FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2020 - 12:00am

At the end of this episode, the costs of hysteria could end up greater than the direct costs of the epidemic.

Hereabouts, it seems, public hysteria pushed several notches higher after the death of a Chinese national in a Filipino hospital. This is the first fatality outside China associated with the nCoV-ARD originating from the city of Wuhan in Hubei province.

A few things must be said about this death. The casualty is a traveller who caught the virus in the epidemic’s epicenter and carried it here. He is afflicted with several other diseases that weakened his immune system. It was pneumonia that eventually did him in.

Apart from the single casualty, only one other person, also originating from Hubei, has been confirmed infected with nCoV-ARD. The majority of the 30 or so persons confined on suspicion of infection has been discharged and cleared. There is yet no evidence of domestic transmission of the disease.

So far, the public health system we have in place appears to be effective. Although the World Health Organization has not recommended it, we have put travel restrictions in place. Our airlines have suspended flights from most Chinese destinations.

The suspension happens at peak tourism season. We will forego a lot in tourism receipts. Some unemployment will be produced in the tourism industry. But a suspension is what public opinion wants.

It must be mentioned that the Chinese government has imposed an unprecedented lockdown on Hubei province, including the city of Wuhan. This involves restricting the movement of about 50 million people while ensuring food inflows into the quarantined area. As a result, 99 percent of infections and nearly all casualties associated with this epidemic are confined to the province.

The H1N1 virus that emanated out of the US and spread to all corners of the globe killed tens of thousands. The Ebola virus in western Africa is much more virulent, killing a higher percentage of those infected. SARS and MERS are definitely more brutal viral adversaries. By contrast, nCoV-ARD appears more benign – although definitely perilous for individuals with weakened immune systems and preexisting conditions.

As we acquire more scientific knowledge about this particular virus, the threat becomes less frightening. The Wuhan virus kills about 2 percent of those infected against 11 percent for SARS and MERS, and 38 percent for Ebola. About 70 percent of those who succumbed were elderly men.

The virus, it appears, will survive only a few hours outside a human host. Warm weather and abundant sunlight will kill it. Thai doctors are claiming they found a cocktail of available medications that could fight the infection. The pharmaceutical industry says we are probably only weeks away from an antidote being developed to fight the disease.

Fear not. Science is coming to the rescue.

Meanwhile, build fitness. Take all the sanitary and health countermeasures physicians recommend.

Vitamin C is likely a better deterrent than surgical masks for most of us – although putting on a mask is probably more fashionable. Do not panic-buy masks. Reserve them for frontline health workers, those around Taal and those with existing respiratory problems.


Despite what science tells us, there seems to be more fear going around than during previous, deadlier virus epidemics.

One factor explaining this is the greater prevalence of social media. In this wild West of our communications environment, fake news and political conspiracies proliferate. Under the cloud of an epidemic, partisan agenda are being advanced.

The residual politicians associated with the discredited Liberal Party have formed a pathetic chorus to denounce what they say is government’s delayed and incomplete response to the threat of an epidemic. That is shamelessly contrived political noise to make.

They did not expound on what would make the official response timely and complete. Intertwining their response for a more “complete” response with their standing anti-China demagoguery, it seems what they want is the forced evacuation of our nationals in China, the suspension of all travel to that country and the termination of POGO workers in the country. They are peddling extreme xenophobia and recommending costly courses of action that might not be necessary.

Health authorities in China warned that forced evacuation of foreign nationals from Wuhan could have the unintended consequence of quickly disseminating the virus to other parts of the world. They are probably right.

Some of the usual leftist suspects launched an “Oust Duterte” movement online, denouncing government inaction on the virus. They hoped this digital movement would go viral in its own way.

The last time I checked, the “Oust Duterte” movement has ceased trending. It was, after all, a forum for wild claims and civic irresponsibility. Like the corona virus, it could not possibly survive the light of day.

Fortunately, those behind this so-called “movement” are no more than quibblers and scribblers driven by their own naïve understanding about how the world works. They can heckle endlessly but could bring nothing to the streets.

Those who choose to do agitprop rather than supply our people with real information are treating citizens unfairly. They should be condemned – for opportunism at the very least and stupidity at worst.

Of all the things we expect from modern government, prudence is likely the most important. We do not want our government to be jumping about at the first hint of some infection. We do what can be done, act strategically rather than provide public entertainment and speak only on the basis of what we know are the facts.

Otherwise, our people will be in a constant state of alarm, zombies of reckless government.

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