FATAH: Anti-Chinese racism during Black History Month

While I agree with Tarek on most of the points in his article, I would have thought, given his bout with cancer, he would be less embracing about embracing or handshakes given the risks of physical contact in spreading colds and flus.

My bout taught me to be much more cautious and I generally try to avoid handshakes during the flu season and reduce my participation in group events.

But no need to be paranoid and leave the elevator. And if paranoid, all hospitals have stations with face masks and Purell:

There were six or seven of us inside the hospital elevator when a woman tried to make a last-second dash to enter the car. Under normal circumstances the passenger nearest to the door stops the closing door to let in the fellow passenger. But not in this case.

Instead, the gentleman closest to the coveted space where the elevator buttons are installed started fumbling for the ‘close’ button, trying to shut the cabin before the woman could get inside. He failed and she got through uttering a heavily accented “thank You” to the rest of us.

What followed was a scene fit for Alabama in 1920, not Toronto in 2020.

The men and women in the car covered their faces and turned away from the woman. She appeared to be of Chinese ancestry and that made her a default carrier of the coronavirus.

As the car stopped on the second floor, all the other passengers left the elevator even though the buttons to the 4th and 6th floors were lit indicating the good people in the lift had jettisoned to save themselves from the ‘cursed’ virus carrier who stood staring at the ceiling.

Chatting with her, I learned that she was a third-generation Canadian of Chinese ancestry who had never been to China. I had arrived a day earlier after a two-month stay in India and statistically had a greater chance of being a virus carrier than her, but she was judged by her facial features, and race, by a group of people none of whom were white.

Were the people who ran away from this Chinese woman racist? Damn right they were, but the academics teaching racism insist that people of colour (folks like me and my fellow elevator mates) do not possess ‘white privilege’ and therefore can never be accused of practising racism.

To give credit where it is due, on Tuesday Mayor John Tory, along with the Liberal federal health minister and her Conservative provincial counterpart, came together and visited Toronto’s Chinatown to address the discrimination some in the Chinese-Canadian community have felt.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott stressed that the virus is an international situation and is not related to any one group of people. “There’s still a lot of discrimination out there,” she said. “We want to make sure that people know it’s safe to go out. It’s safe to come to your favourite restaurants … it’s safe to go shopping.”

In Europe, the situation is far worse than here. According to the German news agency Deutsche Welle, anti-Chinese racism is “spreading across the globe in countries as far apart as Australia and Canada and others in between such as Malaysia and Indonesia. France has recorded just six cases of the coronavirus. But Chinese people and others in the East Asian community there say they are becoming targets for discrimination.”

Racism is ubiquitous across the globe and one reason is that racism, if not committed by whites, is not even reported. The dead in the genocide of Black Darfuris by Sudan’s Arab Janjaweed are only now getting justice by the arrest of the country’s former dictator Omar al-Bashir.

And five years ago, when Black Darfuri refugees in Jordan were being attacked by Arab mobs, it was only a report by Vice News that broke the story.

The Chinese may be victims of racism today, but they need to recognize that their community too is not free of contempt for others. Whether it is at Chinese restaurants in Toronto or in China itself, anti-Black racism occurs.

In 2018, Chinese network CCTV staged a segment that featured a Chinese actress playing an African woman in blackface followed by a monkey portrayed by a black actor. It was subsequently removed from the network’s YouTube content.

But first we take Manhattan. So, the next time you run into a Canadian of Chinese descent, shake their hand and give them a hug. Then we take Berlin.

Source: FATAH: Anti-Chinese racism during Black History Month

China’s coronavirus outbreak calls out for Canada’s help – and we should respond, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune

Silly piece, divorced from reality: For Weeks, China Has Ignored Outside Offers of Help on VirusFor Weeks, China Has Ignored Outside Offers of Help on VirusThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been offering to send experts to China, but no invitation has come. The World Health Organization appears to be facing the same cold shoulder.

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. But two days later, an even more surprising statement: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang asked the European Union to provide medical supplies to fight the epidemic unfolding in China.

This was highly unusual – top Chinese officials are not particularly known for their willingness to ask for international aid. But it points to the gravity and severity of the situation.

China is grappling with a severe public health challenge that is now outpacing the deadly SARS outbreak in 2003. As of today, more than 31,000 people in 28 countries and territories have been diagnosed with the new virus. The vast majority of those cases have emerged in China, where more than 600 people have died.

After 2019-nCoV was identified as originating in the city of Wuhan, the Chinese government took extraordinary measures to contain the outbreak. Wuhan and 13 surrounding cities have been locked down since Jan. 23 in a quarantine that affects more than 40 million people. It might be hard for Canadians to imagine this feat, but consider that Canada’s entire population is about 37 million.

However, the biggest challenge China faces is on the front lines. Doctors and nurses are racing against the clock and struggling to treat thousands of patients with dwindling supplies. Somehow, they are standing firm despite a shortage of hospital beds, staff, medicine and protective gear – even for themselves. Many doctors have worked throughout the day without drinking, eating or going to the bathroom simply to avoid replacing their protective suits. One doctor we know wore his son’s goggles to work for protection.

That the Chinese medical community is in mourning only heightens the anxiety. Dr. Li Wenliang, the Wuhan Central Hospital ophthalmologist who was among the first to identify the disease, passed away Friday.

Canada has confirmed five cases of its own – three in Ontario, two in British Columbia – but it has been acting vigorously and vigilantly, monitoring the situation, providing travel advice and evacuating Canadians in China. It’s remarkably brave of Ottawa to follow the WHO’s recommendation not to ban Chinese and other international travellers from China from entering the country. Furthermore, as acts of racism against the Chinese-Canadian community increase, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made statements criticizing anti-Chinese sentiments and misinformation about the coronavirus. “This,” he said, “is not something Canadians will ever stand for.”

These are admirable steps. But it is our belief that Canadians will only be truly safe when China wins its battle. And history may offer a good example of what Canada can still do to achieve this goal.

In the late 1930s, Canadian physician Norman Bethune brought modern medicine to rural China. He was credited with saving thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and for this he is revered even today in China. His story confirms the most effective way to save lives: supplying Canadian medical treatment to China.

