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Fear and prejudice not the keys to fighting the virus

Bikram Vohra
Filed on February 5, 2020 | Last updated on February 5, 2020 at 07.56 pm

There is a lesson here in that the most dependable and sensible data still comes from the mainline press.

The law of diminishing returns kicks in regardless of the enormity of the crisis.

The current attention on the coronavirus shifts from deep and collective concern to a sort of shunning of the authentic information being imparted and relief being found in memes and a surge in examples of humour in poor taste doing the rounds on the social media platforms.

There is a lesson here in that the most dependable and sensible data still comes from the mainline press.

We are being super vigilant not to scaremonger and instead kill rumours. One of the other aspects that we are sharply aware of is the need to eliminate the rise of any kind of racism issue. You could be a Chinese from Wuhan, an alien from Mars or anyone in between from the globe, and your chances of being hit by the virus are exactly the same now.

If you use the universal application of six degrees of separation covering all of us, it is simple to conclude that isolating ourselves from anyone who hails from China and lives here is absurd. The virus incubates for two weeks max so anyone who has been here that long is no risk to anybody else.

In fact, one of the ironies is that now non-Chinese people could be unwitting carriers with cases in 26 countries and the travel of the ones they have interacted with globally unrestricted.

But there is one issue that needs attention.

Now, children can be very cruel and they learn from the indiscretions of their parents. Be careful what you say and do not lose perspective. If your child hears your irrational remarks he will carry it to class and say something truly hurtful to a child from China. In the West, there are now many stories of Chinese schoolchildren being bullied. Thankfully, we are much better off here and xenophobia is still low but it should not be fanned.

Now, while it may not be racist and more out of self-preservation it is not pleasant and it is not valid either medically or in the prism of plain common sense.

Also remember that the virus has not gone away and spreading half-truths or unnecessarily avoiding certain places in a kind of mental boycott borders on the absurd. The public has a role and it has to be a role that is supportive of the efforts by the authorities to contain the risk factor and bring it down to practically zero.

If you have children sharing schools with kids from China talk to them sensibly about the virus. Kids are heap smart and they pick up nuances. If parents are displaying prejudice the child will run with that ball.

So, do not say something like 'avoid Chinese food' and believe you are being clever. In France, for example, the highest selling T shirts says #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus, meaning "I am not a virus." The idea is to tamp down on racist isolation.

Yes, you will read about acts of racism from different parts of the world. It is not new. We saw it with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), we saw it with Ebola. Disease tends to generate fear and scapegoating and can be very hurtful. Whenever I have read about someone displaying ignorance and pointing fingers I am reminded of the Bangladeshi woman who has refused to leave Wuhan on the grounds that if she is infected she will endanger her family at home and be party to the spread. So, she is staying back. That is the spirit.

Remember that we are all in the same boat. It is no one's fault and blame is a waste of energy. The idea is to be smart, wear masks, sanitise your hands frequently, be aware of the fact that clinics and hospital waiting rooms can be dicey and yes, if you feel you have any of the symptoms go to the doctor and remember, the odds favour you astronomically.

Together we can get past this.

-bikram@khaleejtimes.com



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