Big Smile, No Teeth: Let's all be superheroes together and stay home


  • Living Premium
  • Monday, 23 Mar 2020

A digital sign reading 'Stay Home If Sick' is displayed on the side of the road as vehicles wait to enter a drive-through coronavirus testing facility in New Jersey, United States. Photo: Bloomberg

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re practising social distancing.

And that is a very good thing.

But yeah, I get it. It sucks. Everything is closed thanks to Covid-19. You’re stuck at home. Trying to make a catchy TikTok video that will encapsulate social distancing, and you’re wondering... ugh... why?

Actually, sitting at home during this period is the most heroic thing you can do.

Covid-19 isn’t the killer virus we see in movies, because reality isn’t like the movies. Reality is nuanced and complicated. And so is Covid-19. The majority of the people who get it might not show symptoms. Of those who do, the majority will be fine with treatment. But for a small percentage, Covid-19 is a death sentence.

A billboard advertising live music streaming in Berlin on March 21. Because of the Covid-19 outbreak, all Berlin nightclubs have been closed since March 13, causing employees and artistes to lose their livelihoods. In response to the quarantine, promoters, clubs, and artistes have come together to create the world’s largest virtual club called 'United We Stream' which began streaming March 18. Photo: AFPA billboard advertising live music streaming in Berlin on March 21. Because of the Covid-19 outbreak, all Berlin nightclubs have been closed since March 13, causing employees and artistes to lose their livelihoods. In response to the quarantine, promoters, clubs, and artistes have come together to create the world’s largest virtual club called 'United We Stream' which began streaming March 18. Photo: AFP

If this were a film, Covid-19 would be making people’s eyeballs swell and explode, the death rate would be 98%, the only survivor would be the lead character’s love interest, and that would only happen at the end of the film. But Covid-19 just comes and goes in most people.

And we can carry it for a long time – estimated about two weeks – without showing symptoms. Add to this the fact that Covid-19 spreads like the flu and this means, if we don’t practise social distancing, the virus will spread through our population with ease.

And that’s the real threat. The fatality rate of the virus isn’t Ebola level, which is 90% and frankly terrifying – Covid-19’s is around 2% – but because of its ability to infect people quickly, well, what if we subtracted 2% in a world with more than seven billion people? Or even 1%? That’s a lot of people.

The problem of treatment is exacerbated by the sheer number of infected, as we’re learning from Italy, which recently closed its entire country down because of the number of people with Covid-19.

In Italy, hospital ERs that are overwhelmed have to take a triage approach: Reportedly, only the patients with the best chances of living are being treated. They can't waste overstretched resources on individuals with low chances of survival. That is dire.

A delivery table set up in the garage of a Covid-19 positive patient quarantined at home in Florida, the United States. Contactless delivery is the big thing now for people everywhere, including Malaysia. Photo: AFPA delivery table set up in the garage of a Covid-19 positive patient quarantined at home in Florida, the United States. Contactless delivery is the big thing now for people everywhere, including Malaysia. Photo: AFP

On Thursday, March 19, Italy surpassed China as the country with the most deaths from Covid-19, while the death toll continues to also soar elsewhere. It’s easy to see how, when medical services are overwhelmed, fatality rate starts to climb.

As of March 21, Singapore reported two deaths death due to Covid-19 and the rate of infection there does not seem to be spiralling as much as in many other countries: on March 20,40 new cases were reported, bringing the total to 385. This hints that the 2% fatality rate has the potential to drop if there is adequate healthcare.

Now, you might be thinking, hey, I’m young and healthy, I don’t need to be scared of Covid-19. That is true in the sense that if you are young and healthy the chances of it affecting you in a serious way drop. In fact, you may have it and not even know.

While that might be great news for you, it’s not great news for everyone around you. It means you might pick up the virus and spread it to a loved one without even knowing. In South Korea, researchers have found that the most infected cohort is aged 20 to 29. The demographic that is more likely to socialise.

Those stuck in Italy now have issued warnings to the rest of the world to take the virus seriously because they didn’t and now they’re paying the price. Photos from Rome on Feb 29 showed that the streets were packed as usual, the warnings about Covid-19 unheeded.

And that’s not Italy’s failing. That’s a human failing, not to take seriously a threat you can’t see. But now the threat is visible and very real. The world has seen what Covid-19 can do and is acting appropriately.

So here we are. Social distancing. Countries locked down. Or, in Malaysia’s case, under a movement control order.

This is a real world outbreak and all it takes to be a hero is staying home, enduring boredom and confinement with relatives. So it’s time to save the world. Let’s be heroes together.


Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at lifestyle@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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