A coronavirus fairy tale

Once upon a time a beautiful Princess fell in love with a handsome Knight. The King set them up in one of his many castles, and within a few years they had created a family of their own, adding two Little Princesses to the Royal Gene Pool.

But one day, a terrible illness spread through the kingdom, and everyone had to stay in their homes. The Knight drew up the drawbridge and swore he would would keep his family safe.

The Princess and the Little Princesses were now stuck in the castle, and the King and Queen were very upset. The Queen went to the castle, but the Knight wouldn’t let her in. The King told the Knight that he was being ridiculous and that rules don’t apply to Royalty, but still the Knight wouldn’t let down the drawbridge.

Alas! Alack! Despite the Princess and Little Princesses being safe behind their walls, and the Knight claiming he did not want to pass on the illness to the rest of the Royal Family, it was a situation that could not be borne. After all, Princesses, and Kings and Queens for that matter, could not be expected to do as the peasants did.

And so the Princess sent messages to the King and the Queen, and the King and Queen sent messages to the Princess, and they all agreed the Knight was in fact an evil Ogre who had deceived them all these years. He had weedled his way into the Royal Family and kidnapped the Princess, and was now holding her and the Little Princesses prisoner.

So they came up with a secret plan, hoping the Ogre wouldn’t find out. When the Ogre lowered the drawbridge so the Princess and the Little Princesses could go out for their daily ‘exercise’, they would instead sneak off to the palace and play with the King and Queen.

Their only mistake was asking the Little Princesses to lie to the Ogre – unless underestimating the Ogre was also a mistake, because he knew all along, and knew this was just an illusion.

You see, the Ogre wasn’t really an Ogre – he was always a Knight. And the Princess had her own keys to the drawbridge, and could make her own decisions. He reminded the King and the Queen of the rules, and that the Princess was an adult and could come and go as she pleased, and suggested that in future they should support him through this difficult time, and not undermine him with the Princess as it was having a detrimental effect on the Little Princesses.

Little did he realise, he was actually dealing with Dragons. Dragons who would rather see the kingdom in flames than do as they were told. Dragons who would sooner have the Knight cast out of his family than relinquish their control of the Princess.

But there was one thing they forgot. In the end, the Knight always slays the Dragon.

Always.

Since the Dragons owned the castle he lived in, and the Princess sided with the Dragons, the Knight didn’t know how he would keep the Little Princesses safe. He didn’t know where they would live, or if the Princess and her Dragons would try to take them. He suspected the Dragons would claim he was really an Ogre, and use all their resources to destroy him. All he knew for sure was that this wasn’t a fairy tale, and that there was no longer any hope for a happily ever after.

Being British: Captain Mainwaring and Coronavirus

Can there ever be such a thing as a national character? Is it really possible to distill the attitudes, behaviours and beliefs of millions of people across multiple generations into a generalised concept of a society? Is it fair to represent Britain as a bulldog, France as a cock (erel), and Germany as an accountant?

Of course not. And yet at the same time, the stories we tell ourselves about our national character provide an important insight into the values we aspire to and the ideals we wish to hold. As spurious as they often are, these ideas form the mental landscape that shapes our view of the world, and never are they more important than at a time of national and international crisis.

That’s why, once again, the British are talking about the war.

‘Our grandparents were asked to go to war,’ say all the memes. ‘We’re being asked to sit on the sofa.’

I have a European friend who is bewildered by how much the British talk about the war. For a country that has existed for hundreds of years and once ruled over a quarter of the world, it does seem odd that we choose to celebrate an event when we had our backs to the wall, lost an empire, and had to give up our place at the table to the bigger boys, rather than hark back to the glory days when we were still on top.

What this overlooks is that our celebration of the ‘Blitz spirit’ has nothing to do with war, or fighting prowess, or military might – it’s about standing firm in the face of adversity. The British national character, the character we’re so proud of, is our tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s Drake leading a rag-tag fleet against the Spanish Armada. It’s Nelson sailing at the numerically superior French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar. It’s Wellington standing firm against the Imperial Guard at Waterloo. It’s 100 soldiers facing off against 4000 Zulus at Rorke’s Drift, and it’s Britain standing alone against a Nazi Germany that had conquered the whole of Europe.

