Much has been made of the coronavirus here in the UK. Over the past few days the government announced a four-step plan for tackling the virus and preparing for the possibility that a fifth of UK workers could be sick at the same time. 


Underlying some of the media coverage and action undertaken by the government is a belief that the hysteria surrounding the virus is unwarranted and, in some ways, more damaging than the virus itself

While the media standardly enjoys sensationalizing diseases, natural disasters, and other news-grabbing phenomena, in the case of covid-19 a more sober approach has been evident — perhaps too sober. There is nothing wrong with taking precautions and being aware of this virus, given how little we know about it and how quickly it is spreading across the world.

If the government expects thousands of UK citizens to fall ill, with the chief medical officer stating that it is ‘likely’ that there will be an epidemic in-country and the NHS declaring a level four incident, then preparedness is arguably justified. Naturally, there is a growing concern across the country as a result of these developments. 

Panic is always unhelpful but difficult to stem when trying to provide updates on the virus and the measures being implemented to limit its potential impact.

How does one not worry when their government uses words like ‘epidemic,’ ‘death’ and ‘level four’?

It is a fact that the virus is spreading and spreading quickly. This is the main reason for the growing unease amongst the public. Take a look at this video (skip to 1:43). It shows the rate of the spread of the coronavirus in comparison to other viruses. Given that the virus is moving so quickly, with cases now in over 50 countries, it is understandable why there is mounting international fear and panic. 

The expectation of the government is that most patients in the UK will experience only mild symptoms, similar to those of seasonal flu. 

To understand how the coronavirus actually compares to the flu, I’ve consulted this helpful article by The New York Times. There are three specific stages: ease of transmission, severity of symptoms/how deadly the virus is, and the duration of illness.

Either this will alleviate some of the present anxiety surrounding the virus or it will reinforce it. But at least you’ll have a clear picture.


1. Ease of transmission:

As things currently stand, it seems that Covid-19 is more contagious than most strains of the flu but about the same as the strains that appear during flu season.

2. Severity of symptoms/deadliness:

Most cases of Covid-19 are not severe but there are those who become sick enough to need medical attention. In China, the epicentre of the outbreak, about 80 per cent of patients have mild cases, 15 per cent have severe ones, and 5 per cent are critical cases. For the flu, out of the 32 million people infected in the United States, only 310,000 required hospitalization, which is about .0096 per cent. Overall then, the coronavirus causes more severe symptoms. 

The coronavirus also appears to be more deadly than the flu (with the death rate standing at about 2 per cent in China). However, this part is tricky given the difficulty of knowing for certain. Experts believe there are many mild or symptom-free cases that are currently undetected. If that is so, then the death rate would be lower than current figures suggest — closer to that of the flu (which is below 1 per cent). 

3. Duration of illness:

Thanks to the flu vaccine, there are speedier recoveries (as well as less illnesses and deaths). Recovery usually takes less than two weeks, or even a few days in some cases. In contrast, there isn’t a vaccine for the coronavirus or a precise recovery time. The worst cases have seen patients hospitalised for weeks, only for their health to steadily decline (though these remain isolated instances).

Whatever you decide, it is apparent that the coronavirus is more serious than the flu in its worst form. The natural expectation is that adequate precautions should be put in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the public — even if that contributes to mounting hysteria.