Is global coronavirus panic justified?

Is global coronavirus panic justified?

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Corona virus compared to the annual flu

In the media, the conditions in the Chinese city of Wuhan are already compared to a film-like zombie apocalypse. Thousands of infected, the virus is appearing in more and more cities and countries, the news about the Corona virus 2019-nCoV is overflowing. Is there really cause for panic?

China quarantines cities with millions, neighboring countries seal off their borders. At the same time, the new corona virus hardly seems worse than the flu. How does this all come together?

The flu: a deadly plague in Germany

According to estimates, there may be tens of thousands of deaths and millions of sufferers from violent flu waves. In addition, the new corona virus is almost harmless. Nevertheless, the world is excited, drastic measures are the result. There are well-founded concerns - but also emotions.

Does the new virus take root in the world population?

Experts would like the new virus to disappear completely. They want to use all available measures to prevent a new pathogen, which is fatal to some patients, from implanting itself in the world population. The Robert Koch Institute also believes it is crucial to prevent the virus from spreading to humans. Otherwise, there is another virus that could cause serious respiratory diseases, said a spokeswoman.

Consequences cannot yet be estimated

In addition, the virus is new and has not been thoroughly researched. "As long as you don't finally know something about such a virus, the greatest possible caution is always required," said Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on Monday in the ARD morning magazine, looking at pictures of hospital staff in safety suits.

Some drastic containment measures

Containment measures - China seals off cities with millions, states close borders, infected people are isolated - are aimed at preventing as many further illnesses as possible, says Bernd Salzberger, President of the German Society for Infectious Diseases. It is also about gaining time: "The slower it goes, the more we know about countermeasures such as antiviral drugs - which are also used in China - and may also create a vaccine."

The emotional component of the coronavirus

In addition to these scientific reasons, there is also an emotional component to concerns. The images from China, where the new corona virus first appeared, appear drastic. Cities are swept empty, millions of people isolated from the outside world. Michael Siegrist, risk perception expert at ETH Zurich, says that little is known about the virus and that people have also died, encouraging a high level of risk perception.

The fear of a threat should not be underestimated

The psychological effect of fear and the perception of threats should not be underestimated - this also applies to authorities, adds Sonia Lippke, health psychologist at Jacobs University Bremen. According to Lippke, the Chinese authorities seem to have concerns that the population is losing trust - and that other countries consider the Chinese government to be incompetent. This leads to measures that "would not be common in Germany". The WHO explicitly praised China's response to the virus.

Infections are constantly increasing

So far, more than 17,000 people have been infected with the new virus. Most of them in China. More than 360 have died. What does it do to people? "The increase in cases, especially in China, initially seems as if the situation is not under control," says infectious disease specialist Salzberger. You have something out of control - many people fear this idea.

Fear and statistics don't have to match

At the same time, the images from the sealed-off Wuhan had an impact, says the Göttingen fear researcher Professor Borwin Bandelow. People said to themselves: "They don't do it without a reason". This can create fear, but it does not have to be justified. Bandelow says: "Fear is not good in statistics."

We got used to the flu

There is generally less concern about the flu than about the coronavirus. "We got used to it," explains Salzberger. Bandelow says: “Most people get the flu and know that it will be over after 14 days. They don't think that you can die from the flu. ”(Vb; source: Thomas Strünkelnberg, dpa)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Robert Koch Institute: Case definition for case finding, reporting and transmission (as of February 1, 2020),
  • Robert Koch Institute: 2019-nCoV: Suspect clarification and measures, guidance for doctors (published: January 23, 2020),

Video: . markets in meltdown as coronavirus panic intensifies after Trumps travel ban (June 2022).


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