Of course, this is just one view of these events, and they were more complicated and multifaceted than presented here, but that doesn’t matter – what matters is that this is how we choose to remember them. We’re an island nation perched on the edge of Europe, part of but separate from it – stubborn, independent, outnumbered yet punching above our weight.

It’s no surprise that one of our favourite quotes is from Henry V on the eve of Agincourt (as Shakespeare writes it): ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.’ If we could pick someone who exemplified Britishness, it would be our wartime leader, Winston Churchill. We will fight them on the beaches, never was so much owed by so many to so few, this is their finest hour.

British culture is practically a cult of the underdog, of keeping our heads when all about us are losing theirs, and persevering come what may. Our unofficial motto is ‘Keep calm and carry on,’ and unless you understand that, you’ll never understand either Brexit or our response to coronavirus. 

Of course, if I’m being honest, I think the best representation of Britishness isn’t Churchill but Captain Mainwaring, a ridiculously pompous, arrogant character from the sitcom Dad’s Army (1968-1977). Now before you accuse me of maligning my country, allow me to explain.

For those who have never seen the endless reruns, Dad’s Army is about a platoon of British Home Guard during WWII, formed from men too old, too infirm, or too malingering to fight in the regular forces. Set in the fictional South Coast village of Walmington-on-Sea, these have-a-go heroes work their jobs by day and stand ready to defend against invasion at night with homemade weapons and makeshift tactics. It’s the very embodiment of the British underdog spirit and has reflected, shaped and reinforced much of how we see ourselves today, even the theme tune: ‘Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler, if you think old England’s done?’ This is despite the fact that the characters are mostly buffoons.

Easily my favourite, the man who truly represents the spirit of Britain, is the platoon’s leader, Captain Mainwaring. Snobbish, xenophobic, with delusions of grandeur and an inflated sense of his own importance, it would be easy to write him off, particularly as much of the humour is laughing at him, at how ridiculous he is, at how he undermines his own best interests. He is, indeed, every negative thing you can say about the British, if you’re on the outside, looking in.

But beneath all the bluster and pretension, the awkwardness and arrogance, is a man genuinely devoted to his country, trying his best to do his duty, who does the right thing when it matters and is by far the bravest, most decisive character in the show. While Corporal Jones is running around in a flap crying, ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic!’ and pessimistic Scottish undertaker Fraser is sitting in a corner moaning, ‘We’re doomed, doomed,’ Mainwaring is the man who steps up and takes control and saves the day. In the 1971 movie, thinking they are being invaded, he barricades the road and prepares to face German tanks with a single shotgun. Later, he confronts a downed Luftwaffe pilot with nothing but guts, risking his own life to rescue a roomful of hostages. While his faults might be laughable, he’s redeemed by his loyality, bravery, dedication and tenacity.

That is Britain. We’re arrogant, xenophobic, stubborn, pompous and slightly ridiculous. When everyone else is going left, we go right through sheer bloodymindedness. You can laugh at us all you want, but don’t ever underestimate us. We’re the underdogs, and that’s the way we like it, and when our backs are to the wall, you’d better not rule us out, because that’s when we Brits triumph.

In fact, I see a lot of Captain Mainwaring in Boris Johnson. People call him dithering, indecisive, slow to act – a buffoon promoted beyond his ability. But cometh the man, cometh the hour. He understands our national character better than anyone. He tells us we don’t need to panic, though many of us will die. He tells us the way ahead is hard, but we can take it. The allusions to the war are because we know that when facing doom and gloom, the British are more than capable of weathering the storm.

From the outside, our response to coronavirus might appear fatalistic, irresponsible, laid-back even. The fact is, we won’t know the effects of our different approaches until way after the outbreak has ended and all the numbers have been crunched. We could try something different, I suppose. We could panic or quarantine; we could do what other countries have done and lock everything down; we could give in to despair and terror.

It just wouldn’t be very British.

Now wash your hands, you stupid boy!

(And just as I was about to publish this post, I see Richard Littlejohn has written a Dad’s Army parody about the coronavirus!)

