Amid all the surface noise, mostly to create panic and spread misinformation and disinformation, the World Health Organization (WHO) over the weekend pressed countries to work with China to understand the outbreak and share information on the next steps to be taken in response against the global health threat.
The WHO has reasons to make the call as wild speculations and claims hardly backed by data and facts have spread even more rapidly than the virus which has so far infected more than 60,000 and claimed more than a thousand lives as of last week.
The COVID-19, the coronavirus previously known as the nCoV, has taken on many names.
Some major agencies even called it the Wuhan or the China virus, in reference to its city and country of origin, but not without malice.
At least one major American newspaper linked the COVID-19 spread to making unsound business investments in China, an obvious attempt to weaken investors’ confidence in the long-awakened dragon and make them return to Europe, where the big countries, including top American brands have long left for Chinese factories.
Geopolitics has played its ugly cards in attempting to portray China as the Mary Shelley who created tiny Victor Frankensteins out of Wuhan bio-weapons laboratories, remastering old movie plots for the West to regain a foothold of influence over smaller countries no longer willing to buy their crap.
China is far from holy in its political games, but to muddle up a global health concern where everyone is in a race against time in finding a cure to the COVID-19 disease does not serve any purpose.
Demonizing China for what it’s not — a Frankenstein — sidetracks the WHO’s efforts to bring together the health experts who are blind of race, color and nationalities.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, himself a victim of a smear campaign after he was accused of allegedly lying about the figures in favor of China, made it clear that there has not yet been widespread community transmission of the virus outside of China.
In the Philippines, aside from the handful of Chinese who were diagnosed with the virus, there has not been a local transmission of the COVID-19. So far, but that is so good.
Ghebreyesus told foreign policy and security experts gathered for the Munich Security Conference last week and reported that the United Nations agency has managed “the global research community (to) come together to identify and accelerate the most urgent research needs for diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.”
He also reported that a team of international experts is now on the ground in China, working closely with Chinese counterparts to understand the outbreak.
A report is expected soon, he said, and this would be what the world is needing to break this coronavirus curse.
The WHO chief, however, admitted that the agency does not know yet how much time is needed to score a breakthrough. This despite encouraging signs of patients having recuperated from the COVID-19 bout in China hospitals.
In a WHO report, Ghebreyesus said “the agency’s encouragement was tempered by several key concerns, including, the rising number of cases in China, particularly the number of health workers that have been infected; the lack of urgency in funding the response from the international community; the levels of rumors and misinformation hampering the response; and the potential havoc the virus could wreak in countries with weaker health systems.”
Ghebreyesus added that while there is no declared epidemic, the WHO encourages all nations — affected by the COVID-19 or not — to halt the spread of what the health community branded as an “infodemic,” or the wide spread of false information about the virus.
The WHO asked the international community to come together and take the proper steps to move forward. These are:
· Use the window of opportunity provided by China’s quick action to intensify preparedness, including the arrival of new cases, treating patients with dignity, and protecting health workers.
· Push back against the “infodemic,” as fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is equally as dangerous. He called on governments, companies and news organizations to work with WHO to sound the appropriate level of alarm, without fanning the flames of hysteria; and,
· A “whole-of-government approach” must be coherent and coordinated, guided by evidence and public health priorities, as tackling the spread of the virus “is not a job for health ministers alone.”
We have a choice, Ghebreyesus said. But we allowed fear, suspicion and irrationality to distract and divide us.
The virus is not our lone enemy in this fight.
Some days I wish I could stay under my blanket and relish the peace and quiet — no deadlines, no duties nor a demented world to tackle. Best of all, no one to tell me what I still have to do and how to live my life.
I am dreaming of course and, too soon, my wide-awake mind is telling me what I still have to do and how to live my life.
It’s just moments like these when I feel like hiding from the world and all its fears and fools and foibles — not that I don’t have my chunk of those.
But seeing people in malls wearing masks here in Metro Manila somehow makes me want to tear those off, pretty much like flinging my blanket aside and saying, “Hello, world, here I come!”
I want to scream, “Get rid of those stupid masks and just be your true self!”
But I suppose I am still dreaming, too, thinking of a virus that recently flung a big, wet blanket on Valentine’s Day.
A friend of mine recently joked about how COVID-19 had put a damper on Hearts Day. People have either been isolated, trapped in lockdowns or covered in masks, that it feels like a prohibition against the simple human touch.
We are told to inhibit from shaking hands, beso-beso and holding hands. Those sweet Valentine lovers at the Luneta may have been risking their lives HHWW in Intra! (For those who have been living under the covers for too long, that means “holding hands while walking in Intramuros).
Of course, COVID-19 is no laughing matter. Yet here I go with the Pinoy tendency to lighten everything up with a joke.
It just feels so wrong for us to find the world we live in covered in a blanket, warding off attacks of various kinds — from the virus of arrogance to the virus that wrecks our immune system and makes us die.
For here we are, reeling from the truth that the latest coronavirus disease had already killed over 1,600 people in China and affected over 66,000 worldwide.
The day after Valentine’s, it was reported that 139 more people had died in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.
“The province’s health commission also reported 2,641 new cases of the COVID-19 strain, about half the number from the previous day,” says a report.
Government is always telling us not to panic — assuring us of preparedness.
But if they want us to do that, they should be more forthcoming with these preparations.
Department of Health (DoH) Secretary Francisco Duque III said it is not a matter of “if” but “when” the disease strikes in the country.
If that is the case, what is the government telling people to do? What health measures does government have in place should this eventuality happen?
From this angle, we still have absolutely nothing useful.
What can assurances do when the virus has landed in the midst of our community, for example? How exactly does the DoH plan to deal with it?
Even now, the issue of face masks hoarding or running out seems unaddressed. How much more if the situation worsens? Will we wait until then before coming up with useful measures?
It has been reported that the lack of proper masks had been among the reasons health workers were infected and died in Wuhan.
Right now, China and various governments are handling the issue with care, striving to contain the virus through home or hospital quarantine and observation.
They are also reminding people to maintain calm, and especially not to stigmatize a certain culture — either Chinese or Asians in general — for this outbreak.
People, meanwhile, can only do so much — load up on zinc and vitamin C, wash hands constantly until fingers feel like prunes, wear masks and avoid crowds and public places.
As the hunt for “patient zero” continues, as well as for a cure for this unfamiliar strain, we can also do something else: Pray!