Doing so will require three courses of action. First, we would urge Ottawa to continue demonstrating respectful concern and vigorous support as China combats this virus during this critical period. Secondly, we would recommend the Canadian government play a vital role in facilitating the procurement of medical supplies for hospitals in affected regions. Trade-promotion agencies can help by adding a medical-supplies section to their information portals to connect qualified Canadian suppliers with Chinese buyers. Thirdly, we would encourage Canadian health-care professionals and specialists to work with Chinese and international experts in developing treatments and a vaccine.

Ottawa and Beijing have had their differences. A prominent Chinese executive is facing extradition to the U.S., while two Canadian citizens remain in jail in China and a crippling import ban hurts Canadian canola farmers. But Canadians remain highly respected and liked in China – in no small part because of the legacy of people like Dr. Bethune.

There is a Chinese saying: “Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.” We hope we can focus on our shared humanity and give Chinese medical workers and citizens a hand during this extremely difficult time – for their sake, in the name of selflessness, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune.

Kenny Zhang is a Fudan University alumnus, Jenny Li is a graduate of Hubei University, ChiChi Wang is an alumnus of the University of British Columbia and Zhenyu Cheng is a Wuhan University alumnus. All are residents of Canada.

Source: China’s coronavirus outbreak calls out for Canada’s help – and we should respond, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune

Corpses and mob violence: How China’s social media echo chamber fuels coronavirus fears

Of note:

Corpses lie on the ground near hospitals. People kill their pets for fear the animals will spread disease. Mobs chase down people without masks and angrily force them to cover up.

These are the scenes flooding social media in China as the country grapples with the novel coronavirus that has prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency.

But how much of what the Chinese people and international observers are seeing on social media is true?

Public mistrust of government authorities in China has reached such a severe level, observers say, that many Chinese people have turned to alternative online sources of information — often of questionable veracity.

“Many Chinese people are well aware of the government’s long track record of censoring information about threats to public health,” said Sarah Cook, director of the China Media Bulletin at human rights research group Freedom House.

“This fuels deep mistrust in official updates and undermines efforts to reduce fear and anxiety,” she told The Star.

There’s history to the earned mistrust. In the first few months of the SARS outbreak in 2003, the Chinese government tried to keep it a secret. By the time the new virus was publicly reported, five people had died and hundreds had already fallen ill. It was a health disaster that led to heaps of global backlash, and China sacked its health minister and the mayor of Beijing in apparent contrition about the mishandling.

While central government authorities in Beijing were much quicker to publicly report the new coronavirus, the local Wuhan city government initially censored the first reports of a new illness emerging in the city last December. Medical experts said in a research paper published in The Lancet that they’ve found new evidence that the origin of the outbreak may not have been a seafood market in Wuhan as the Chinese government reported, and the first human infections may have occurred in November.

Li Wang is among those glued to social media.

The economics researcher at the University of New Brunswick and former Canadian student is currently on lockdown in Wuhan after flying home to visit family during Lunar New Year.

To pass the time, he was one of millions of Chinese glued to their screens watching a livestream of a hospital being built in ten days to house patients that have overwhelmed Wuhan’s hospitals. The government says a crew of 7,000 worked around the clock to build the 1,000-bed hospital, and vowed to build another this week.

“Everyone is afraid to go outside … Almost everyone I have talked to online are panicked,” Wang said. Because he is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, he’s not able to board the chartered flight Canada is sending to bring back Canadians from the city.

China’s control of social media is a factor that adds to the confusion. Many people are familiar with mainland China’s “Great Firewall,” the internet censorship apparatus that automatically blocks international social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram as well as many news outlets and the entire suite of Google services.

Chinese authorities are continually developing and fine-tuning their ability to censor social media posts on domestic websites such as the Twitter-like Weibo blogging platform. They even have the ability to surveil and automatically block parts of private conservations on chat apps such as WeChat.

WeChat is the preferred platform for many in China during the coronavirus outbreak because the chat groups there tend to be small or medium-sized groups where some users know each other personally.

“People are getting at least some information from individuals they personally know and trust (on WeChat typically), but that doesn’t make them insusceptible from the spread of false information,” said Cook.

“But for those who personally know the original source — say a relative who is a nurse in Wuhan — her information will likely appear very credible and believable to them and possibly rightly so.”

However, like all social media platforms, the quality of what a user sees depends on the quality of the people they have in their circles. A WeChat user who is friends with many doctors and nurses would likely get more reliable information.

Perhaps aware of the communication challenges government control over the scarce number of independent media outlets in China has seemed to lighten over the past several weeks.

As a result, members of the public in China are turning to respected Chinese publications like Caixin to read quality journalism about the outbreak. The magazine recently published a four-part series produced by dozens of journalistsincluding a detailed account of the Wuhan government’s coverup of the crisis.

So are the images on social media real?

Yuri Qin, an editor at the Berkeley-based China Digital Times, a bilingual website that monitors the Chinese internet, says that unfortunately, some of the horrible videos and photographs might be real, although they are difficult to verify.

“Authorities in Wuhan have imposed some brutal measures to prevent the spread, and because of the panic some people are cruel to each other and sometimes they use extreme means to drive out or detain suspected carriers of the disease,” Qin told The Star in an email.

She says the loss of credibility of the local government has seemed to exacerbate paranoia and fear among citizens of Wuhan.

However, it’s also helpful to keep in mind that among the hundreds of millions of Chinese social media users, some have retained their sense of humour even during a health crisis. Some videos that have gone viral are jokes, and likely stem from people trying to make the best of their situations.

What are some reliable sources of English-language translations of Chinese social media posts on coronavirus?

The China Digital Times verifies and translates blog posts and diary entries from people living in China dealing with the coronavirus enforced quarantines and health checks.

The website What’s on Weibo tracks and analyses viral social media posts on China’s most popular platforms.

Bill Bishop’s Sinocism newsletter regularly compiles and comments on Chinese-language media sources on a variety of news topics.

Source: Corpses and mob violence: How China’s social media echo chamber fuels coronavirus fears

Non-citizen parents allowed to return home with Canadian children from Wuhan


The Liberal government insisted China let the primary caregivers of Canadian children return to the country with those children after leaving Wuhan, the epicentre of an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, even if they are not citizens themselves.

“We insisted on the concept of family unity,” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Monday in Ottawa.

A chartered plane will soon be in Hanoi, Vietnam, where it will wait to pick up Canadian citizens — and some permanent residents accompanying their children — from Wuhan, the city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province that is currently under quarantine in response to the outbreak.

The federal government is awaiting final approval from the Chinese government to fly through the restricted airspace and land at the closed airport in Wuhan, but Champagne said other preparations are already well underway.

