KATHMANDU, March 25: With the second case of novel coronavirus detected in Nepal, the ordinary public is grappling with fear and uncertainty. How long will this go? Will it contain or will it become contagious?
A week-long nationwide lockdown is in place from Tuesday. People are asked to remain inside their homes, and stay safe. Yet, fear abounds.
Experts on evolutionary biology and social science and also religious leaders argue that fear was necessary to adapt to threat and for survival – both for humans and animals -- in the past as well as the present.
But this raises other questions: Are we genetically programmed to be fearful or is it nurtured later? Or is it both? Definitely, the answer is not easy and varies depending upon the respective subject lens.
A professor of biology at the Tribhuvan University (TU), Kumar Sapkota terms fear as a natural phenomenon -- an integral part of animal behavior. “Fear protects us,” says Sapkota, “It empowers the wild animals as well as the humans to overcome, to remain immune and to get ready for “the fight or the flight” to counter the impending adversaries.”
However, he cautions that excessive fear is only destructive. “Extreme panic affects our immunity badly and in such cases our immunity ceases to function,” he says.
Biologists argue that most animals are genetically programmed to fear their predators: as mice fear cats, fish fear birds. “These fears don't have to be learned. They are inborn — the product of the natural selective forces that rewarded such fears in the evolutionary past,” writes Nathan H Lents, who is a professor of molecular biology at the John Jay College of the City University of New York, in his article published recently in Psychology Today.
Social scientists consider fear as a universal social phenomenon. “Rahu, an astronomical body [a shadow entity] is prevalent in our belief and religious texts, and it symbolizes destruction. Coronavirus looks like a new avatar of Rahu,” argues Professor Chaitanya Mishra, a sociologist.
“As man is a social animal,” adds Mishra, “We are fearful for our own social relation. We are always scared to see the sufferings and deaths of our dear ones and social relation is extremely important in our individual life.”
Mishra believes that fear is vital in maintaining the social relations, which contain the elements of politics and economics as well.
Not only the public, the political parties in power fear to protect their politics and remain successful as they have a greater role during such public health disasters. “They fear that the public would be frustrated in their inaction and a fear of damnation would lead them to be active and action-oriented,” said Mishra.
“The COVID-19 crisis is certainly going to have a greater impact in social, economic and political lives of Nepal,” adds Mishra.
Religious leaders put emphasis on self-discipline, maintaining harmony with nature and trust in god. “Italians disobey the government request to remain disciplined and isolated at home initially, and they are paying a heavy price now,” Dr Madhav Bhattarai, a Hindu activist and chairperson of the Rastriya Dharma Sabha Nepal said.
“It is a grave sin to transmit the disease to others and we should be cautious of this,” added Bhattarai. “The fear of God would help to counter the crisis.”
Vice Chairperson of Dharmodaya Sabha and a Budhhist leader, Indra Bahadur Gurung stressed the need for establishing harmony with nature. “We should comply with the rule of nature, and when we break the rule, we suffer,” he said, referring to the reported transmission of the coronavirus from animal meats in China.
It is too early to predict the future course of events for Nepal, yet experts are optimistic that COVID-19 would remain under control, given the government's recent measures and public awareness.
“Highly virulent pathogens erupt every decade or two, we should be vigilant but not fearful,” adds Prakash Ghimire, a professor of microbiology at the Tribhuvan University. “As human beings, we should adopt strategies to counter the adverse situation caused by the deadly pathogens and win the battle.”
Meanwhile in Nepal, a total 610 samples for suspected COVID-19 cases were tested until March 24. Of this 608 were negative with one recovered. A 19-year-old girl was tested positive Sunday, who returned from Paris a few days ago.