There is nothing to fear but fear itself

We’ve noticed several similarities between our experience of the Christchurch earthquakes and the Covid-19 pandemic. After the big earthquake schools and universities were closed, hospitals and emergency services were overwhelmed, businesses went bankrupt, people lost jobs, shops were closed, supplies ran low including toilet paper, and people died. At that time, Ben remembers having to deal with the logistics of how to have university examinations with so many buildings flagged as unsafe. Christchurch also had a red zone that people couldn’t enter.

We find ourselves on the cusp of a similar situation here and Ben is again having to deal with the logistics of how to hold university examinations next month in unusual circumstances. But there is one major difference this time compared with last time and that is the absence of fear this time around. While I speak for myself I can also sense there’s not the same climate of fear here that was all-pervasive in Christchurch. Pharmacies in Christchurch sold out of anti-anxiety pills. Heart attacks went up. Yes, we will probably get sick but in all likelihood, we’ll recover.

Another big difference between now and then is the children are safe. During the earthquakes, I felt I couldn’t protect them. There is nothing more fundamental than a parent’s need to protect their children. If you have young children and they’re in danger there’s very little that can top that anxiety and stress and it was persistent because without warning the aftershocks went on and on and on. Some of them were worse than the original earthquake that started it all off.

The official number of deaths due to the February 22nd 2011 earthquake is 185 but this number does not include deaths from earthquake-related cardiovascular disease. It is an acknowledged phenomenon that the fear and stress caused by large earthquakes increase the risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal myocardial infarction, myocardial infarction, stress cardiomyopathy, heart failure, stroke, arrhythmias, hypertension, and pulmonary embolism. This suggests that fear made the Christchurch earthquakes particularly dangerous. It’s also not uncommon for epidemics to follow natural disasters like earthquakes.

The Covid-19 virus is upon us and while we shouldn’t be complacent, we have had time to prepare and we know what to expect. Our children are also safe and I can’t tell you how reassuring that is as a parent. By comparison, earthquakes strike suddenly and without warning. They take babies, children, parents, and grandparents indiscriminately. If you are buried alive during an earthquake you die alone and your death could take hours or even days during which time you will suffer.

Having lived and experienced a large natural disaster I can tell you that Covid-19 is nowhere near as bad.


6 thoughts on “There is nothing to fear but fear itself”

    1. Indeed! We specifically chose a geologically boring place to live after our experience in Christchurch. I don’t ever want to live through anything like that again.

  1. Yes, we all lived with a heightened sense of anxiety for a couple of years after that first earthquake in Sept 2010. Knowing that an aftershock could hit anytime put everyone on edge 24/7, and we’d jump in tension at a truck rumbling past. With coronavirus, we certainly have a level of awareness about it, but not that constant level of fear.

    1. Yes, it took 6 months of no aftershocks for my body to stop responding physiologically to the sound of a truck rumbling past the house. People who didn’t experience can’t understand what it was like.

  2. Rachel,
    I entirely agree. Many other catastrophes have much greater death rates and impact than the corona virus, without downplaying its seriousness.
    If you look at the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918/19 there were some 60 million deaths worldwide and in the Black Plague in the 14th Century, a third of Europe’s population perished.

    1. Yes, exactly. The Spanish flu and Black Plague were on a completely different scale. Smallpox circulating around the community would also be worse. A calm and measured response is needed but definitely not panic or fear.

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