“We will be in touch with Canadians in Wuhan later this afternoon to provide them all the necessary details,” Champagne said.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said 304 Canadians have asked for assistance to return home but only 280 have Canadian passports.

The numbers remain fluid and Canada has secured a second flight, as well as seats on other flights, should they be needed.

China is allowing only foreign nationals from all countries to board repatriation flights, but Champagne said Canada insisted that children be able to fly with their primary caregivers, even if they are permanent residents, and China agreed to let this happen.

That will not apply to families where no minors are involved.

Hajdu says China will not allow anyone who is showing symptoms of coronavirus to board a flight to leave the country, even if they are Canadian citizens, as part of that country’s efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“I don’t anticipate we will be able to get the Chinese to concede on that point,” Hajdu said.

Those who remain will be offered consular services from the rapid deployment team already on the ground in Wuhan.

Passengers will be screened twice — once by Chinese authorities and then again before they board — and will be monitored during the flight for possible symptoms of the virus.

If any fall ill, they will be transported to a health facility in British Columbia while the plane refuels. Otherwise, passengers will not be allowed to leave the plane until they arrive at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where they will be held in isolation for 14 days.

The Ontario base was chosen because it has the space to allow large numbers of people to be processed quickly, and a facility where people can be housed with dignity, said Hajdu.

“I want to remind people that these are Canadians who have been through a very traumatic experience over the past couple of months and in many cases will have significant stressors,” Hajdu said.

The repatriated Canadians will be housed at the nearby Yukon Lodge until they are cleared to return home.

“Part of the reason we’re offering social support is they will also be isolated from one another,” Hajdu said. “So if one person falls ill, that won’t necessitate the start of an entire other quarantine for all of the passengers.”

Source: Non-citizen parents allowed to return home with Canadian children from Wuhan

As New Coronavirus Spread, China’s Old Habits Delayed Fight At critical turning points, Chinese authorities put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis and risking public alarm or political embarrassment.

Another example of good detailed reporting on analyzing the timeline and steps taken and not taken, exposing one of the failings of the Chinese government:

A mysterious illness had stricken seven patients at a hospital, and a doctor tried to warn his medical school classmates. “Quarantined in the emergency department,” the doctor, Li Wenliang, wrote in an online chat group on Dec. 30, referring to patients.

“So frightening,” one recipient replied, before asking about the epidemic that began in China in 2002 and ultimately killed nearly 800 people. “Is SARS coming again?”

In the middle of the night, officials from the health authority in the central city of Wuhan summoned Dr. Li, demanding to know why he had shared the information. Three days later, the police compelled him to sign a statement that his warning constituted “illegal behavior.”

The illness was not SARS, but something similar: a coronavirus that is now on a relentless march outward from Wuhan, throughout the country and across the globe, killing at least 304 people in China and infecting more than 14,380 worldwide.

The virus has sickened more than 14,500 people in China and 23 other countries.

The government’s initial handling of the epidemic allowed the virus to gain a tenacious hold. At critical moments, officials chose to put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis to avoid public alarm and political embarrassment.

A reconstruction of the crucial seven weeks between the appearance of the first symptoms in early December and the government’s decision to lock down the city, based on two dozen interviews with Wuhan residents, doctors and officials, on government statements and on Chinese media reports, points to decisions that delayed a concerted public health offensive.

In those weeks, the authorities silenced doctors and others for raising red flags. They played down the dangers to the public, leaving the city’s 11 million residents unaware they should protect themselves. They closed a food market where the virus was believed to have started, but didn’t broadly curb the wildlife trade.

Their reluctance to go public, in part, played to political motivations as local officials prepared for their annual congresses in January. Even as cases climbed, officials declared repeatedly that there had likely been no more infections.

By not moving aggressively to warn the public and medical professionals, public health experts say, the Chinese government lost one of its best chances to keep the disease from becoming an epidemic.

“This was an issue of inaction,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies China. “There was no action in Wuhan from the local health department to alert people to the threat.”

The first case, the details of which are limited and the specific date unknown, was in early December. By the time the authorities galvanized into action on Jan. 20, the disease had grown into a formidable threat.

It is now a global health emergency. It has triggered travel restrictions around the world, shaken financial markets and created perhaps the greatest challenge yet for China’s leader, Xi Jinping. The crisis could upend Mr. Xi’s agenda for months or longer, even undermining his vision of a political system that offers security and growth in return for submission to iron-fisted authoritarianism.

On the last day of 2019, after Dr. Li’s message was shared outside the group, the authorities focused on controlling the narrative. The police announced that they were investigating eight people for spreading rumors about the outbreak.

That same day, Wuhan’s health commission, its hand forced by those “rumors,” announced that 27 people were suffering from pneumonia of an unknown cause. Its statement said there was no need to be alarmed.

“The disease is preventable and controllable,” the statement said.

Dr. Li, an ophthalmologist, went back to work after being reprimanded. On Jan. 10, he treated a woman for glaucoma. He did not know she had already been infected with the coronavirus, probably by her daughter. They both became sick. So would he.

Hu Xiaohu, who sold processed pork in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, sensed by late December that something was amiss. Workers were coming down with nagging fevers. No one knew why but, Mr. Hu said, several were in hospital quarantine.

The market occupies much of a block in a newer part of the city, sitting incongruously near apartment buildings and shops catering to the growing middle class. It is a warren of stalls selling meats, poultry and fish, as well as more exotic fare, including live reptiles and wild game that some in China prize as delicacies. According to a report by the city’s center for disease control, sanitation was dismal, with poor ventilation and garbage piled on wet floors.

In hospitals, doctors and nurses were puzzled to see a cluster of patients with symptoms of a viral pneumonia that did not respond to the usual treatments. They soon noticed that many patients had one thing in common: They worked in Huanan market.

On Jan. 1, police officers showed up at the market, along with public health officials, and shut it down. Local officials issued a notice that the market was undergoing an environmental and hygienic cleanup related to the pneumonia outbreak. That morning, workers in hazmat suits moved in, washing out stalls and spraying disinfectants.

It was, for the public, the first visible government response to contain the disease. The day before, on Dec. 31, national authorities had alerted the World Health Organization’s office in Beijing of an outbreak.

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City officials struck optimistic notes in their announcements. They suggested they had stopped the virus at its source. The cluster of illnesses was limited. There was no evidence the virus spread between humans.

