A man strolls across a busy street in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A large truck bears down on him, but the man doesn’t notice, engrossed as he is in his phone, and reading the 14th update that hour on the specific number of people in a distant country suffering from a respiratory infection.
The truck driver blasts the horn. The pedestrian doesn’t hear it, equipped as he is with noise-cancelling AirPods and the insouciance of a person who knows their death will only come to them via China, and bats, and extreme statistical improbability.
A second man darts from the opposite side of the street, runs across the road, leaves his feet, and tackles the first man, pushing him out of the way with just centimeters (smaller than inches) to spare between them and the rushing metal grill of the oncoming cement mixer. The men arrive in a heap on the far curb.
“Ahhhhhhhhh,” shouts the first man, desperately trying to shield his face from the close proximity of his savior’s mouth, as they attempt to disentangle themselves from each other. “You’re breathing on me! Have you been to China at any point in your life? Bend over and cough twice. Write down everyone you know. Quickly! Jesus H. Christ you can’t just go around tackling people man. There’s a pandemic happening somewhere on this planet.”
It is a scene that is repeating itself around the world.
In France, oncologists report that many of their new patients have begun expressing extreme relief when they discover they only have cancer, rather than the dreaded Mexican beer disease (also commonly referred to as the rarefied-gaseous-envelope-surrounding-the-sun-and-other-stars virus).
In the United Kingdom, test pilots have stopped riding jerrycans of kerosene with wings on them; not because they’re afraid of becoming human fireworks somewhere in the thin air over Oxfordshire, but because who knows who might have touched the throttle immediately after blowing their nose. You really can’t be too careful about these things.
In Portugal, many big-wave surfers say they’re taking an indefinite break from riding monster waves out of fear they may require mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from someone who once watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
And in the United States, schools have adapted their lockdown drills to incorporate active sneezer scenarios.
“This worldwide fixation on the latest flavor of unlikely death really shouldn’t come as a surprise,” says Dr. Wut De Fawkes, head of research at the Canadian Centre For Keeping Your Shirt On.
“The fact that the vast majority of us will die of heart disease, cancer, or from injuries suffered in an accident, yet spend most of our lives worrying about serial killers hiding in the backseats of our cars, or whether freshwater lakes have sharks in them, gives you something of an idea of how we as a species are geared.”