The unexpected upsides of coronavirus

While Covid-19 is a steam roller of awfulness flattening everything in its path, it’s important to remember all the good things that life has to offer. Turning a frown upside down is vital for our mental health in the coming weeks and months, so here are some of the positives to come from social isolation and lockdown.

1. You can finally indulge your hobbies

That book you’ve been meaning to read but never started because it was too big? Now’s your opportunity. The typewriter mocking you from the corner of the room? That novel isn’t going to write itself. And the musical instrument you always wanted to learn? With YouTube videos instructing you in everything, there’s never been a better time.

Or you can sit on Facebook and keep checking coronavirus updates and slowly go insane – the choice is yours.

2. You can create a healthier family life 

Tradition might be a dirty word these days, but there’s definitely something to be said for taking your foot off the gas, slowing things down and actually spending time together as a family. Free from rushing around from here to there, desperately trying to clean that school shirt while shuttling the kids to football and ballet and gymnastics, we can get back to the simpler things, like having fun together, playing games, and family dinners. You might even find that, without the endless stress, you actually like the other members of your household for a change.

Of course, I also think 2020 will have remarkably high rates of domestic violence and divorce, but hey, let’s try and make the most of each other at this time in our lives.

3. You can learn to appreciate ‘the little things’

Humans are programmed not to notice, or appreciate, the familiar and everyday. It’s the reason you stop smelling freshly-baked bread after a few minutes, and why after the novelty has worn off, lottery winners are just as miserable rich as they were poor. Two weeks ago, we were bored with our dull world; today, everything in it that we can no longer do seems so precious – even just the ability to go to the cinema, have coffee with friends, or walk down the street without worrying.

If coronavirus holds a lesson, it’s to learn to appreciate those little things that we take for granted. Consciously acknowledge those things you’re grateful for, like a roof over your head, or personal freedom, and continually remind yourself of it when this is over. Like water to someone dying of thirst, we might find ourselves far happier with the everyday when the restrictions finally lift.

4. Home working lets you re-evaluate your work/life balance

All those times they told you that you couldn’t do your job from home? Turns out you could. Those meetings they said couldn’t be done by email or teleconferencing? Ha! Without the dreaded commute, how much more time would we have in the morning? How much better might our working conditions be? And how many cars would be taken off the road, making everybody happier? Coronavirus might lead to a new model of business that is less likely to drive you to the brink of despair.

And even if it doesn’t, at least you will know which you prefer. After being locked down with your wife and kids, you might even find you never moan about going into work again!

5. Pollution is clearing up rapidly

A lack of cars on the road and planes in the air, and entire economies grinding to a halt, has had the effect of reducing carbon emissions and clearing a lot of the crap floating around in the air. Indeed, given that thousands die each year from the effects of air pollution in cities, some are claiming that in China alone, coronavirus has saved the lives of 4000 children under five and 73,000 adults over seventy.

Of course, it won’t last long, since as soon as this crisis is over we’ll be burning everything twice as fast to make up for lost time, but people can make the most of it while they can. In Venice, for example, a dearth of diesel-spewing tourist boats churning up the canals has reportedly led to a sharp increase in water quality – the water is so clear you can actually see fish swimming in it.

And if nothing else, at least we’re not going to be hearing about Greta Thunberg and the impending doom of climate change for the next few months, and my mental health is already better for it!

Coronavirus, conspiracy and bullshit

It’s two days since we were asked to avoid all non-essential social contact, and already I’m sick of the conspiracies and the bullshit. From my mother-in-law, who thinks if you can hold your breath for ten seconds, you’re neither infected nor infectious (FYI, that’s bullshit), to those who keep asking what’s ‘really going on’, there’s ample proof that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has put its socks on.

So here’s the coronavirus bullshit I’m most sick of hearing.

The ‘I’ve heard…’ bullshit

So much discussion about coronavirus starts with, ‘I’ve heard…’

Whenever I state a fact on this site, I try to provide a link to a reputable source that supports it. Anecdotal evidence of the ‘I’ve heard’ variety – usually from a friend who’s a nurse, or an uncle who’s a doctor, or a cousin in Italy – is worse than useless, it’s often dangerous.

Vitamin-C stops you catching coronavirus; if you have a runny nose, it’s not coronavirus; it’s just the flu.

