Coronavirus and our attitude towards death

Many people hear the latest figures on coronavirus deaths even before breakfast, as breaking news on their smartphones or the radio. As a society, this means we are thinking about death again, more than we have for a long time - even those of us who have not yet lost any relatives or friends to the virus. What effect does this have? And is it not legitimate to want to suppress thoughts of mortality?

Open/close all quotes (GR) /

Just anonymous figures

People are reacting with indifference to the persistently high death toll, observes columnist Kostas Giannakidis in Protagon:

“It no longer causes shock or pain. On the contrary, the photos of the graves disturb us. After a certain point the dead just become statistics. ... With a few exceptions we hear nothing about them as individuals. The data shows that their average age is 79 and 96 percent of them had underlying health issues. ... If we don't know the people, death at this age does not frighten us. It's a form of ageism.”

Club Z (BG) /

Mythologised by the media

Death had pretty much disappeared from the everyday life of modern society, writes anthropologist Ivaylo Ditchev in Club Z:

“Until Covid-19 came along that is, bringing images of morgues, overcrowded hospitals and people turning blue waiting for ambulances. ... For the vast majority of us, death is not an immediate physical reality; it seeps into our lives in the form of media images. Death is not a personal experience but an abstract fear. ... In the media, death takes on new dimensions: a sinister virus that has all humanity in its grip. A celestial army of scientists fighting the invincible forces of nature that have produced it. Faced with these mythical scenes, we feel small and helpless.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Responsibility causes misery

It's a myth that our society is increasingly in denial about death, the philosopher Barbara Bleisch counters in the Tages-Anzeiger:

“Only a hundred years ago there were no antibiotics. Death carried people off and there was precious little they could do about it. Today death rarely creeps up on us unannounced. It is far more frequent for people to die slowly. In the process, many things can be done or eschewed. ... The freedom to choose always offers welcome scope for action. But it also makes us accountable to ourselves and others for why we have used this scope in one way and not another. Those who have died from the coronavirus affect us so deeply, not because we are in denial of death - but because we know that at least some of the deaths were preventable. ”

Profil (AT) /

We need fewer worries, not more

Profil columnist Elfriede Hammerl scoffs at the notion that we should be more aware of our mortality:

“It would be unbearable to constantly imagine the unimaginable. So I get pretty angry when I'm told to remember the transience of human existence, because it's perfectly legitimate to forget about it sometimes. ... People who are starving in many parts of the world, people living in terror, the displaced, the disenfranchised are constantly being reminded of their mortality. Perhaps rather than calling on us to reflect on our mortality we should be called on to reflect on ways to help more people to feel more carefree. So they can forget their mortality for a while.”