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COVID-19: A psychiatry resident’s perspective

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During these unprecedented times, venturing into the unknown of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, a feeling of impending doom prevails. Almost all of us have been restricted to our homes. Although the physical dimensions of what we call home may vary, the meaning of this restriction is fairly universal. No matter how our sociodemographics differ, with no guidance for this situation from anything even remotely comparable in the past, our lives have been transformed into a work in progress.

During this pandemic, I have observed a wide range of human emotions and behavior—many of them familiar and predictable, some abysmal, and some inspiring.

’Why should I care?’

On December 31, 2019, health officials in China informed the World Health Organization about a pneumonia-like presentation in a group of people in Wuhan. On January 7, 2020, a novel coronavirus was identified as the cause, and the first death was reported a few days later. In the following days and weeks the disease rapidly spread, as did the growing sense that this was not a typical virus.

While these events occurred, the rest of the world was in what I call a ”Why should I care?” mode. Most humans tend to suffer from this indifference. This has been observed repeatedly through the years, such as when the Ebola outbreak occurred in Africa in 2014-2016. It was only when cases started to develop in Europe and the United States that other countries started to pay attention. A similar phenomenon has been observed every time we’ve faced a global outbreak (avian influenza, Middle East respiratory syndrome, etc.).

When are we going to learn? It is time to realize that global borders are more porous than we think, and human interactions cannot be blocked by any wall. When a catastrophic event, outbreak, or disaster starts in any part of the world, it is naive to assume that we will not be affected. We will eventually be affected—the only question is how, when, and to what extent? We are always all in this together.

An abundance of ignorance and stupidity

Within a few weeks of the first reports from China, cases of COVID-19 were reported in South Korea, Italy, Spain, Germany, and many other countries. Slowly, COVID-19 reached the United States, which as of mid-April had the highest number of cases worldwide. When COVID-19 hit the United States, the response was that of shock and anger. How could this happen to us? Why is the government not doing anything?

Amidst this pandemonium, ignorance and stupidity of the highest degree were commonplace. This was not restricted to any particular country or region. Almost 2 months into the pandemic, the Ministry of Tourism in my home country of Nepal declared Nepal a ”coronavirus-free zone” and took measures to bring in tourists, focusing specifically on China, where COVID-19 had already killed hundreds. In India, some people were drinking cow urine in hopes of warding off the virus. In the United Sates, thousands of young people flocked to beaches for Spring Break, disregarding measures for social distancing. ”If I get corona, I get corona,” one young man said in an interview that went viral. Personally, I have encountered people who responded to this pandemic by saying the disease was ”cooties” or ”just a flu,” and dismissing it with ”If I die from this, I die.”

Continue to: Rising panic and fear

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