2020 is arguably a polarising year. The year ignited fires where amber skies dominated and was dubbed “One of the Worst Fires Season Ever”. President Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, which sparked many WW3 memes. However, the biggest hurdle was an invisible virus from Wuhan, China which, threw the world into a frenzy. Unbeknownst to the world, the virus travelled from China and made it’s way throughout the major capital cites in Asia and eventually multiplied rapidly across world. World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a “pandemic.” A new era was born. Practices from pre-COVID times are no longer.
Professor Frank M. Snowden, a Yale medical historian whose life’s work is to study how epidemics/ pandemics shapes social evolution. The medical historian ensembled and document how past plagues and pandemic such as the bubonic plague and smallpox to modern plagues such as SARS and Ebola, and deduce three major social consequences- mass hysteria, scapegoating and violence.
The Catalyst of #TolietPaperGate: Case of Mass Hysteria
Historically, the phrase, “mass hysteria,” is used to describe the “physical and psychological symptoms” of the masses. Upon the discovery of the virus, mass hysteria manifests itself through #Tolietpapergate. An irrational yet “normal” response to an unknown virus floating in the amidst. It involves everyone across the world rushing to their local supermarket and completely clearing out shelves of toilet paper. Shelves stood empty, even though authorities say that there is no shortage- given most of the nation’s rolls are made locally. The response was so manic that for the first three months, Australia supermarkets had to implement a “four-pack buying limit.” It got so bad to the extent that police had to intervene because someone pulled out a knife on another person.
According to Dr Debanjan Banerjee, a geriatric psychiatrist, “COVID-19” is considered a “digital pandemic” in which the “tension and chaos” spread faster through social media rather than the virus itself.”
Due to social media’s ubiquitous nature, information about COVID-19 virus cases and its spread is surface level. There is this uncertainty how the situation will pan out. By default, people panic. Since we are going unprecedented times, to gain a sense of control, the masses’ survival instincts kick in and registered it as the apocalypse. Hence, the stocking up, the toilet paper and the bunkers.
The Toilet Paper Hysteria may have been beginning of the pandemic panic and has set off a butterfly effect of chaos and discord. The social impact of excessive mass hysteria may resulted in darker social consequences.
The Chinese Scapegoat
Political tensions are high at this point, moving pass the discovery phase into an investigation on who is at fault for not notifying the World Health Organisation. During the investigation stage, there comes a level of scapegoating—the blame game.
The Lancet, an esteemed medical journal article has highlighted the USA went on a scapegoating campaign to single out China for offset of the pandemic.
President Donald Trump and other US politicians have solely pins the blame on China and there was talks talks in suing China and asking them to pay for reparations to the US and the world.
“Make no mistake: we hold China fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world. They could’ve stopped it. They should’ve stopped it. It would’ve been very easy to do at the source when it happened.” The former United States President and a “pillaging buffoon”, Donald Trump exclaimed with great conviction.
Due the ongoing scapegoating campaign of China, people are on alert in not wanting to catch the virus, which resulted to media outlets reinforce a racist narrative towards Chinese people. “Kung Flu” were ping-pong amongst Australian and US politicians to describe their pre-existing distaste towards China. The Herald-Sun and Daily Telegraph has published a headline, “Chinese Pandamonium,” and warning published in their papers, “CHINA KIDS STAY HOME,” “Chinese Virus,” which singled out Asians. Even worse, social media posts singled out, suburbs with predominately Asian population (i.e. Hurstville, Burwood, Rhodes, in Sydney, New South Wales in Australia) and warned that the virus can contaminate in certain Chinese foods.
As a result of excessive scapegoating by the media, reinforces anti- Asian sentiments, which results in Asian people being racially profiled and a virus carrier. A petition to the Herald Sun by Asian community member, Wendy Wong, titled, “Strongly Require The Apologies From Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph,” explains that consequence of the sensationalist headline is “downright offensive and unacceptable racial discrimination .
Despite the baseless campaign to scapegoat China, WHO and the esteemed Medical Journal, Lancet acknowledges that China has done exceptionally well in containing the virus, despite not initially informing the World Health Organisation.
“China is facing legitimate questions in many cases areas of its domestic and foreign policy, but when it come to COVID-19, scapegoating China for the pandemic is not constructive response.”The Medical Journal Lancet’s condemnation to Trump’s Scapegoat Campaign toward China.
As the pressure cooker of COVID-19 kept building up, the situation led to a pot stir of mangled stew. At this stage, it is evident that the pandemic is out of China’s hands. The virus soared and continues to multiple, which caused everyone to be in lockdown to stop the spread, exacerbating a truly dark social consequence in the midst.
The COVID-19 Violence: The Shadow Pandemic: Domestic Violence in Quarantine.
It’s March and COVID-19 cases around the world are soaring in high numbers. Governments around the world asked everyone to keep a distance of 1.5 m, fashion your a hand sanitiser and mask for the hygiene and work from home. With these rules implemented, it is no wonder domestic violence thrive under these circumstances.
With no escape from a perpetrator and crippling anxieties of the infectious disease lingering in the midst, no wonder there is a prevalence of domestic violence experienced by Australian women.
- One in 20 women (4.6%) experienced physical or sexual violence over the last three months, 5.8 per cent experienced coercive control, and one in 10.
- (11.6%) experienced at least one form of emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour perpetrated by a current or former cohabiting partner.
- According to the Women’s Safety surveyed 53 frontline specialists at 34 community services across New South Wales (NSW), 45% of the respondents stated that their client numbers had continued to rise throughout the pandemic with 69% nothing an escalation abuse triggered by unemployment and financial pressures.
- Marginalised Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities also experienced an increase in the risk of violence.
With the statistics highlighting the domestic violence trend, it leaves a dark mark on COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. According to Haley Foster, the Chief Executive of Women’s Safety New South Wales, “the supply for support services does not meet the demand and has been chronically underfunded and essential services in desperate need of funds.”
The rising numbers of domestic violence cases concurrently growing to the expontential growth of COVID cases around the world, it’s fair to say the running theme of all the social consequences is the fear of the unknown.
With Professor Frank M. Snowdon’s extensive research highlighting the social consequences of a pandemic, he concludes that as a society we are not equipped enough to fend off infectious diseases. Although the world went through Ebola and SARS, they are merely “dress rehearsals” to the epic orchestra of the COVID – 19 pandemic. Instead of facing an impending pandemic head-on and being proactive during a pandemic, he points out that first world countries’ economic systems are sceptical about defending infectious diseases. From the mass hysteria of “Toilet paper gate” to the Asian racist attacks to the upward trend of domestic violence, pandemics are the mirrors to the society where everyone is prone to vulnerability, despite class, race and status.
Snowden concludes that “Eradication of any infectious diseases is a societal battle. Doctors, politicians, civilians, the media, pharmacists must work together to uphold “Salus Populi suprema lex” which directly translate to, “Public health must be the highest law.” If anything 2020 has revealed that dark corners of humanity, opened deep wounds and threw into a delirious trance where it will go down in history as one of the most theatrical yet horrifically cinematic breaking points of 21st centaury.