Wuhan Coronavirus

  • Impact in the U.S.

    Updated Jan. 31, 2020

    • There have been seven confirmed cases in the U.S., but no deaths. Anxiety is intense on college campuses.
    • The 195 Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan to California have been quarantined as one person tried to flee.
    • President Trump has temporarily suspended entry into the U.S. for any foreign nationals who have traveled to China.
    • Delta, United and American Airlines are suspending service from the U.S. and China.

“Projecting optimism and confidence, if you don’t have the data, is a very dangerous strategy,” said Alexandra Phelan, a faculty research instructor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Georgetown University.

“It undermines the legitimacy of the government in messaging,” she added. “And public health is dependent on public trust.”

Nine days after the market closed, a man who shopped there regularly became the first fatality of the disease, according to a report by the Wuhan Health Commission, the agency that oversees public health and sanitation. The 61-year-old, identified by his last name, Zeng, already had chronic liver disease and a tumor in his abdomen, and had checked into Wuhan Puren Hospital with a raging fever and difficulty breathing.

The authorities disclosed the man’s death two days after it happened. They did not mention a crucial detail in understanding the course of the epidemic. Mr. Zeng’s wife had developed symptoms five days after he did.

She had never visited the market.

About 20 miles from the market, scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were studying samples from the patients checking into the city’s hospitals. One of the scientists, Zheng-Li Shi, was part of the team that tracked down the origins of the SARS virus, which emerged in the southern province of Guangdong in 2002.

As the public remained largely in the dark about the virus, she and her colleagues quickly pieced together that the new outbreak was related to SARS. The genetic composition suggested a common initial host: bats. The SARS epidemic began when a coronavirus jumped from bats to Asian palm civets, a catlike creature that is legally raised and consumed. It was likely that this new coronavirus had followed a similar path — possibly somewhere in or on the way to the Huanan market or another market like it.

Around the same time, Dr. Li and other medical professionals in Wuhan started trying to provide warnings to colleagues and others when the government did not. Lu Xiaohong, the head of gastroenterology at City Hospital No. 5, told China Youth Daily that she had heard by Dec. 25 that the disease was spreading among medical workers — a full three weeks before the authorities would acknowledge the fact. She did not go public with her concerns, but privately warned a school near another market.

By the first week of January, the emergency ward in Hospital No. 5 was filling; the cases included members of the same family, making it clear that the disease was spreading through human contact, which the government had said was not likely.

No one realized, the doctor said, that it was as serious as it would become until it was too late to stop it.

“I realized that we had underestimated the enemy,” she said.

At the Institute of Virology, Dr. Shi and her colleagues isolated the genetic sequence and the viral strain during the first week of January. They used samples from seven of the first patients, six of them vendors at the market.

On Jan. 7, the institute’s scientists gave the new coronavirus its identity and began referring to it by the technical shorthand 2019-nCoV. Four days later, the team shared the virus’s genetic makeup in a public database for scientists everywhere to use.

That allowed scientists around the world to study the virus and swiftly share their findings. As the scientific community moved quickly to devise a test for exposure, political leaders remained reluctant to act.

As the virus spread in early January, the mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, was touting futuristic health care plans for the city.

It was China’s political season, when officials gather for annual meetings of People’s Congresses — the Communist Party-run legislatures that discuss and praise policies. It is not a time for bad news.

When Mr. Zhou delivered his annual report to the city’s People’s Congress on Jan. 7 against a backdrop of bright red national flags, he promised the city top-class medical schools, a World Health Expo, and a futuristic industry park for medical companies. Not once did he or any other city or provincial leader publicly mention the viral outbreak.

“Stressing politics is always No. 1,” the governor of Hubei, Wang Xiaodong, told officials on Jan. 17, citing Mr. Xi’s precepts of top-down obedience. “Political issues are at any time the most fundamental major issues.”

Shortly after, Wuhan went ahead with a massive annual potluck banquet for 40,000 families from a city precinct, which critics later cited as evidence that local leaders took the virus far too lightly.

As the congress was taking place, the health commission’s daily updates on the outbreak said again and again that there were no new cases of infection, no firm evidence of human transmission and no infection of medical workers.

“We knew this was not the case!” said a complaint later filed with the National Health Commission on a government website. The anonymous author said he was a doctor in Wuhan and described a surge in unusual chest illnesses beginning Jan. 12.

Officials told doctors at a top city hospital “don’t use the words viral pneumonia on the image reports,” according to the complaint, which has since been removed. People were complacent, “thinking that if the official reports had nothing, then we were exaggerating,” the doctor explained.

Even those stricken felt lulled into complacency.

When Dong Guanghe developed a fever on Jan. 8 in Wuhan, his family was not alarmed, his daughter said. He was treated in the hospital and sent home. Then, 10 days later, Mr. Dong’s wife fell ill with similar symptoms.

“The news said nothing about the severity of the epidemic,” said the daughter, Dong Mingjing. “I thought that my dad had a common cold.”

The government’s efforts to minimize public disclosure persuaded more than just untrained citizens.

“If there are no new cases in the next few days, the outbreak is over,” Guan Yi, a respected professor of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong, said on Jan. 15.

The World Health Organization’s statements during this period echoed the reassuring words of Chinese officials.

It had spread. Thailand reported the first confirmed case outside China on Jan. 13.

The first deaths and the spread of the disease abroad appeared to grab the attention of the top authorities in Beijing. The national government dispatched Zhong Nanshan, a renowned and now-semiretired epidemiologist who was instrumental in the fight against SARS, to Wuhan to assess the situation.

He arrived on Jan. 18, just as the tone of local officials was shifting markedly. A health conference in Hubei Province that day called on medical workers to make the disease a priority. An internal document from Wuhan Union Hospital warned its employees that the coronavirus could be spread through saliva.

On Jan. 20, more than a month after the first symptoms spread, the current of anxiety that had been steadily gaining strength exploded into public. Dr. Zhong announced in an interview on state television that there was no doubt that the coronavirus spread with human contact. Worse, one patient had infected at least 14 medical personnel.

Mr. Xi, fresh from a state visit to Myanmar, made his first public statement about the outbreak, issuing a brief set of instructions.

It was only with the order from Mr. Xi that the bureaucracy leapt into action. At that point the death toll was three; in the next 11 days, it would rise above 200.

In Wuhan, the city banned tour groups from visiting. Residents began pulling on masks.

