The COVID-19 outbreak is in its third month. At the end of last month, the WHO declared the crisis a global health emergency, and ever since the topic has taken over the international media and caused uncertainty around the world.
The WHO announcement and the coronavirus itself has caused considerable commotion in Taiwan, which is understandable given how little is known about how it operates and how to effectively fight it, but such times require people to use logic and facts, rather than giving in to panic.
Regardless of how much the media exaggerate the outbreak or the extent of people’s fear, the coronavirus does not have a high mortality rate. People need to consider this, because letting panic cloud their reasoning puts themselves more at risk.
Chinese authorities and the international media have reported that the death rate of the coronavirus is about 2 percent. This figure in and of itself is relatively low and, according to the reports, most of the people in that 2 percent were elderly people or people whose immune systems were compromised prior to becoming infected.
The low death rate has done little to prevent panic from spreading even faster than the coronavirus. There is even a conspiracy theory circulating that says that the reported numbers are not accurate, but that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is hiding the real numbers to “save face.”
Believing unfounded rumors only leads to more uncertainty and fear. They have intensified following the death of Li Wenliang (李文亮), a doctor who posted on social media about the coronavirus when it began to spread, but was censored by police.
There are reasons for believing the CCP is not being completely transparent — and no one could blame anyone who chooses to believe this — but the coronavirus has spread to about 28 countries and there are only two confirmed deaths outside of China (one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines).
This should be enough for people to calm down and understand how low the death rate really is. With the coronavirus reaching so many countries, it would be impossible to hide a higher death rate and, more importantly, the rest of the world has no need to hide the real figure.
It is normal to fear the unknown. A lack of information about how the coronavirus operates led many people to swarm pharmacies and convenience stores to buy large quantities of masks, creating a shortage at the end of the Lunar New Year holiday.
This prompted the Centers for Disease Control to announce that healthy people do not need to wear a mask unless visiting a hospital, but this did little to prevent people from stocking up on masks and the government implemented a rationing system, which allows a person to only buy two masks per week.
This mask hysteria, shared by Taiwanese and foreigners alike, has not had the effect of protecting everyone. Instead, if someone with a cough and fever needs to get checked out at a hospital, but cannot obtain a mask, more people would become infected, because the coronavirus is transmitted from human to human when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
More than wearing a mask, people are recommended to wash their hands to keep from getting infected. It is also recommended that people avoid touching their nose, eyes or face with unwashed hands.
If a person feels that wearing a mask is beneficial, no one can keep them from doing so, but if a mask is worn, certain guidelines should be followed to ensure their effectiveness.
If a person chooses to wear a mask, they should make sure that it is the right kind. Some health experts suggest using an N95 respirator, which is thicker than a regular surgical mask. The masks that some people have around the house have the same benefit as not wearing any mask when out in public.
It is important to remain calm and avoid getting caught up in rumors that could end up making people’s daily lives difficult. Hong Kongers appear to be undergoing a toilet paper shortage after fears spread about supplies being held up in China, which was apparently not the case. Taiwanese must follow the lead of local authorities, who have the nation’s best interest at heart.
Evidence of this is an emergency text message that was sent out by the government, making people aware of a tourist group that visited Taiwan who later tested positive for COVID-19. The message let people know the date and locations that the tourists visited, and advised people to place themselves under home quarantine if they had visited the same places as the tourists.
The government is doing everything it can to protect the public. Following its instructions should be enough for people to feel safe. This is not to say that the coronavirus is not a serious threat — it most certainly is — but practicing adequate protection measures is what will fight it. Panic will only have the opposite effect.
Juan Fernando Herrera Ramos is a Honduran lawyer residing in Taiwan.
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