The drama of the past few weeks will offer study material for virologists, epidemiologists, and public health specialists to last a generation. Another interesting aspect to review will be how communication shaped the perception and the public response in the early stages of the contagion in Europe. It took a while for people in Europe to grasp the gravity of the situation and act accordingly. What was missing in the messages about the epidemic?
We still have a lot to learn about the virus but we can already say with confidence that we are dealing with a teeny tiny son of a bitch who is also incredibly cunning. Cunning and mean. Like a Teeny Tiny Thanos.
How cunning? Well, first and foremost, he found the perfect way to spread very widely. Like all of his kin, he needs a host to survive, but many of his cousins play tough and die while killing the hosts, or make them so sick that social distancing instinctively or forcefully kicks in. Teeny Tiny Thanos, on the other hand, invites himself in, and, all too often, gets all snuggly without bothering the host at all. Or maybe causes only a little fever or a nasty seasonal cold. But while all silent and polite, he is already shedding away with gusto. Contagion galore without making noise. Very cunning.
Secondly, in a stroke of marketing genius, he got himself a cute little name. So cute that we made beer jokes and crown jokes, and soon we were blabbering away like expert virologists that he is from the “same family as the flu, which we all know kills many more people.”
How on earth did Teeny Tiny Thanos get away without getting “respiratory” or “pneumonia” or even “acute” added out in his name? Of course, if we spell out the full acronym – SARS-CoV2 – we do read “acute respiratory sindrome.” But, who does use this, let alone spell it out? Any name linked to this virus should have immediately flooded our brain with images of respiratory crisis – pulmonary fibrosis – can’t breathe – might need respirator in ICUs – are there enough of those in my hospitals? Next step might have been, what can I do to stop the contagion? Instead, we thought about the beer, and the many times we went about our daily life when we had the flu. Extremely cunning.
His next winning move was to choose the perfect location for his big premiere. China. So many people, so open to the world, so many opportunities to travel around, at globalization breakneck speed, to the four corners of the world, by plane, cargo, ship… We watched in horror and disbelief as he ravaged China, but we also felt at a very safe distance. And it looked like another peculiar Chinese disease that the Chinese were addressing with unfathomable measures: people locked in their apartments; doctors dressed up like Star Wars soldiers; police patrolling empty streets; hospitals being built in 10 days; smartphone tracking…. China displayed a strange disease and an alien reaction: something we were horrified by but could not relate to. And we couldn’t relate any more to South Korea and its highly technological and digital response.
His latest skillful move was to choose Italy for his European debut. Beautiful country, excellent food, the oldest population in Europe mingling with the younger generations either by necessity or by inclination, millions of tourists, and an innate sense of distrusts for rules. What’s not to like for a mean, cunning virus?
Most of all, when the world realized that something really bad was happening here, it thought that Italians had, as usual, messed up. They couldn’t get their act together. They socialize too much anyway. They know about food and soccer but what do they know about health care? They react slowly, emotionally, and of course they touch their face with their hands – they are always gesturing!
So our little cunning virus had all the time to ravage the country before others could relate to Italy, who could not relate to China. And at the same time he was traveling on ships and planes, playing Hollywood celebrity, basketball in the NBA, and soccer in Italy. Even getting very close to playing prime minister in Canada.
But then something finally clicked. It took us a while to get there, but hopefully we are now getting a little bit smarter than Teeny Tiny Thanos. His power comes from using so many of us as transport. There is no need to fight him or run from him. A few of us need to hide — the more vulnerable and fragile. For the rest of us, the most important thing to do is to stop playing Uber for him. It took us too long, but a collective Avengers mentality is finally emerging – unfortunately still one country at a time, as he seems to have gained a time advantage in every other country through his cunning moves. But we are getting there. The real superheroes are fighting in our hospitals and ERs and ambulances and family practices. The rest of us, millions of minor characters, get to play superheroes while sitting on the couch- the role of a lifetime!
We will isolate ourselves to isolate this cunning virus to protect our most elderly, our sick, and those who need it the most. We will thus buy time to get our health systems stronger. We will support our brave doctors and nurses. We don’t know that it will work, or how long it will take. We don’t know yet if Teeny Tiny Thanos will destroy our way of life in the process. But his time setting the rules is up. This is Infinity War. Endgame is not far behind.