Guan Yi, the Hong Kong expert who had earlier voiced optimism that the outbreak could level off, was now alarmed. He dropped by one of the city’s other food markets and was shocked by the complacency, he said. He told city officials that the epidemic was “already beyond control” and would leave. “I hurriedly booked a departure,” Dr. Guan told Caixin, a Chinese news organization.

Two days later, the city announced that it was shutting itself down, a move that could only have been approved by Beijing.

In Wuhan, many residents said they did not grasp the gravity of the epidemic until the lockdown. The mass alarm that officials feared at the start became a reality, heightened by the previous paucity of information.

Crowds of people crushed the airport and train stations to get out before the deadline fell on the morning of Jan. 23. Hospitals were packed with people desperate to know if they, too, were infected.

“We didn’t wear masks at work. That would have frightened off customers,” Yu Haiyan, a waitress from rural Hubei, said of the days before the shutdown. “When they closed off Wuhan, only then did I think, ‘Oh, this is really serious, this is not some average virus.’”

Wuhan’s mayor, Zhou Xianwang, later took responsibility for the delay in reporting the scale of the epidemic, but said he was hampered by the national law on infectious diseases. That lawallows provincial governments to declare an epidemic only after receiving central government approval. “After I receive information, I can only release it when I’m authorized,” he said.

The official reflex for suppressing discomforting information now appears to be cracking, as officials at various levels seek to shift blame for the government’s response.

With the crisis worsening, Dr. Li’s efforts are no longer viewed as reckless. A commentary on the social media account of the Supreme People’s Court criticized the police for investigating people for circulating rumors.

“It might have been a better way to prevent and control the new coronavirus today if the public had believed the ‘rumor’ then and started to wear masks and carry out sanitary measures and avoid the wild animal market,” the commentary said.

Dr. Li is 34 and has a child. He and his wife are expecting a second in the summer. He is now recovering from the virus in the hospital where he worked. In an interview via text messages, he said he felt aggrieved by the police actions.

“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier,” he said, “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.”

Source: China Silenced Doctors and Focused on Secrecy as Coronavirus First SpreadChina Silenced Doctors and Focused on Secrecy as Coronavirus First SpreadAt critical turning points, Chinese authorities put secrecy and order ahead of confronting the growing crisis and risking alarm or political embarrassment.The Times reconstructed the crucial seven weeks when it grew into a crisis.

The line between us: For Chinese-Canadians like me, coronavirus is just the latest strain of infectious fear we’ve faced

One of the most thoughtful reflections and commentary that I have seen:

I was sick last week.

It was nothing serious – just a nagging cough and clogged-up head. And it was over before it really began: Aggressive doses of extra-strength medicine knocked it out of me after a couple of nights. I was nothing more than one of the thousands of Canadians who, at any given time, are battling a little sniffle or scratchy throat.

Except I wasn’t.

Last weekend brought the announcement of the first case of a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Ontario, where a 17-year-old epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) remains only lightly buried in the graveyard of our collective memory. On Tuesday, British Columbia reported its first positive test for 2019-nCoV. On Thursday, the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus outbreak as a global health emergency. And early cases have been linked to the city of Wuhan, where about a third of the world’s cases are located, in central China – a country that is increasingly being inescapably writ onto the skin of the two million Chinese-Canadians like me.

The memory that affirmed that reality for me is lightly buried, too. In 2003, I – an eighth-grade nerd just looking to commute from the suburb of Richmond Hill, Ont., where nearly one-third of residents now identify as Chinese, to my downtown Toronto high school – was among the Chinese-Canadians who were treated like an alien because of SARS fears.

I remember the weight of the textbook-laden backpack I was trucking that morning. I remember the gratitude I felt when I saw a seat open up on the subway car. And I remember that I’d barely settled into it when the person next to me bolted up, put a mask on his face, and backed away. I remember how he stared at me with disgust.

In that instant, in that man’s eyes, a random kid – a boy born in Toronto’s now-shuttered Wellesley Hospital to remarkable parents who immigrated here from Hong Kong for school; a boy who had visited the former British colony just twice and grudgingly, given my pubescent dismissiveness toward my Chinese culture in pursuit of half-baked notions of Western “cool”; a boy who was (embarrassingly, I can now say) repulsed by overt markers of his background, from “Chinglish” stumbles to smelly lunches – was boiled down into his essential parts. That is to say: he saw me as Chinese by both of the word’s definitions. I was ethnicallyChinese – Han, to be precise, as 92 per cent of China’s population is. I was therefore, in his panic-blinded eyes, from China, and because of my body’s presumed geographic proximity, I was an inherent health risk, even though I was born and forged in Canada.

In that moment, and in all the others before and since, I was trying to just be what I was and am: a Chinese-Canadian. But that was the first time in which someone had denied me that second part of that identity. To that man, there was a hard dividing line in the hyphen between “Chinese” and “Canadian,” as if “Canadian” was an ethnicity. I couldn’t really be the second because of the fluctuating freight of the first.

For centuries, Chinese-Canadians have faced ethnic stereotyping. But when SARS struck, I couldn’t escape the brand-new clichés that were being inaccurately projected onto the visible colour of my skin: broad ideas and sometimes-thin opinions about China, the country. So this past week, even as others coughed and sniffled around me on buses and subways, I stifled any hint of my slight sickness. I didn’t want people to notice the Chinese person who was sick, because I knew – from my own experience – that this could make me suddenly and painfully foreign. I know I wasn’t alone.

Just as was the case when SARS struck, some Canadians seem to be steering clear of people who appear ethnically Chinese.

Tonny Louie, the chair of the Toronto Chinatown Business Improvement Area, told The Globe and Mail he noticed a downturn this week, invoking memories of empty dim sum restaurants and plummeting sales in places like Pacific Mall, North America’s largest Chinese indoor shopping centre.

Stories from Chinese-Canadians about being avoided in public spaces have flashed through social media, amid some clamour for panicked, over-broad quarantines, echoing an Ipsos poll early into the 2003 epidemic that found that two-thirds of Canadians wanted individuals arriving from SARS-affected areas to lose their freedom of movement or not be allowed into the country.

And with preposterous conspiracies flying – including baseless ethno-nationalist accusations that the coronavirus was developed as a bioweapon by the Chinese state or was stolen by Chinese scientists from a Winnipeg lab – a woman eating bat soup has quickly become the defining image with which some ignorant online hecklers have responded to the outbreak.

