 5%, depending on what figures you count. How far do we take it, keeping our lives ‘business as usual’ when many lives will be at stake?

The value of news facts

Earlier this week I reposted a Belgian article on facebook that seemd to put things into perspective a bit. It was written by a journalist who said amongst others that the number of casualties in China is likely to be high due to chemical smog that normally covers cities like Wuhan and that probably renders people more likely to become seriously ill. Over here in the West the virus looked more like a regular cold or flu. Unfortunately the death toll in Italy rose dramatically yesterday, raising the percentage of casualties to almost 5%, compared to China’s 3,5%, leaving no room for thinking oneself safer in the West. So the one bit of ‘news’ that I shared hoping to provide a little reassurance, wasn’t correct either. I hate that and I’ve removed the post.

Incomplete or silent ‘facts’

I believe It’s these contradictory ‘facts’ that makes situations like these harder to handle. We are told it’s ‘just a normal flu, no worries’. But then in Italy in one day over 130 people die from it. Oops, not ‘just a normal flu’ then, we guess. But there’s no comments from experts and officials. In fact, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment have toned down their frequency of reporting to just once a day, This causes more unrest for some as many local health institutes keep reporting new cases, like the one in my own home town today, which was reported before the official number came out, but was not taken into account and won’t be in the totals before tomorrow. It makes one wonder, how many more numbers like these are there really then?

Hush

Sadly, the only news I heard on the radio about the Corona Virus today is that the European share markets have crashed. Not that we now officially have 321 confirmed cases of Corona in our stamp-sized country. I had to look that up on a designated website. And, as I wrote above, the number isn’t definitieve. More cases are already known. And we’re still awaiting the outcome of random tests done on a large number of hospital employees in a highly-infected area of our country where Carnival festivities might have spread the virus big time

Why the fuss

Yeah, you’re right. I’m fussing. But for good reason. Normally, being the type of heart patient that I am is of little concern. I’m hardly ever worried about heart-related stuff. With the Corona virus, I am. A serious lung infection can be a very serious problem for me. Normal flu can cause that too, but it’s rare. And I’m especially scared since this year picked up EVERY little virus that floated by. So I’m thinking: a late hibernation or some hermitting? Not that I can keep the virus out of the house with a family going to school and work. But one can reassuringly fool oneself a bit, no? I mean, I know for a holy scientific fact that painting with watercolor actually strengthens the body’s defense mechanism against viruses. So painting a bit more than usual wouldn’t be too bad, right? 😉

So, what to do when nervous or afraid?

When I’m uptight about something, I tend to scribble in my sketchbook and very often it’s little drawings with criticism on how our world works. (See another example here.) Being a little angry is easier than being scared, I guess. It just feels good ranting with watercolor. But also, my visual rants make sense. Like the one I did this morning: if it weren’t for globalisation, the Corona virus wouldn’t have spread as quickly or even at all. It’s business men and tourists who imported it into Europe. And then it’s the holiday makers who went to Italy who spread it all over.

'Globalisation' by Mandy van Goeije
“Globalisation”, watercolor and ink on paper, © 2020 Mandy van Goeije

It’s from mud that lotuses grow

Out of the greatest horrors come beautiful things, they say. And I’m hoping that a Corona virus pandemic-in-the-making like this one – although I believe WHO doesn’t call it a pandemic just yet, at the moment – is going to make people think about it. About how we live. About what we think is normal and what we take for granted. Is it really that normal that we travel the world all the time? If anything beautiful already came out of this virus, it’s that big cities in China that are normally covered in thick chemical smog now have perfectly clean air. Is it normal to sacrifice people’s health for big-time manufacturing? And how much is our economy worth versus the lives of people? What is an economy when it consists out of so many sick people anyway? And what is an economy for? For the market economy itself or for people?

Every change begins with questions

I know I tend to be a bit idealistic and the impact is probably not going to be that great. I mean, the moment this virus has drifted past, I suspect life will pick up just like it was before and people will want to forget and treat themselves to….a nice holiday in Italy, or somewhere else, to forget the stress. But even if the masses don’t feel a nudge to think about things, I know many people do feel it. However, nobody seems more concerned than our teenagers. Kids talk about the Corona virus and world-wide and politically related issues ALL the time. Kids watch the growing numbers ALL day, EVERY day. Kids are drawing question marks at a normally running society when a potentially lethal epidemic is spreading. Again it’s the young who are asking the right questions.

Artist’s conclusion

When bad things happen, we should stop to think what we can learn. I did not write this article to spread fear. I’m just an artist and I observe what I see happening and I stop to think. I’m aware that a new virus poses a challenge to ‘officials’ and ‘experts’ because it’s not yet known what a virus can and will do and how it will evolve during its outbreak. The last SARS virus turned from vicious to relatively harmless by itself.

But at the same time, when trying to prevent a national or global panic from happening, I believe it’s imporant to provide facts constantly. And I believe it’s important to explain why certain measures are taken and others are not. The much used phrase “we rely on the advice of our experts” doesn’t really generate trust. And lastly, I believe that being part of nature means that we will be challenged over and over again. We won’t be able to stop things like viruses from happening. But we can learn to deal with it better and to ask ourselves questions about how the world works and to realize that it is us who make the world go round as it does.