All wrong. This kind of hearsay stuff encourages falsehoods. It dissuades people from listening to sound advice and makes them ignore the very things that’ll help with this pandemic. It leads to them panic buying, stockpiling, pulling their kids out of school, and doing things that go against our best interests. It leads to chaos and individualism, when order and collaboration are how we save the day. It leads to people refusing to follow the steps we need to take to end this because they think they know better.

I often challenge people who make these kinds of statements to provide a source. ‘Google it,’ they respond, as though the onus is on me to find corroborating evidence, not the one making the batshit claim. If you tell me the world’s flat, it’s up to you to bring the evidence, buddy.

So next time, before clicking on that ‘share’ button, do a bit of fact-checking. It’s incumbent on all of us to do our part. If you don’t, you make things worse.

The conspiracy bullshit

The worst, most extreme form of ‘I’ve heard…’ is the conspiracy theory. I’m not going to go into the biological weapon bullshit here. Instead, I want to talk about the significant proportion of society who seem to delight in telling us the outbreak is either much worse than it really is, or else is a minor inconvenience/entirely non-existent virus that’s being exploited to take away our individual freedoms.

The first tends to take the form of, ‘I know a nurse, and she says they’re lying to us – it’s so much worse than they’re letting on.’

I’ve seen that sort of comment, phrased slightly differently, around fifty times already, mostly at Daily Mail Online. ‘The official statistics are wrong’ finds fertile ground among the distrustful minds of this post-truth age. These comments are the height of scaremongering, actively encouraging us not to trust the very government that is trying to help us. I’m pretty sure that, in times of war, this would be tantamount to treason.

But worse is all the NWO crap, that somehow seems to have shedloads of upvotes, hinting at a sizeable body of tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists living among us.

For those who don’t know, the New World Order is a massively popular conspiracy theory that claims a secretive cabal of globalists, Zionists, Freemasons and/or aliens are manipulating the world from out the shadows. Their aim is a totalitarian one world government, often called The Fourth Reich, that will enslave mankind and cull it to manageable numbers. The IMF, the World Bank, the WHO, and the UN are all believed to be arms of the NWO, slowly strangling individual freedoms. Part of Trump’s popularity is because people think he’s fighting back against this ‘Deep State’.

How will the NWO take over? By faking terrorist incidents and mass shootings to increase the government’s power and take away our means to resist (i.e. gun control), and by faking a global crisis that necessitates the suspension of civil liberties and the imposition of martial law. To these believers, Covid-19 is the end-game: all people will now be forced to vaccinate/have chips inserted in their necks to be monitored before being led to the extermination camps. Just go to Twitter and search the hashtag #Newworldorder and disappear down the rabbit hole of nuttiness.

And this would be fine, if it was just a fringe belief, but it crops up in the unlikeliest of places – I’ve even seen it on Asperger’s parental support sites. So every time you say, ‘What’s really going on?’ or ‘They’re lying to us!’ you could be encouraging someone who thinks our alien overlords are about to take over. Stop doing it.

The political bullshit

I’m also sick of all the posts and comments using Covid-19 as a stick with which to beat the Tories in general and Boris Johnson in particular, most notably at The Guardian. They seem to think that the Conservatives want old people to die, and Boris Johnson is doing everything in his power to bring that about. Specifically, they argue that, following a plan drawn up by Dominic Cummings, Johnson is willing to sacrifice the elderly, the sick and the poor, as they’re drains on the public purse, in order to safeguard the economy on behalf of his rich friends.

Do people really think this is the time to play party politics? They seem almost to want thousands of people to die in order to justify their hatred of the government. But though they dress this up under the veil of intelligence – they know better than the rest of us, don’t you know? – even an elementary understanding of politics makes it clear that blaming this on Boris Johnson is ludicrous.

Johnson is not a medical expert. That’s why he’s following the advice of Chris Whitty CB FRCP FFPH FMedSci, a physician and epidemiologist who also happens to be the Chief Medical Officer for England, Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care, and head of the National Institute for Health Research. A senior civil servant and practising Consultant Physician, formerly Professor of Public and International Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health, I’m rather sure he knows more about public health than most left-wing journalists and the majority of Guardian readers. So why the constant Tory-bashing?