That’s despite the fact that the woman in question, a blogger from China, ate the bat three years ago; the fact that bat soup is not a widespread delicacy in China, but more so in places like Palau, where the video was shot; the fact that there is not yet a direct scientific link between the coronavirus and bats specifically, but rather more broadly to the exotic wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market; the fact that polling suggests Chinese citizens are keenly aware of the national problem of food-safety standards; and the fact that Chinese cuisine hardly owns the monopoly on unusual foods – as if the West does not savour, say, the livers of force-fattened geese.

These reversions to our basest racial clichés – that being Chinese is the same as being unclean – did not happen by accident. There is a long legacy of this here, and the speed with which these fears have spread just reveals how close to the surface irrational racism sits, and how easily it can be channelled by well-intentioned but poisonous panic.

But the coronavirus backlash is just part of the current toxic stew of fear, suspicion, and resentment of Chinese-Canadians. And as a result, the line that halves the definition of the term “Chinese-Canadian” threatens to become even thicker – erasing the identities and histories of those who, regardless of their individual opinions on the matter, have nothing to do with the People’s Republic of China or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Chinese-Canadians are Chinese, yes, but we are Canadian. The distinction needs to be made. Otherwise, the complicated reality of individuals in the diaspora could be lost, and both hoary, centuries-old racial fears as well as any equally irrational and unfair suspicions of the geographic, political and national-security threats that an ascendant nation of China represents to some, could be imposed on anyone who looks Chinese.

“There’s this thinking of, ‘You’re all Chinese – Hong-Kong Chinese, third-generation born here, doesn’t matter – you’re all visually the same,’ ” said Henry Yu, a professor of history at the University of British Columbia.

“It’s, ‘we’re ascribing to you, the Chinese, all the things we don’t like about China too.’ ”

And if this is left unaddressed – as has largely happened, over the course of two centuries – broad Sinophobia can fester, potentially setting the foundation for irrational fear to turn into discrimination and for that to harden into social fact.

History has long told Chinese-Canadians that our identity is whatever Canadians allow it to be. The red line was thick when Canada’s federal government banned ethnic Chinese migrants, regardless of nationality, for more than two decades, or when it imposed a head tax to discourage their arrival, or when Chinese immigrants were ghettoized in cheaper, dangerous shanty communities, later glorified as Chinatowns.

From the 19th century and into the 20th, the bright red line made the idea that we could be Canadian impossible. We were merely and, to many, despicably Chinese, prevented from joining up with the nationality we sought; even after we became citizens by law, we were denied the franchise as recently as 1947. The Yellow Peril – the idea that we represent an existential threat to white labourers and societies because of some kind of inherent work ethic, or that we are dirty dealers in iniquity and therefore unworthy of the West – was a fear that, even in its name, chained itself to the colour they used to describe our skin.

As the decades passed, that began to change. Chinese families represent the largest ethnic group of Asian Canadians, who in turn comprise more than a fifth of Canada’s population. We are Olympic medallists, members of Parliament and veterans, and like any diaspora here we have worked to weave our way into the knotty national fabric.

But increasingly, Chinese-Canadians’ ethnicity is becoming bound up with the actions of a state that is being seen as a threat to the Western world.

The narrative of an ascendant China has loomed since the late 1980s – and as Beijing becomes more emboldened, the view of the Chinese as a people has become pitched, too. According to a Nanos poll from 2012 – well before the heights of the geopolitical rivalry we see today – a plurality of respondents said that China posed the greatest threat to Canada’s national security.

A looming decision on whether Ottawa will allow major Chinese telecom-equipment maker Huawei to build part of Canada’s 5G wireless-network infrastructure has cast a spotlight on the rising perception that Chinese investment is nefarious. Huawei insists that it does not act on behalf of the Chinese government, but as a private company it’s difficult to accept this on purely good faith, particularly given the warnings from intelligence agencies. That has affected views at large: In December, an Angus-Reid poll found that 69 per cent of respondents were against Ottawa allowing the firm’s contributions, but also that 66 per cent of respondents had a negative view of China.

Then add in the case of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive who faces extradition to the U.S. on criminal charges after her arrest in Vancouver. Canadians of Chinese descent – who, regardless of our decidedly non-monolithic array of individual and hard-won opinions about the Chinese state, might be uninterested in being automatically bundled up into something most of us have no personal stake in – have been caught firmly in the middle.

Beijing’s response has only made things worse. After Ms. Meng’s arrest, China detained Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor on charges of espionage, and banned imports of vital Canadian canola. These cruel actions are the Chinese state’s to bear, but it can be easier to confuse ethnicity and nationality every day the high-profile case absorbs front-page headlines.

This isn’t all that surprising, since the Chinese Communist Party has a habit of complicating things for and hooking itself to the whole cloth of the Chinese-Canadian diaspora, whether we like it or not. Last August, the CCP’s Central Committee publicly urged people of Chinese background in nations like Canada – what Beijing calls “overseas Chinese” – to “remember the call from the Party and the people” and “spread China’s voice.” And an April report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians specifically flagged the ways Beijing mobilizes the diaspora to help their efforts. “China is known globally for its efforts to influence Chinese communities and the politics of other countries,” it said. “The Chinese government has a number of official organizations that try to influence Chinese communities and politicians to adopt pro-China positions.”

Even though some experts and a parliamentary panel have stated that the diaspora has proven largely immune to pressure, the suspicions being engendered certainly make it harder to distinguish between the ethnicity and nationality of Chinese-Canadians. In fact, that slippery slope makes it all the easier for some opposition to the Chinese government to potentially veer toward racial criticisms, the way conspiratorial anti-Semitism can occasionally be smuggled under the flimsy scrim of criticism of Israel.

To some degree, suspicion of foreigners is a natural consequence of national-security apparatuses identifying states as threats. But Richard Fadden, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service from 2009 to 2013, says the agency was hyper-aware of avoiding any messaging that conflated bad actors in a community with the broader group itself.

Still, the idea that active Sinophobia could eventually take root in Canada is “worrisome,” Mr. Fadden said in an interview. “Not because tomorrow there will be violence, but that, as with anti-Semitism, this could grow under the radar.”

But while politicians and security organizations must tread carefully, that’s not where the real work will have to be done. That’s on us Canadians. “CSIS can manage the message,” he said. “But they can’t control how Canadians think.”

