By now I think it is safe to assume that everyone has heard of the Novel coronavirus (also known as 2019-nCoV), a new respiratory tract virus that was first identified in late December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Current symptoms reported for patients with 2019-nCoV have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Over 20,000 people are believed to be infected, and as of February 3,426 people had died. All but one of the patients who died were in China. The first death outside China occurred the other day in the Philippines, while news reports say that a second person has died outside of China, this time in Hong Kong. Many of the deaths have occurred in individuals who also had the flu or pneumonia. Thousands of people remain under observation to determine if they have been infected.
It is understandable that people are nervous, but there is no need to panic.
It is also unsurprising that there has been some public backlash against Chinese people. Anti-Chinese sentiment in the Philippines was already high, especially among those angry at the Duterte administration for not pursuing our sovereignty and rights to the West Philippine Sea. Add to that fact the President’s refusal to cancel flights from Wuhan even when other countries were doing so in the interests of quarantine and public health, and the administration’s decision to send thousands of face masks to China when there are not enough supplies for Filipinos here in our own country, and it is understandable that Filipinos are frustrated.
But given this situation, we should be angry at our officials for the political decisions they are making, rather than making sound decisions based on public health. We should NOT be taking this anger out on Chinese people. Not everyone who is Chinese is a carrier of the virus, and even those who were carriers may not have known it if/when they decided to travel outside of Wuhan.
I’ve been seeing a lot of racist memes and posts on my Facebook feed that is fueling this public distrust of anyone who is or even just looks Chinese. These xenophobic messages do nothing to help protect anyone from the virus and can lead to stigma and discrimination against people who may or may not have anything at all to do with this new virus.
Instead of sharing offensive posts and generalizing a country with over 1 billion nationals, let’s focus on what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the Coronavirus. Here are a few pointers, with special thanks to my friend Dr. Bryan Lim for some of the tips:
1. It is important to remember that the Coronavirus spreads when bodily fluids in the form of droplets from someone infected with the virus are able to enter your eyes, nose or mouth. So, if you see someone who is visibly sick, keep your distance from them, and or offer them a mask if they don’t have one. It is also a good idea to avoid crowded areas, and if you’re going to be in a crowded, confined area, like an airplane, wear a mask to give yourself extra protection.
2. Practice good hand washing techniques. Assume that some people around you could be sick, and their germs could be on the things you regularly touch. So regularly wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially before eating.
3. Do not touch your face or anyone else’s face.
4. If you do wear a mask, make sure you are wearing it properly, with the white side in and blue side out. Do not use one mask for more than one day, and when you are throwing it away, do not touch the blue/outer side as it could have viruses or bacteria on it.
5. Do get the flu vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine. Yes, you can still get the flu even when you are vaccinated, but vaccinated people do not get as sick as unvaccinated ones. As stated above, many of the fatalities have been to people who also had the flu or pneumonia. 2019 vaccines should still be available, and new stocks of 2020 flu vaccines should become available in April.
6. If you go to church, do not dip your fingers in the Holy Water. Do not accept the host into your mouth, but rather take it in your (clean) hands. Don’t hold hands with your seatmates during the “Our Father” and avoid kissing/beso-beso or shaking hands during the “peace be with you” portion.
7. Do not share food, utensils, cups or towels.
8. Leave your shoes outside your house. We live someplace where many people spit phlegm out into the roads – you could inadvertently pick up germs at the bottom of your shoes and bring them into your homes.
And remember that while we can all be vigilant to protect our health, we can also practice empathy and sympathy for the people suffering from this virus. Hating on them and fanning racists flames is not going to do anything productive.