All this achieves is sowing disunity and discord when we ought to be supportive and cooperative. I’ve even seen calls for Johnson and Cummings to be arrested and put on trial, and for the government to be overthrown and replaced, which is patently absurd.

The supernatural bullshit

But more absurd are the supernatural interpretations of Covid-19. I’ve seen many people argue that Dean Koontz predicted this outbreak in his 1981 novel, The Eyes Of Darkness, because the book is about a biological weapon named Wuhan-400, where the coronavirus pandemic began. This is obviously just a coincidence – more so when you discover it was originally named Gorki-400 and came from Russia, before being renamed Wuhan-400 in the 1989 reissue.

Even more have pointed to a 100-year cycle of outbreaks, in the manner of: 1520, smallpox; 1620, plague; 1720, plague; 1820, cholera; 1920, Spanish flu; 2020, coronavirus. This is such an obvious example of cherry-picking that it’s barely worth debunking, but I will – what about the Black Death in the 1340s; 1665 London Plague; the 1855 plague in China; the 1889 Russian flu; or the 1957 Asian flu? There are always outbreaks of disease so you can do this with any year. Indeed, as this 18-month-old article shows, we were overdue a pandemic anyway.

In terms of supernatural belief systems, many Christians seem to think that God won’t allow this virus to get out of hand. Those who believe aliens are guiding the evolution of mankind agree they won’t let us fall victim to this (unless they’re part of the New World Order and this is their plan). There are many more who seem certain that the virus will just disappear.

The evidence? The late celebrity psychic medium Sylvia Browne, from shows like Montel and Sally Jessie Raphael, predicted that 2020 would see a pneumonia-like illness spread across the world and then disappear. And far be it from me to doubt somebody who:

  • in 1999 told the parents of a kidnapped girl that she had been sold into slavery and was still alive (she had been murdered within hours of her abduction);
  • in 2001 told a woman her firefighter fiance had survived 9/11 (one month before his body was pulled from the rubble);
  • in 2002 told parents that their missing girl was alive and working as an exotic dancer (she had been murdered in 1996);
  • also in 2002 told the parents of a missing 11-year-old that their son was dead (he was found alive in 2007);
  • in 2004 convinced a mother that her missing daughter was dead (she turned up alive in 2013);
  • also in 2004 told a pregnant woman she’d have a healthy baby boy (it was a girl and died after being born 5-months premature).

And dozens more. But sure, she predicted this. After all, a stopped clock is right twice a day.

The November bullshit

And speaking of time, I’ve lost count of the number of people who claim they had coronavirus in November, or over Christmas, or in early January. They all speak of a mystery, flu-like illness that laid them low long before the illness left China. The official story is wrong, they say – it’s been here for months already.

You know what other illness has flu-like symptoms and afflicts people in the wintertime? Flu.

Give it a rest, people. This is going to go on for months, and it’ll be far harder if we have to spend them knee deep in bullshit.

Stupidity and coronavirus

As an autistic writer who works from home, it’s obviously easier for me to socially isolate than many sections of society. On the other hand, with support workers coming in to help me with my activities of daily living, I’m not immune from exposure – especially when some of my support workers are freaking imbeciles.

After an hour with my support worker this morning, she said, ‘Oh, I probably shouldn’t say this, but my partner’s daughter had a temperature at the weekend.’

What?!

‘It’s alright, it turned out to be a cold.’

How do you know that?

‘Because it was just a cold.’

Did you have her tested?

‘No.’

So how could you possibly know that?

She looked at me like I was dumb. ‘Er, because I know the difference between a cold and coronavirus.’

Oh. You ‘know’. That’s pretty diagnostic.

‘Well, she could hold her breath for ten seconds, so it couldn’t have been coronavirus.’

Because she could hold her breath?

‘Yeah.’

Are you a fucking idiot?

‘What’s wrong?’

You should be in isolation for two weeks.

‘For a cold?’

Because you could be infected with coronavirus!

‘I’m not infected, I feel fine.’

Many cases are asymptomatic. That means no symptoms. But that doesn’t stop you carrying it around and infecting the people you meet.

‘But she had a sniffle.’

A sniffle?