And then there’s the growing resentment against the Chinese, perhaps best expressed by Vancouver’s housing crisis. Multiple reports have laid the blame for the city’s unaffordable housing market on foreign ownership, mostly from China. In response, the government imposed a 2016 tax on foreign buyers, and later, a speculation tax.

The evidence behind these measures, however, is murky. In the 14 months after the foreign-buyers tax came into force, the percentage of home purchasers in Metro Vancouver who weren’t Canadian citizens, permanent residents or who didn’t have work permits plunged from 14.8 per cent to an average of 3.23 per cent; affordability remains an issue. And so when there are headlines like “Vancouver’s hot housing market just got tougher for wealthy Chinese” or Vancouver has been transformed by Chinese immigrants”, it’s little wonder that the word “Chinese” has begun to lose all sense of meaning.

The construction of the bogeymen of greedy, uber-wealthy Chinese and the over-stated prevalence of their tax-dodging “satellite families” are animated by a similar fear as the one that spurred Yellow Peril: the idea that “these people” are coming here to out-compete Canadians and take what isn’t theirs. And it has neatly folded into the existing archetypes people can reach for in times of panic – much as the image of “bat soup” has.

The expression of racism I’ve experienced most has happened to me no fewer than seven times, in three different Canadian cities: someone passing me by, in a car or a bike or on a streetcar, yells that I should “go back to China.”

Every time, it’s blunt-force and baffling, a thunderbolt from the blue that leaves me feeling powerless; one of the first times it happened, I tried to chase the offending car up a hill, until my rational brain kicked back in: what exactly did I plan on doing, if I somehow caught up? Sometimes, the cruelty is even delivered in its bare-bones shorthand – just “China!” – but the signal being sent is clear regardless: my status as a visible minority, which beams out from my skin, my face, and how I look, suggests that this is not my nation.

It’s that line, again. A line I don’t get to control, erasing the contours of the person I am.

We all have to talk about it – and that includes Chinese-Canadians. If we don’t discuss the line that imperils Chinese-Canadians of all provenances – those whose families and perspectives are rooted in Hong Kong, or mainland China, or Taiwan – we risk creating factions within our own group. “In high school, my Canadian-born-Chinese friends and I would joke about the Chinese international students – even though most of us were friends – in order to dissociate ourselves from them,” wrote UBC student Rose Wu in The Tyee last year. “I felt guilty for reinforcing the stigma, but feared that if I didn’t openly renounce my culture, I’d be targeted as well.”

And the line can also cause Chinese-Canadians to ignore what we’ve lost of our own ethnic culture in pursuit of some idea of a flawless integration into Canadian society. We risk accepting the kind of assimilation that requires us to discard the habits, perspectives and traditions of our culture, or – as I did, as a grade-eight kid embarrassed by my parents’ accents and what seemed like strange customs – to quarantine parts of ourselves to fit in.

“One of the tragedies of the line is that often, Chinese-Canadians begin to police it themselves,” says Mr. Yu, the UBC historian. “They become the shock troops of integration and assimilation, which is part of the history of Chinese-Canadians: ‘I stopped speaking Chinese, I’m fluent in English’. You can see people who don’t do that as a threat.”

But it all starts when we look at, not away from, the lines that societies build. After all, what will linger well after the coronavirus crisis has passed and the housing market has cooled and Ms. Meng’s trial is over are the psychic scars and the memories of how people treated each other. We can’t necessarily control what happens, but those legacies we’ll leave behind will build our Canada in the decades to come.

Source: The line between us: For Chinese-Canadians like me, coronavirus is just the latest strain of infectious fear we’ve faced

Australian-Chinese community facing discrimination over coronavirus fears

Similar to Canada:

With fears over coronavirus increasing rapidly, the Australian-Chinese community is begging for calm.

Seven Australians have been diagnosed with the disease, which originated in China. It has already claimed the lives of 170 people worldwide.

President of the Liberal Party Chinese Youth Council Scott Yung tells Ben Fordham it’s paramount people don’t take their fears out on the Chinese community.

“We do have to remember that at the end of the day this is the coronavirus, not the Chinese virus… everyone’s been affected all across the globe.

“To have some articles use rhetoric such as ‘panda-demic’, it’s not really congruent with the successful multicultural society that we have.”

Source: Australian-Chinese community facing discrimination over coronavirus fears

Fear over coronavirus prompts school board in Ontario to warn parents about racism against Chinese community

Not unexpected and always the challenge in communicating the origins of a specific risk and the impact on the community, irrespective whether historical tropes are involved or not. And I assume that some of these fears are shared by many Chinese Canadians:

The message York District School Board staff had been sending to parents on the coronavirus was pretty standard: Wash your hands; stay home if you’re sick; cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze. Then they saw the petition.

More than 8,000 people were calling for school boards in the region north of Toronto – a region in which the top reported ethnic origin is Chinese – to not allow students whose family members had travelled to China within 17 days to come to school.

On Monday, the York board released a note to parents to address another virus: anti-Chinese xenophobia.

“We are aware of an escalated level of concern and anxiety among families of Chinese heritage,” wrote Juanita Nathan, the board’s chair, and Louise Sirisko, its education director. “Individuals who make assumptions, even with positive intentions of safety, about the risk of others, request or demand quarantine can be seen as demonstrating bias and racism.”

Though public-health officials across the country have urged Canadians to take a measured response to the coronavirus, a panic akin to the one from 2003’s SARS outbreak has already taken hold. To date, there is one confirmed and one presumptive case of the new virus in Canada.

Avvy Go felt a tickle in her throat on the subway ride to work Monday, but willed herself to suppress the cough. She feared coughing on public transit as a Chinese woman might make her a pariah as it did for so many other Asian-Canadians during the SARS outbreak.

In Yellow Peril Revisited, a 2004 report about the impact of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) on Canada’s Chinese community, Ms. Go, the director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, detailed the myriad ways SARS affected her clients: Many suffered job losses after Chinese restaurants saw a steep drop in business; Asian claimants who appeared before the Immigration and Refugee Board faced staff wearing masks; and tenants reported being threatened with eviction by their landlords because they were Chinese.

Ms. Go shared much of this when she testified at Ontario’s public hearings on the SARS crisis but she was disappointed to find nothing about racism in the inquiry’s 2007 report. Recommendations on how to respond to racist rhetoric would have been helpful for future outbreaks such as this one, she said.

