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Human behaviour in the post-corona era

Apr 01,2020 - Last updated at Apr 01,2020

After the Corona crisis, the world will change, governments will suffer, strong economies will falter, international alliances may disintegrate while other coalitions will emerge. Perhaps the phrase “the world beyond corona” is now frequently used. The corona pandemic may be the first global epidemic that has caused this big death toll, but it is not the first epidemiological pandemic.

Societies throughout history have faced many epidemics that have shaken the illusion of human control over the planet. Epidemics affect individuals who have experienced the crisis directly, changing large aspects of their personalities. The impact of epidemics extends across generations. The cross-generational impact confirms epidemics not only affect us physically, but they have a huge impact on our personalities psychologically. Since any society is a gathering of a number of individuals, any change incurred on a person leads to the change in the community as a whole since epidemics are similar to wars, leading to transformations of people’s daily habits and wiping out others.

Social psychologists noticed that societies witness specific patterns of behaviour at the time of an epidemic and they are studied under the field of "Epidemic Psychology" or "Epidemiology". Ordinary diseases, regardless of their seriousness or fatality to patients, may be worse than an epidemic. However, epidemics scare individuals more. This is because we are affected by the feeling of uncertainty associated with the possibility of developing an organic disease to feeling that what awaits us is unknown and mysterious. Fear of the indefinite affects the entire community, and this increases with rising numbers of victims. The scenario of panic aggravates whenever no vaccine is suitable to eradicate an epidemic.

The unknown in the case of epidemics becomes gloomier and even murkier as the epidemic approaches the individual’s circle. In the case of organic diseases, a person feels fear for himself only, but in the case of epidemics, the person does not know whether he is the next victim of the epidemic, or any member of his close circle, such as children and family members.

Besides, communities always get into a state of fear of the unknown with every pandemic, regardless of technological development. For example, the scientific and technological potentials of mankind today cannot be compared to what was available to human beings at the time of the outbreak of the plague or cholera. In the case of COVID-19, people are terrified by the novelty of the epidemic and the lack of information about it.

Likewise, many people also suffer doubts about their surroundings; people doubt their abilities to survive due to the mass media coverage and warnings that this epidemic is uncontrollable, especially as this disease has no medical treatment so far and the soonest vaccine would be available within 6 months to a year as western experts believe. Thus, the state of suspicion and fear of the unknown is similar to going to war without seeing an enemy. Such war is not governed by logic or reason. The only way to finish this ordeal is to find a medication and people stick to precautionary and preventive measures. 

At the time of an epidemic, human behaviour consists of two extremes: rationality and irrationality. In times of tranquility and serenity, man can hide his irrationality and restrain it as much as possible, as this helps him with his daily routine. Yet, in the case of epidemics the routine fades, logic and lucidity sit in the back seat and irrationality holds the steering wheel. By then, the individual wears glasses of fear and anxiety, and proceeds to do what he previously denied. Getting rid of modern lifestyle and resorting to traditional methods in which he thinks only of himself, and of securing his basic needs for the longest possible period, even at the expense of others.

Therefore, the world is witnessing a state of panic related to the purchase of a large stock of food and daily supplies even if governments confirm to their citizens that the countries’ stockpiles will be sufficient for many months to come. Man will continue to store driven by instinct, not logic, in addition to the fact that with the length of the epidemic, the individual becomes more obsessed with, even haunted by, suspicion in governments and their deeds.

Moreover, many people return to religion in search of treatment or tranquility. However, this does not necessarily mean that the curve of religiosity in society rises at the time of the outbreak of epidemics, but people resort to faith and religiousness to help them resolve their issues and get away from the reality. Somehow people are convinced that they need religion, and that they are in urgent need of the tranquility that religion gives them, as people do not know what tomorrow holds for them.

To sum up, many people may return to religion to alleviate the tragedy caused by the epidemic, believing that God sent the affliction as punishment, and that when they turn to Him, He will wipe out the plight. This is similar to the AIDS cases which spread around the world in the early 1990s, when major transformations in the beliefs of people had taken place, with many of them resorting to religion in a bid to treat what is impossible to be treated by modern technologies and medicine. This direct link between obedience to God and the epidemic confuses people when the epidemic is prolonged, lasting longer than expected, forcing many to enter into an internal struggle between beliefs and reality.

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