Stop panicking; just be hygienic
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - February 5, 2020 - 12:00am

We’re up to our ears in talk of nCoV: Of face masks in short supply and spiraling price here and there. Of supposed outbreaks in certain cities and hospitals, and other fake news. Of sure cures that are actually subtle sales pitches for health supplements.

Social media posts tend to blow things out of proportion and depict the end of the world. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) from China in 2003 was as contagious and deadly as the present 2019 novel coronavirus from Wuhan. But there is wider alarm today, since more people are online. If there’s any major change in public policy then and now, it’s that the Chinese Communist rulers are more pro-active and open about the situation. Hiding the truth would spur a backlash that could topple them, also due to the democratizing power of social media.

Governments in Asia, America, and Europe are striving to protect their citizens. Lockouts have been imposed on flights to and from China, though those may be overreactions. NCoV reportedly has infected 17,000 in Wuhan, and 450 have died, as of this writing. In Manila a Chinese tourist, confirmed as nCoV-positive, expired from pneumonia symptoms; his girlfriend recovered. Even Filipino overseas workers returning to jobs in Hong Kong and Singapore after the holidays are being prevented from departing. In winter 15 million Americans catch flu, also contagious and potentially fatal, yet there’s no travel ban to and from there. Airports all over check the body temps of arrivals with expensive handheld or walk-through gear. They strictly did that in Canada in 2003, with no SARS ever detected, yet that coronavirus killed 778 persons that year, including 44 in Canada.

Expect an nCoV vaccine and a cure in six to 12 months. Duty fires researchers in China, the United States and Australia. Fame and fortune await the pharma distributor. It’s human nature.

Meanwhile, local governments and hospitals would do well to test-run their responses to epidemic. Drills must be conducted to check the readiness of medics, adequacy of equipment, and smoothness of systems. Ongoing courses can be copied from New York City and elsewhere.

So what should ordinary citizens like us do to help?

First, listen to experts. Our doctors and public health specialists know what they’re doing. Trust them when they quote findings that nCoV, not airborne, is transmitted only by close contact. Meaning, we don’t need to wear face masks in public transports and areas – unless we are sick or are ministering to the sick. Many of us don’t even know that face masks can be used only two to three hours then replaced; the saliva and mucous stains can breed microbes and make us sick. And never take un-prescribed meds, like those for HIV only, for cough and sore throat. Stop pestering health workers as well for details on PUIs (patients under investigation) just to gossip; unofficial disclosure is against privacy laws.

Second, let’s be hygienic. Cover our mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. And avoid touching our mouth, nostrils and eyes too often as we open doors, push buttons and pull stuff. Not only nCoV but other coronaviruses that survive for a few hours can enter our lungs that way. Best to wash our hands before and after eating and working. Only one in 37 males wash their hands after pissing (eew!), so teach your sons, friends and workmates to break away from the dirty majority. A little hand sanitizing would do. Don’t spit in public; that’s as illegal as public defecation. Basic hygiene also dictates that we regularly clip and clean our nails, wash our hair and tie it up if long and bothersome to the person next to us.

In America and Europe people stare disapprovingly and stride away from Asian-looking persons who cough or sneeze. Similarly racist Filipinos denigrate the Chinese for the nCoV, SARS and bird flu. But look at us. We may not die of nCoV; there might not even be a pandemic. But what’s going to kill us is our filth.

Millions of squatter families along riversides and lakeshores have no house toilet, so drop waste into waterways. Millions more homes with indoor plumbing and septic vaults are not connected to sewage treatment plants, so also spew waste onto waterways. Factories dump industrial waste there too. In those same waterways we draw tap water, bathe, raise tasty fish in pens and build tourist resorts.

Dirty air will kill us too. We allow on the road smoke-belching vehicles. We let grimy factories operate in our midst. Flouting the Clean Air Act, we burn dry leaves, paper and plastics in the hope of driving away mosquitos from our premises, but only worsen the respiratory ailments of neighbors. And our authorities do nothing.

We tolerate unsanitary conditions. We frequent restaurants despite knowing there are rats and roaches in the kitchen. We take for granted the fact that if restaurant toilets stink and have no running water, their kitchen outputs are likely to be sloppy too. All filling stations, transport depots, airports, seaports, and toll ways are required to have toilets. Yet we let them get away with busted faucets and flushes.

Public hysteria over nCoV, about which we ordinary people can do little while experts study it, distract us from the fatal filth around us. And I haven’t even begun to repeat the stats I ran in this space in recent weeks – on the rising death toll in road crashes, especially those involving motorcycles.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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