‘Yeah, and you don’t get a sniffle with coronavirus – you get a dry cough.’

Up to a third of cases cough up mucus. A third.

‘Oh. Well I didn’t know that.’

It’s your job to know! It’s everyone’s job to know! And if she had a temperature, you’re supposed to isolate the whole household. You’re meant to stay inside for two weeks.

‘Well, I know it wasn’t the coronavirus – it was just a cold.’

So, despite the government asking us only yesterday to remain isolated inside our homes for two weeks if anybody in the household has a temperature, she’s freely wandering around, potentially spreading it to all and sundry like Typhoid Mary. She’s probably right, and it was just a cold, but that’s hardly the point. The fact is, we don’t know if there’s coronavirus in her household or not, and that’s why we all have to take responsibility.

Dear Lord, if this is how seriously people are taking this, we’re all doomed.

(For the results of some studies into coronavirus symptoms, click here).

An observation on panic-buying

It’s rather bewildering to go shopping and find only dented cans left on the shelves.

What exactly is the thought process on that?

“Quick, grab as many tins as you can, it’s the apocalypse!”

“This one has a dent in it…”

“Leave it! We might be desperate, but we’re not that desperate.”

Keeping sane in a crisis: an autistic perspective

As someone with autism who’s neurologically predisposed towards obsessing over danger and freaking out over every little thing, I have forty years experience of battling dread and fear, and so the threat of a pandemic bearing down on us like a runaway train is just another day to me. However, it seems to be something new for large sections of society, and as panic starts to spread, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on keeping sane in a crisis – because if an autistic guy can do it, so can you.

First a disclaimer: I’m not an epidemiologist. Nor are most journalists, or the person on Facebook claiming coronavirus is harmless, or the neighbour stockpiling toilet paper. None of these behaviours are particularly helpful, because they add to the noise and misinformation out there, making it difficult to know what to believe and harder still to keep a level head. That’s why I’ve held off blogging about Covid-19: because I didn’t want to add to that noise.

But since we seem to be at peak saturation for signal clutter, what can it hurt? And hell, in some small way it might even help.

1. Demystify what you’re afraid of

There is nothing scarier than the unknown, except, perhaps, the unknown over which we have no control. There’s a very obvious evolutionary reason for this – the unknown could be dangerous and might kill us, so it’s safer sticking to the familiar where we can manage the risks.

Unfortunately, this means we have a tendency to inflate the dangers of anything new, and downplay the severity of those dangers we face everyday. That’s why we’re afraid of terrorists (odds of dying in a terror attack in the UK: 1 in 7.3 million), flying (1 in 5 million) and sharks (1 in 900 million), and not the death machines parked on our driveways (1 in 20,000, or a staggering 1 in 240 in your lifetime).

One of the best ways of controlling our fear of Covid-19 is to make it familiar, and thereby strip it of its mystique. Look at the bald statistics from a reliable site (like the World Health Organisation and Worldometer) and they’re more reassuring than the unhelpful running totals on websites listing number of cases alongside number of deaths.

As of 9:40, Thursday 12 March, there have been 126,628 cases, of which 4638 have died and 68,325 recovered. More helpful, perhaps, are the stats on current cases: 53,665, of which 47,957 (89%) are mild, and 5,708 (11%) serious or critical. While the tabloids might delight in showing photos of people lying in hospitals on ventilators, and implying there are more than 100,000 of them, the truth is that, globally, there are 5,708. Even if you catch Covid-19, the vast majority will have mild or no symptoms.

And this is good news for the statistics. The mortality rate is based on the percentage of known cases that have died, but if up to 50% of cases are asymptomatic, there are undoubtedly thousands who are infected, or have been infected and recovered, without even realising it.

So how lethal is Covid-19? Answers vary depending on which source you look at, but the mortality rate is estimated to be around 2% (ranging from 0.7% to 3%). This varies greatly by age, however, falling heaviest on the elderly and those with underlying health issues. If you’re under 50, the fatality rate runs at 0.2% of those infected, or 1 in 500, giving you a 99.8% chance of recovery, while those in their 80s have an 85% chance of recovery.

