Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 8 News List


Wartime unity needed

A few weeks ago, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) described the SARS contagion as "a challenge to national security" and warned the nation to prepare for a long battle against the disease. Meanwhile, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) likened it to a war. The two men were not overreacting, or exaggerating the gravity of the situation. SARS has already devastated parts of the economy and has the potential to undermine Taiwan's fragile social structure.

The crisis requires people to put aside their differences, whether political or personal, in order to work together for the common good. Sadly, not everyone has been prepared to do this.

The leaders of the two opposition parties refused to attend a SARS summit convened by the president, even though it would have been an ideal opportunity to show a united front in the face of a common enemy. The ugly side of political partisanship was also shown when the mayor of Hsinchu tried to block the transfer of SARS patients to Hsinchu General Hospital.

Fear of SARS is perfectly understandable, given that so little is known about it. How-ever, some elements of the media have exacerbated the situation with their irresponsible coverage about the spread of the disease. Several reports have been sensationalist and alarmist, as was shown by the coverage of the closure of Hoping Hospital, while others have been deliberately divisive.

On May 12, one of Taiwan's English newspapers (not the Taipei Times) published a scathing editorial about Chinese people. It said: "The Chinese are one of the world's most selfish peoples. It is no coincidence that the SARS epidemic seems to have spared non-Chinese people." It went on to imply that SARS only occurred in Canada because of the large Chinese community in Toronto.

This kind of journalism is not just irresponsible; it is racist and should be condemned. Of course, the editorial failed to mention the countless acts of self-sacrifice that Chinese people have made, and will continue to make, during the crisis.

In these difficult times, everyone has a duty to be socially responsible, not just politicians and reporters. It's extremely troubling that many people have refused to abide by their home quarantine orders, with little regard for the possible consequences to themselves or others.

At the same time, people affected by SARS deserve all the support the community can offer and it's vitally important that they do not become the target of discrimination. Already, some people have reportedly lost their jobs, simply because they were in home quarantine.

This is not the time for divisiveness or recriminations. It's a time for unity, the same unity that was evident after the 921 earthquake when people worked together to overcome another major challenge to the nation. Premier Yu Shyi-kun summed up this need perfectly when he called on all the people to rediscover Taiwanese values and not lose sight of a sense of humanity.

Paul Dunne

Hsin Tien, Taipei County

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How did a country with world-class medical facilities crumble so quickly in the face of SARS? Until late last month, Taiwan only had a handful of SARS patients, but in less than a month, scores have died from it, including two doctors and three nurses.

The epidemic seems to be more vicious and to have spread much faster and in a deadlier fashion here than anywhere else in the world. To make matters worse, some hospitals are seeing mass resignations among their medical staff. One cannot help feeling that something is tremendously wrong.

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