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If you want to see what will happen next with Coronavirus, look East. China was the first country hit by the epidemic, and so have already experienced the stages of what happens as it plays out.

I lived in China for 15 years, and have watched very closely as friends and family have gone through the Coronavirus experience there, about a month ahead of us in the UK. They’ve progressed through 4 stages of human emotional reaction, as the virus has come and gone. We’re currently still at the first stage, so if you want to learn what happens next, read on:

  1. HUMOUR. 

In the first stage, as people are first becoming aware of the issue, and it becomes a ‘thing’, the reaction is to make jokes. This plays out in chat groups, and on social media. We see funny pictures and videos, such as comedy face-masks or people with plastic boxes on their heads. What is noticeable is how similar the jokes shared in China in January are to those doing the rounds now in the West. This is the stage that we are currently at in the UK.


Once the real impact of the epidemic sinks in, the jokes stop. Hospitals start to get overwhelmed, and images of suffering appear on the media. As people are restricted to their homes, and their livelihoods get impacted, the next stage is a very human, but unexpected, reaction. People reach out to help each other. They form charity groups. Neighbours help each other out. Messages and banners of support appear. People realise that we’re ‘all in this together’, and think about what can be done to help each other.


Many people, at some point, end up getting stuck at home. Maybe because the children are kept from school, the office is shut, or the government has enforced a lockdown or quarantine. A strange period of dislocation from normal life ensues. It’s an unusual time, with a feeling that the normal constraints of life, such as work, the commute, and making money, seem somehow distant. There is unexpected extra time with the family and children, and small, special moments become important, such as cooking a meal together, taking care of the garden, or taking a walk. Normal concerns seem on hold, and we appreciate the few things that are actually most important in life.

4.    RECOVERY. 

Then things start returning to normal. As the song says, we ‘pick up the pieces and move on’. This means sorting out the issues accumulated in our businesses, or catching up on studies and missed meetings. This involves difficult conversations, as the burden is spread around. And a new normal begins, which we are still learning to understand. Maybe the increased reliance on virtual services will stick, or supply chains will be permanently altered. But we do get past it.

The next couple of months are going to be hard for us all, as a community, a society, and a country. There will be suffering, and economic hardship. But we will get through it. This is the time that we keep calm and carry on. We look to each other and offer help.

Knowing what is coming down the road can help you to understand and prepare for your reactions, and of those around you. So be strong, and remember that there is hope on the other side.

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