Virus warnings are scariest since the Aids-terror of the 80s

by Colin Campbell                                                                                                            Friday, March 13

IF the coronavirus turns out to be as bad as predicted we’re facing something between major disruption and a seismic change to life as we know it. From our own point of view, this is our first virus article, as unwelcome a topic as it is unexpected. Who knows, a few weeks from now no-one here might be left in a fit state to write anything about anything.

 We’re potentially looking at Raigmore trapped in an ongoing state of crisis with an influx of stricken patients at the same time as hospital staff are off sick in large numbers. Care homes will suffer accordingly and the death rate there will rise. Schools will close and public transport will be badly hit. Sports events will be cancelled and the Inverness Leisure centre will be forced to close its sweaty, germ-risky doors.

 And then there’s holidays and the local hotel industry. Is it a good time to book a holiday? Almost certainly not. Even if a traveller or family is willing to take a chance and head for some virus blighted destination, the airlines might not be flying there. By the same token, there has to be real concern that the tourism bonanza Inverness has enjoyed in the past several years will fail to materialise this summer.

Of course we don’t know yet if any of this will actually happen. But as of now we can’t be confident it won’t happen either.

 Some of the health advice being directed at us seems impractical, to say the least. Older people have been told to try and avoid using supermarkets. How can that work? At the same time, it’s not appropriate to nitpick over supposed “alarmism”. Older folk aren’t actually being banned from going to supermarkets, just given some kind of mild warning, which will just have to be ignored.

 In terms of scary media coverage, this is being portrayed as the biggest health crisis since Aids in the 1980s.

And what an unforgettably alarming time for many that was.

 The methods of transmission are of course different, hugely different. But at the height of the Aids-terror – which is what it was – you couldn’t look at a newspaper or watch a news programme without being warned that in Britain millions – yes millions – could die from the disease.

 That epidemic of truly horrifying predictions did, unquestionably, make some people ill with fear and anxiety. We were warned that Aids could ravage the entire population. Sexual contact and infected drug needles were cited as the main causes of the spread of the disease. But then that was expanded, as rumour and wild speculation became fact in the minds of many, to include the transmission of saliva. You could catch a killer disease, people believed, by drinking from a glass that hadn’t been properly cleaned.

 And the worst thing was that you wouldn’t even know you had caught it. The death virus could lie dormant in your body for several years before your immune system began to fall apart. To get tested or not to get tested – that was the ghastly dilemma many people wrestled with.

 As time passed the wider facts began to emerge, accurately, with the main one being that it was actually incredibly difficult for the vast majority of people to catch aids. Reports surfaced of people having lived for long periods with infected husbands, wives or partners, and they were still free of the disease. While gay people remained, tragically, at high risk, the number of victims among the heterosexual population was in the low hundreds rather than in the millions. And it was completely and utterly impossible to catch the virus from a dirty pub glass.

 Few people who were around at the time will have forgotten the Aids-terror of the 1980s. The warnings we are seeing being circulated at the moment are not on the same scale, but there are echoes of that dark period in them.

 As of now people can only keep washing their hands and take whatever other sensible precautions may occur to them. The coronavirus may indeed turn out to be a hellish scourge which takes a devastating toll, or a few months from now the worst of the fears may somehow have blown over.

 But as of now, while not being gripped with panic very few people are making light of the coronavirus, and that’s scarcely surprising. Catching it could and probably would be a horrible experience, and no sensible person in these circumstances should want to tempt fate.

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