How Covid-19 is changing how we behave

MARCH 8 — And so the world enters another week in its war against Covid-19.

There have now been over 100,000 cases and 3,000 deaths from the virus.

Factories, schools and offices in disparate parts of the world have come to a standstill, stock markets have been routed.

One of things I have found interesting is the extraordinary behavioural change this crisis has revealed. People are acting differently. 

In France, people are reluctant to kiss each other on the cheek — their quintessential Gallic greeting.  Elsewhere you see the absurd stockpiling of toilet paper and well, people everywhere are washing their hands like they are Lady Macbeth.

As any marketing company or psychologist will tell you, behavioural change is hard to elicit... yet it is amazing what people will do when faced with a potential threat.  

While I understand the fear (Covid-19 is a serious matter), I do wish people would react as rapidly and decisively to the other deadly calamities unfolding on this earth.

For example, climate change. Rising temperatures, changing weather patterns  and a lack of biodiversity threaten us all. 

Tens of thousands of people a year die from poorly-managed slopes and soils, from exacerbated floods and terrible air pollution but you don't see people running to the streets to plant trees or demand recyclable

Only a few fanatics ever considered giving up flying for the environment, citing "it is essential to modern lives and businesses."

Enter this virus and flights are down by more than a 100 per cent — so maybe people didn't need all those flights so badly to begin with? I am guilty of this, too.

It seems that we are extremely motivated to act when there is even a theoretical threat to our health. Even though the chance of death from the virus is probably under 3 per cent and the total number of cases worldwide stand at 100,000 OR  .00001 of humanity, people are very worried about it. 

On the other hand, things like climate change or the erosion of civil liberties that actually threaten more of us more directly just don't elicit that sort of concern.

Another obvious example is data privacy. We all know that governments and corporations gather enormous amounts of information about us via our electronic devices.  

The extent of data gathering via mobile phones and laptop screens is such that the very idea of privacy has been rendered outdated and near defunct. 

Huge amounts of vital personal information, browsing data, private conversations and emails could be in the hands of, well anyone, and yet we remain completely untroubled and believe nothing can be done. 

Actually a little bit of digital hygiene would make us all a lot safer.

It is really quite educational. Immediate fear is a far better motivator than the  abstract notion of doing good. Millions die from poverty a year but most us (myself included) don't do enough about it.

I hope we are able to beat this pandemic soon. But, I also hope we take this sense of urgency and co-operation and apply it to all the other pressing issues.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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