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Novel Coronavirus: Facts and Hysteria

By George Siy 

THE best remedy for outbreaks and a possible calamity is calm study, practical decisions, and quick execution. Hysteria needs to be managed or the medical issues will take longer to control and resolve, with much greater economic and social damage than necessary. 

While everyone should take precautions, the current virus outbreak already shows several points that allow us to calibrate our responses:  

The novel coronavirus (nCoV) has low mortality compared to TB, flu, HIV, etc…  The flu killed an estimated 80 thousand in the US alone in 2017-2018 (Center for Disease Control); more than 1.5 million are newly infected with AIDS HIV each year, with some over 600 thousand deaths each year; over 1.5 million a year die from Tuberculosis. nCoV trajectory of mortality is much lower, with less than 5 percent mortality so far out of some 20 percent of people who are susceptible when exposed, usually those with weakened immune systems.  (The Chinese researchers themselves warned though that this data may not yet be at stabilized levels, and could still mutate.) 

China’s Disease Management has been advancing rapidly. Once the disease was defined, China restricted travel and activity in Wuhan, a city of 11 million, much larger than Chicago of 5 million or New York of some 9 million.  It also restricted activities in several other nearby cities despite the most important festivity of the Chinese New Year, compare this with the occurrence of the H1N1 which started in the USA, but did not or could not restrict movement, eventually with a mortality of over 250 thousand.  China also showed the infrastructure capabilities by building a 1000-bed hospital within a week, and another ongoing this second week. 

Chinese strengthened disease control. The World Health Organization (WHO) praised the currently open and fast communications with and from China allowing the quick establishment of “global prevention and control systems”.  WHO leaders commended China’s response to this outbreak as a model for other epidemics.  China is openly working with other countries, contacted the lab in Germany to tell them they had a return positive case.  WHO Health Emergencies Programme Michael Ryan reported that China actively reached out to WHO and other countries to help them respond in more effective ways, and has agreed to welcome an international experts mission.  They also shared research efforts, the information in virus gene sequencing.  A China Wuxi-based tech company has also developed by last week, a rapid nucleic test diagnostic kit that can determine in half an hour if you have the disease, and has started mass production to several thousand kits a day.  There are critics though that at the outset of the disease, the signals of an unusual outbreak were not immediately acted upon. 

Large Scale Travel Restrictions Not Recommended by WHO representative Gauden Galea, who reiterated WHO’s confidence in the ability of China to contain the outbreak. However, it is up to each country and local to consider its decision framework as there is no certainty as to the behavior of the disease.  Economists and analysts point out the restrictions so far have far outsized effects on the economies of both China and the world, primarily the tourism industry, already hurting both sides in the billions of dollars in the last month alone.

Other countries are pitching in. Germany, Japan, Israel, others have been sending medical supplies, masks that are in shortage, and even their researchers to help in the efforts to tame this outbreak. 

Be Calm and Verify News, get Perspective. Local news released by a TV station released news of a boy as “infected by coronavirus”, not understanding that the coronavirus is a fairly common illness category,  and the boy recovered within 3 days, and tested negative, where the current concern is over the nCoV or Wuhan variety.  But not before creating panic.  Few Philippine media report that over a hundred patients of the disease have already recovered while reporting other cases that have died of other illnesses as somehow linked to this category.  Many Filipinos in Wuhan have shared videos on social media showing that while there are many inconveniences, overall life is normal and plead with Pinoys back home to avoid over-reaction and Sinophobia.  

Ambeth Ocampo laments that fanning anti-Chinese resentment and connecting it to the 2019-nCoV might lead to events going out of hand as in a cholera epidemic in Manila in 1820 that saw a mob of some 3000 go on a rampage on the speculations that it was due to a poisoning fo the river by foreigners, which turned out untrue.

MANAGE PRIORITIES, CALIBRATE OUR RESPONSES, base decisions on Facts and Logic. We should treat this outbreak seriously and contain risk areas, but like a business, we cannot shut down everything because of possible recessions or competitors, or political situations.  We cannot leave our relations because of any various disagreements, but we need to calibrate our responses.  Tuberculosis and HIV are currently creating infections at alarming rates in the Philippines for years, on top of the periodic dengue outbreaks (UNAIDS reported in October 2019: the Philippines had the fastest-growing number of HIV cases in the world).

We need a RESPONSE and MANAGEMENT SYSTEM for all types of outbreaks, calamities, economic and other crises – which should arise from facts and logic, discipline, good execution, and not the emotions, hysteria, unverified news, advice of people who have more opinions than a record of success or experience. 

Globalization’s challenges will no longer be solved by a “you-against-me attitude”, but “we-against-real threats to humanity!”

(George Siy is the Chairman Emeritus of the Anvil Business Club and the director of the Manila-based think tank Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). IDSI aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture, and spirituality. idsicenter@gmail.com.)

Note: The article was originally published in https://www.manilatimes.net/author/new-worlds on Feb. 2, 2020

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