Therefore, if you catch Covid-19, you’re still twice as likely to die in a car accident in your life than die of coronavirus this year. Indeed, not only will you most likely recover, you’ll probably have either no symptoms or the mild symptoms of a cough, a high temperature, and a shortness of breath. This doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous or that we shouldn’t do everything to protect ourselves and those more vulnerable to the virus, but knowing what we face is far easier to deal with than worrying unduly.

2. Put your fear into perspective

Oftentimes, it feels like the end of the world. Especially as an autistic person, you spend your life magnifying things to the level of a catastrophe. Your chest tightens as you’re flooded with adrenaline, obsessing over the danger and letting it consume your every thought, because you can’t avoid the thing that’s coming for you. At these times, it’s best to step back and put things into perspective.

Look out of the window: is the world still there? Is the grass still green? Can you see insects buzzing and flowers growing and clouds scudding across the sky? Then it’s not the end of the world, even if it might feel like it.

For the past few months, people have been comparing coronavirus to the flu. For just as long, people have been saying, ‘Stop comparing it to the flu! Stop saying it’s only dangerous to the elderly and those with underlying health issues! Stop trying to minimise the dangers!’ Such people are, I think, missing the point of why these things are being said.

People are scared. People want reassurance. Comparing Covid-19 – the unknown bogeyman – to something we’re fairly comfortable with, like flu, is a way of dispelling some of that fear, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. The situation is serious, yes, but uncontrolled fear leads to the kind of irrational, unhelpful behaviour we’ve been seeing with panic-buying and stockpiling, which places massive strains on supply chains and has the potential to be very damaging. In a crisis, the last thing you want is panic. Making sane, rational decisions is always better than rushed knee-jerk reactions.

Nor do I think it’s a problem stressing that 98% of those infected will recover, with most of the remaining 2% being elderly and/or those with underlying medical issues. There was an article in the Guardian yesterday about the people in that 2% ‘at risk’ group feeling thrown to the wolves to make the other 98% feel better (along with lots of the usual Tory-bashing), but while you must be feeling vulnerable in that 2%, the solution isn’t to fill the remainder with dread. This doesn’t mean that those who die from this pandemic are unimportant and that we shouldn’t do everything we can to keep them safe, simply that we shouldn’t panic by overestimating the lethality of this virus.

Putting Covid-19 into context shows that it’s much worse than the flu, which has a mortality rate of 0.1% and a mortality rate in the over-65s of only 0.83%. However, it’s far less lethal than recent health scares like bird flu (60%), Ebola (50%), MERS (35%), and SARS (10%). It’s also nowhere near as contagious as measles or chicken pox.

Looking at the big picture, the government’s worst case scenario – something that is unlikely to happen – is that 80% of the UK gets it, resulting in 500,000 deaths. While this seems terrifying, again we must put it into perspective. In the UK, there are around 600,000 deaths each year from all causes, which is around 1% of the population. Therefore, more than half-a-million people die around us each year and we barely even notice it. Many of the people in the government’s 500,000 would have died anyway and been included in the 600,000, so if we speculate that around 1 million people will die in the UK this year, the worst case scenario will increase our annual death rate by half a percentage point – from 1% to 1.5%. This is worth remembering.

It’s also worth remembering that all of these figures are speculative. Covid-19 has the potential to kill millions, but so far it hasn’t, and only time will tell how it pans out. As my mother always says, worry is a waste of energy – if the thing you fear doesn’t happen, there was never any point worrying about it, and if it does, your worry didn’t stop it.

You know what does kill millions of people around the world each year? Heart disease. It kills 18 million people a year, but very few of us heed the warnings and change our diets and exercise. Cancer kills 10 million, many of them preventable. 9 million die of hunger. 1.5 million die of tuberculosis. 1.1 million of dysentery.

Judging Covid-19 on what it has actually done, instead of what it might do, is a better way of keeping a level head. I understand those people who scream that Covid-19 could kill millions, because they’re right. I also understand those who say that coronavirus has only killed around 4500 people, and even if you do catch it, you’ve got a 98% chance of recovery, because they’re right too.

