Since March, the coronavirus has been treated as if it is a danger categorically different from other dangers, including other viruses. But this treatment is deeply mistaken. The coronavirus is not a categorically different danger. It occupies a location on the same spectrum that features other viruses. Reasonable people can and do debate just where this location is – that is, how much more dangerous is the coronavirus than are ordinary flu viruses and other ‘novel’ viruses that plagued us in the past. But the coronavirus is well within the same category as other viruses.
Yet humanity has reacted – and continues to react – to the coronavirus as if it is a beast that differs from other health risks categorically. The hysterical overreaction by the press, public-health officials, and politicians – an overreaction undoubtedly supercharged by social media – has convinced many people that humanity is today being stalked by a venomous monster wholly unlike anything to which we are accustomed.
Only by assuming that this virus differs fundamentally from other risks can governments continue to get away with unprecedented and arbitrary restrictions on peaceful human activities – restrictions on activities such as working at the factory or office, on dining out, on attending religious services, on going to school, and even on seeking medical treatments for non-Covid-related ailments. Only by being convinced that the coronavirus poses a threat categorically unique are ordinary men and women led to change their ways of living and interacting as fundamentally as many have done, and to tolerate the categorical change in governments’ responses to epidemics.