Coronavirus: Panic is spreading faster than the virus

Head of WHO: "We must remember that these are people, not numbers."

Diana Duong 4 minute read February 5, 2020

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“This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for science, not rumours. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma.”

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus couldn’t have been clearer when he said these words after announcing a global health emergency last week. He applauded China for “the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain this outbreak” while flagging his concern for the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems and calling on the international community to help.

Indeed, the measures they’ve taken are present in the numbers. At time of publication, there are currently a total of 20,704 confirmed cases, 99 per cent of them in China — with more than half in the province of Hubei. Elsewhere in the world, there are just 212 cases, about one per cent.

However, the mass panic over the novel coronavirus has spread internationally faster than the virus itself. Earlier this week, China accused the U.S. of “spreading panic” instead of offering any significant aid.

Meanwhile, Japan has been applauded for offering its warmth and support. The donations in the form of goggles, protective gear, and one million masks (link in Japanese) — are being lauded online, especially considering the long history of animosity between the two countries. Quartz reports that a photo of one box containing face masks is gathering attention on social media as it has a label that reads: 山川异域 风月同天, which roughly translates to say “lands apart, shared sky.”

In Canada, the risk of coronavirus is low. Face masks are only useful to those who already have a respiratory infection and want to prevent the spread to others or for frontline healthcare workers who are in direct contact with people with respiratory illnesses. But “the virus is not spreading in the general community,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a press briefing last week. If you’re worried, the best thing you can do to prevent any respiratory illnesses, especially during this cold and flu season is to wash your hands thoroughly and cover your mouth and nose with your arm when coughing.

If you’re interested in stopping the spread of the coronavirus, here’s how you can help:

Give what you can

Medical supplies and monetary donations are most needed right now. The NBA has donated US$1.4 million to Hubei province, where the epidemic is playing out, as well as a medical device worth US$285,000 for use at Wuhan Fourth Hospital. Singapore has announced it will prepare $1 million as well as packages of medicine, medical supplies, and diagnostic test kits for China. Earlier this week, Singapore’s health minister Gan Kim Yong told parliament that the coronavirus had become “not just a problem for China but for the world.”

Axios reported that Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, has donated $14.4 million to research organizations working on a vaccine. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initially donated $10 million to the outbreak response in China and Africa, they’ve since upped their commitment to $100 million to the global response to the novel coronavirus. Companies like Alibaba, Microsoft, Dell, Boeing, Tencent, and Cargill have also reportedly donated significant amounts of money and medical-grade respiratory masks for aid workers and medical personnel in Hubei province.

Don’t let others’ donations deter you, every little bit truly counts. You can donate to Give2Asia, which partners with local nonprofits responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

Support your local business

It’s important to show solidarity here at home as well. A few days after the owner of Flower Centre, a flower shop on the east end of Toronto, reported a stranger walking in and spewing coronavirus racism, a local hamburger restaurant stepped up to support the fellow business with free burgers. The owners of Fearless Meat says anyone who shows a receipt from Flower Centre will get free burgers.

As the epidemic continues to grow in China, and especially the Hubei province, it’s worth reflecting on WHO director-general Ghebreyesus’s words: “We must remember that these are people, not numbers.”