Corona: a blog from a Belgian that was naive 3 weeks ago

Many people are currently facing pain, or will face pain in the near future. You can interpret pain here as physical pain (sickness due to the Corona virus), emotional pain (e.g. losing a beloved one due to the Corona virus, or worrying about it), economic pain (your business or job being impacted by the Corona virus), etc etc.


If there is already a lot of pain in certain parts of the world, there’s also an opportunity to reflect about it to help those in regions that are still going to be infected and affected.

I think there is one main lesson wrt Corona:


Today here in crowded Belgium our lives are significantly affected, and the hospitals are now preparing for the worst: a capacity overload. This already happened in China and Italy.

Only three weeks ago I had a lunch discussion with a couple of people in which we were discussing the Corona crisis:

  • “Please stop talking about it in the media, as it will cause unnecessary panic which might negatively impact the economy”
  • “Apparently it’s nothing more than a regular flu. It’s the fact that people have no vaccine that makes them feel ‘out of control’ and freak out”

And so on and so on. Well, here’s a violation almost everyone, including policy makers, make:

No sensible person should reject a believable person’s views without great fear of being wrong – Ray Dalio

Virologists and other experts knew it. They are the believable persons here, and most of the other ones should just shut up unless they have very good reasons to not do so. And what do they say? Take drastic measures, immediately. I can cite some tweets from a few weeks back ridiculing their statements. Quite some people in Belgium even thought these virologists had hidden political agendas. If you would openly ridicule their statements today here in Belgium, your neighbours might burn your house.

Some lessons:

Politicians have resistance to take drastic measures. It is because in many cases popularity and the chance of getting reelected gets priority over true leadership

The media, at least here in Belgium, only after a couple of weeks figured out how to communicate the message clearly and impactful. For example:

  • Instead of the daily ‘reported cases 964’, there’s a critical number missing: ‘official cases 964 and possible number of unreported cases xxxx’. It’s the last one that matters, and it’s orders of magnitude higher… It’s that person in the supermarket behind you that suddenly becomes visible.
  • Only since last week they came with clear graphics to make everyone understand what the impact of lockdown and staying home means in terms of saving lives. And I mean other graphics than only ‘flattening the curve’. It’s a graphic showing ‘you stay home’ vs ‘you don’t’ and ‘this is how many people are saved’.
  • Yesterday for the first time I saw some lung scans of 30 year olds without premedical record showing that this is not a ‘regular flu’. These are extreme cases and should not be generalised. However, some fear doesn’t harm to accelerate actions and especially train discipline.

The people needed some time to realize the severity of the problem. Some started plundering shops, with some societal anger as a result. Others, on the other end of the spectrum, kept minimizing. I will be honest, my first reaction to those plundering was also anger and disappointment in the sense of ‘how can you be like that?’. It’s the psychological principle Kantian fairness (fairness you expect from everyone). However, a great article of a Belgian professor made me realize that it’s not them causing harm. It’s those that keep organizing gatherings, including the final ‘lockdown party’s’. It’s also employers that don’t let people work from home while they can.

Even today, I know employers that could perfectly let their employees work from a distance and don’t out of a) stupid principle or b) out of a lack of trust. Also, there are still many people that keep shopping, keep going out unnecessary. And there are politicians worldwide that will repeat the same mistake of delaying action out of fear of losing popularity, despite what the believable experts say, and despite what’s happening in China and Europe.

And just imagine the positive case of ‘reasonable impact’. There will still be people left arguing ‘was it worth all this exaggeration’?

A lesson for the future

This multifaceted crisis is another important moment in history. The fact that humans keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again throughout history, means to me that we a) don’t have a good system to capture lessons and b) don’t regularly practice those lessons. Let education 2.0 please include it. Use the power of simulation and virtual reality to virtually repeat those events. I think people should virtually feel the pain before they feel it in reality. Maybe put politicians in a ‘crisis simulator’ before letting them manage a nation. A history book is not sufficient.

I have 3 kids and I already had a lot of admiration for ‘health workers’. I wish these warriors the best. And all of you out there that might be directly or indirectly affected.

Let’s end with a positive note:

The darkest hour of the night comes just before dawnPaulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Excellent reads:

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