Pandemic of Fear: A view from Moscow

Lyubov Sharkova

Lyubov Sharkova resides in Moscow and is a TV producer

In just a short period the world in Russia has changed for everyone. Today everyone around me seems totally possessed, crazy is the word. People are blaming and avoiding each other. Social distance has become the priority of their lives.

These are well-educated people. Wealthy people with good standing in society. Responsible people with sound minds and good judgement. But was before the corona. And it doesn't matter now. Today everyone is afraid. Fear is the cause of the new madness.

People are afraid to go to the office. They are afraid to walk streets just like they did before and meet with their friends and do the things they use to do. Everyone is repeating the same mantra: The situation is very serious. We don't want the Italian and American scenario be repeated here.

The other day a man cried out. “They cancelled the Cannes Film Festival! They never did that before. It means the world is close to catastrophe!” the man concluded.

Would you say it's the pandemic of coronavirus that has gripped Russia so? Not at all. I would say it's the pandemic of fear that has done it.

Of course, no politician wants to see all these human victims (and the fall in their own ratings). The question is. Do politicians know what to do in the present circumstances?

Here in Russia the first statement on coronavirus was made on March 25th by President Putin, who unveiled measures designed to slow the progress of the corona. He declared the coming week, a non-working week for most people and urged people to stay at home. All entertainment venues in Moscow and other major cities were closed. So were most schools and universities.

But no quarantine and no state of emergency were announced. So many people went for a walk during the sunny weekend. But then the media jumped on them as violators of the quarantine, which was never there in the first place. And so began the pandemic. The authorities reacted by imposing a total lockdown of most of Russia. The lockdown was then prolonged. The media and the so-called experts had successfully pushed for the unnecessary action.

Worldwide, the number of corona cases is increasing every day. But the fatality rate is less than 1%. A new Italian government health report says that 99% of those who have died had serious pre-existing illnesses. It seems that the actions of the government are orchestrated by the Pandemic of Fear.

Because of the way epidemics work most people are infected by the corona virus already or will be later. Will we panic more when that hits home among the general public and the politicians? An irrational fear could take over with consequences that we have yet to witness.

Today many Russian experts debate whether this virus had already been spreading in Russia since the end of last year. Actually, in November, we do know that there was an outbreak of pneumonia in some Russian regions. Some schools in Moscow were closed for quarantine in December because of community-acquired pneumonia. According to the state statistics’ agency, Rosstat, in January in Moscow the number of pneumonia cases increased by 37% compared to 2019. The total number for the month was 6921. But no experts got worked up. Even now they can’t say which virus caused the pneumonia.

We already know that today's lockdown is costing the Russian economy a lot. Some officials are making forecasts for 1.5 to 2% loss of GDP for each month of the quarantine. According to the latest online polls, the economic crisis has already had an impact on 60% of respondents. 45% have decreased incomes and 5% have already lost their jobs. Around 65% of Russian people don't have any savings at all. The Pandemic of Fear is taking a heavy toll.

The Russian government has already taken measures to support unemployed people, important enterprises and medical workers. But it's clear that they can't support everyone that needs supporting.

As a citizen I want to know more of the statistics about severe cases that lead to deaths. Do they really know, who dies just because of coronavirus, or because they already have pre-existing conditions, that would have led to their death in the not distant future?

I want to see, professional epidemiologists and the scientists who guide the politicians, explain more the mechanics of counting death, as they have done in Sweden. They are the ones that can stop the hysteria in the media and in everyday discourse.

In Sweden, where the chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell and the head of the Public Health Agency Johan Carlson make the important decisions and not the government- as the constitution mandates- they are balancing the choice between the progress of the disease on one side and the effect on the economy and human stability, even sanity, on the other. The Swedish death rate in world terms is relatively low although somewhat higher than that of neighboring Denmark, Norway and Finland. But Swedish economy is doing better than those of her neighbors. People feel less threatened by the possibility of unemployment, a big recession, or social crisis.

I don't want to live in this non-stop atmosphere of fear in Russia where politicians are following the Western pattern and seemingly reacting spontaneously to this crisis.

We will be able to analyze all that happened and all the unprecedented measures that were taken only when this pandemic is over and we get back to our normal lives. But we won't be able to do a thing about the cost we paid for our mistakes. So maybe we should think first and then act, leaving our Pandemic of Fear behind.