“As they prepare for the virus, they [should] also prepare for the virus of racism and have everything in place at the same time,” she said.

When Toronto Chinatown Business Improvement Area chair Tonny Louie addressed the crowd at Saturday’s Lunar New Year parade, he felt the need to explain his sore throat.

“I reminded everybody there that I do not have the virus. I just happen to have a cold,” he said.

The next day, he noticed a drop in business throughout downtown Toronto’s Chinatown and its dozens of restaurants – something he blames on fears about the virus. He repeated the message that the district was safe, as was the food, and called on politicians to have meals in Chinese restaurants as then-prime minister Jean Chrétien did during the 2003 SARS outbreak to signal to Canadians that doing so was safe.

But that sort of PR move might not be enough to counter racist messaging, given the power of social media.

In the past few days, video of a woman eating a bat with chopsticks in a restaurant has gone viral, with many suggesting, in posts heavy with racist rhetoric, that Chinese people eating foods seen as unusual to a Western palate has contributed to the outbreak.

The way in which the video has been shared has vilified and othered Chinese people, says Kevin Huang, executive director of the Hua Foundation, a Vancouver-based non-profit that promotes racial equity.

Rather than thinking of the coronavirus as an us-versus-them situation, Mr. Huang suggests using a global lens.

“Removing our Western exceptionalism and … humanizing [Chinese people] allows us to think about a more global concerted effort to try and contain this virus,” he said.

Why people would share misinformation like that while ignoring facts from public-health agencies speaks to how racist content “feeds into already pre-existing underlying biases or prejudices,” York University sociologist Harris Ali said.

In a research paper about SARS and the stigmatization of the Chinese population in Canada, he found that racist sentiments that had previously been internalized or only shared during private conversations “found explicit expression during the outbreak.”

Mr. Huang says the way some have drawn a connection between the virus and Chinese food is part of a long history of “yellow peril” or anti-Chinese sentiment.

Government policy that disenfranchised Chinese people, such as the head tax (an immigration tax imposed on Chinese arrivals), “fed into these tropes of this disgusting, uncivilized cultural grouping,” he said.

He has seen rampant misinformation and panic spread among Chinese-Canadians, too, some of whom are reacting to alarmist Chinese media reports. Last weekend, two Lunar New Year events in Vancouver were cancelled because of fear of the virus’s spread.

Ms. Go feels confident the Canadian health-care system is much better equipped to deal with containing coronavirus than it was with SARS, but she has little optimism about how it will contain the public’s fears.

“Unfortunately, because of the underlying racist attitudes that exist in Canadian society, it doesn’t matter what scientific evidence is there of how the disease has been contained, people will still believe what they believe,” she said.

Source: Fear over coronavirus prompts school board in Ontario to warn parents about racism against Chinese community Though public-health officials have urged Canadians to take a measured response, a panic akin to the one during 2003′s SARS outbreak has already taken hold
Fear, fear, fear.

The word appears repeatedly in the headlines and stories about the new coronavirus.

But what is fear? What causes us to be fearful? How can we assuage the public’s distress?

The dictionary definition of fear, the noun, is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat;” and the verb, “to be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.”

In public health terms, “fear” is our perception of risk, of danger.

We tend to be more fearful of new threats to our health, such as coronavirus, than of well-established ones, such as influenza, no matter how irrational that is.

To date, there have been about 4,500 recorded cases of Wuhan coronavirus and 106 deaths. By comparison, three to five million people contract serious flu cases requiring hospitalization annually and somewhere between 290,000 and 650,000 die. Yet, both are respiratory illnesses spread in a similar fashion.

When it comes to being fearful, better the devil we know than the one we don’t, apparently.

If the unknown fuels fear – and it does – then our best weapon against coronavirus is knowledge.

The good news is that the science is advancing at breakneck speed and with an unprecedented level of co-operation.

The coronavirus genome was decoded in fewer than 10 days and the results shared publicly. As a result, researchers are already working on novel treatments and potential vaccine targets.

Scientific journals, normally highly protective of their papers, have agreed to share them with public-health officials prior to publication and lifted their paywalls for articles about coronavirus.

That means we already have a sense of how infectious coronavirus is (moderate) and a sense of who is being infected (a broad range of people) and who is dying (largely patients with underlying chronic conditions).

But, of course, good science alone cannot assuage fear.

The way public-health officials and the media communicate information is key to shaping perceptions. Increasingly, there is a wild card in this equation – social media.

The mainstream media fearmongers, however inadvertently, by using exaggerated language like “killer virus” and by fixating on body counts. When you constantly update the number of cases and deaths, you wildly amplify incremental change. Of course people will be scared. Imagine if we sent out push alerts for every tuberculosis death (1.5 million a year) and every measles death (140,000 annually).

Finding the balance between providing up-to-date information on a new threat and putting that threat into context is not easy.

On social media, there is too often little attempt to do so. From WeChat to Twitter, wild rumours and outright falsehoods fly routinely, as do unhinged demands such as shutting down all air traffic from China, quarantining all travellers and so on, with many of these purported measures driven by thinly veiled racism and xenophobia rather than science. (For the record, there is little evidence that massive quarantines or thermal screening of passengers has any benefit in stemming transmission of diseases like coronavirus.)

The most difficult communications challenge, however, lies with public-health officials who have to simultaneously track the shifting science, ratchet up preparedness and calm public fears.

Peter Sandman, a former professor of journalism at Rutgers University and a risk-communications guru, says the one thing public officials (or the media) should never do is tell people not to panic. That’s because, in crisis situations, people rarely do panic.

Prof. Sandman actually has a brilliant list of tips for those who need to calm people’s fears about unknown threats such as the coronavirus:

  • Don’t over reassure; talk about most likely scenarios rather than worst case ones;
  • Acknowledge uncertainty; paradoxically, saying “I don’t know” reassures the public;
  • Deliver clear, consistent messages;
  • Don’t be dispassionate; when experts speak of their personal fears, it makes them more relatable;
  • Give people things to do to protect themselves, such as urging handwashing; what fuels fear is powerlessness;
  • Don’t worry about panic, as was already mentioned.

What each of these elements has in common is that they are about building trust. What calms people’s fears is not just having information, but trusting the source of that information.

Risk communication is fraught with peril – and more often than not, we won’t get it quite right – but it is also essential.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Source: What should we fear more: Coronavirus or fear itself? During an outbreak such as the coronavirus, building trust through communication is key: André Picard