3. Switch off

As someone whose autism causes him to obsess over every little detail of an issue until it dominates every aspect of his life, I’m well aware that there comes a point where, for the sake of your sanity, you just have to stop. It’s understandable that people want to keep abreast of the situation, because you want to keep an eye on the danger and avoid it if you can, but we’re in a uniquely difficult age where our technology gives us 24-hour access to information. What starts as a desire to keep you and your family safe can quickly turn into an addiction.

Watching the news a couple of times a day is fine, but tracking the spread of Covid-19 in real time and checking your phone for updates every few minutes isn’t healthy. It gives you the illusion of safety while simultaneously heightening your anxiety – a wound can’t heal when you’re constantly picking at it. Following Covid-19 doesn’t make you any safer, but it does make you far more uptight about it. So learn what you need to learn, hear what you need to hear, and then switch off, or else you risk letting your fear of coronavirus take over your life.

Of course, distracting yourself from that feeling of impending doom is not always easy. Instead of telling yourself not to think about it, which only makes you think about it more, simply acknowledge it whenever it pops into your head and gently shift your focus onto something else. I find doing something that requires concentration, focus and hand-eye coordination – a jigsaw puzzle, a model, a paint-by-numbers – is a far better means of taking your mind off your fears than TV, movies or a book.

And once your mind is off it, go do something else. Count the leaves on a tree. Dance in the shower. Focus on the here and now and the things you have control over, instead of things that might happen tomorrow. Know that this will pass.

4. Learn to accept the things we cannot change

I think the biggest thing I’ve realised from watching this emerging crisis is just how resistant people are to accepting things. They might close the schools, they might cancel my holiday, it’s not fair, rage, fume. When you come up against a brick wall blocking your path, repeatedly bashing your head against it is nothing more than a futile gesture. Sure, it’s annoying to find our way blocked. The solution isn’t to cry, it’s to go back and find another path.

You also have to accept that we’re all mortal and will therefore one day die. I’ve seen tons of people in their 70s and 80s in denial, panicking that they’re going to die. Why? If you’ve not accepted your mortality by that age, when you’re already past the life expectancy of an adult human, you’d better start working on it. I’m 40 and I’m comfortable with the fact that this bundle of cells, animated by that mysterious force called life, will one day become nothing more than meat. If I die of coronavirus, or heart disease, or in a car accident, it’ll be sad for my wife and kids, my family and friends, but it’ll be normal, and natural, and it was simply my time. There’s no point feeling bitter over the years I didn’t get to have, because I was never entitled to them, and I never had them anyway.

Accepting that no amount of huffing and puffing will change the nature of the universe is a vital skill if you want to keep your head when all around you are losing theirs.

5. Keep a sense of humour, even if (especially if) it’s dark

The best way of dispelling fear in a crisis is finding the humour in your situation. I remember someone posting that you should look around at all your friends and know that two of them will die. Wow, I thought – with a mortality rate of 2%, she’s vastly overestimating my popularity!

I’m also bemused by people’s fear of self-isolating. To me, that’s a normal day.

I find social media an endless source of amusement. It’s fascinating how easily Covid-19 slips into political rhetoric. To the right wing, the crisis is the result of immigrants bringing in the virus; to the left, it’s because the Tories have cut health services. Various right-wing websites are claiming that Covid-19 is a biological weapon that escaped from a Chinese lab; various left-wing websites are claiming it’s an American biological weapon designed to crash the Chinese economy. You’ve got to see something amusing about that.

Perhaps the weirdest thing is how quickly people’s professed virtues flip to the opposite extreme. After Brexit, I lost count of the number of Tweets I read hoping that elderly Leavers would hurry up and die; then, in the run-up to the election, those same people were saying how we had to vote Labour or else millions of old people would be at risk. After the result showed most old people voted Tory, I again lost count of the number of Tweets saying they looked forward to the elderly dying in their millions as the Tories ran the NHS into the ground as it would serve them right; and now, those same people are saying, Save the Elderly! Save the Elderly! I mean, come on guys, pick a side and stick to it: do you want elderly Brexit-voting Tories to die, or don’t you?

One of the best jokes I saw online was: If there was a vaccine for coronavirus, most of you wouldn’t take it anyway. Now shut up and wash your hands.

We have some difficult times ahead of us, people. But keep calm and carry on.

Good luck on staying sane.