A time to be alert
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - January 25, 2020 - 12:00am

As is often said, let’s err on the side of caution and always stay alert to the possibility that the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov) has entered the Philippines despite close monitoring and strict preventive measures.

The new coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It has resulted in hundreds of confirmed cases in China, 830 cases as of yesterday with 25 deaths according to the Chinese National Health Commission, a sharp increase says the New York Times.

Additional cases are being identified in a growing number of countries internationally, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States which announced its first case of 2019-nCov last January 21.

In the Philippines, the Department of Health on Tuesday made public the case of a five-year-old boy from Wuhan who is confined at a hospital in Cebu City after testing positive for a “non-specific” strain of coronavirus.

A specimen from the first test was sent to a laboratory in Australia to identify the specific type of coronavirus the child carried. Reports yesterday state that the child has shown signs of recovery and has tested negative for the virus in the latest check. He is due for another third and final check.

So what we know for now is that there is still no confirmed case of 2019-nCov infection in Cebu or any part of the country.

Some people on social media are quick to chide others who have shared information and advisories online about the 2019-nCov. But I don’t share their criticisms. There is no such thing as “prematurely” calling for alert and vigilance about the spread of the deadly infection. We need to stay alert.

Recent advisories I have read on my social media feed and from the news media focus more on enjoining people to be on alert for the common signs of the virus including fever, cough, and breathing difficulties. I see nothing wrong with asking people that in light of the 2019-nCov infection, they should practice universal precaution and coughing etiquette.

Let me repeat what health authorities have been telling the public through the advisories shared online. “Practice frequent handwashing, avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals, practice proper cough etiquette – maintain distance and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the crook of your elbow, avoid close contact with people showing cold or flu-like symptoms, and ensure that food is well-cooked.”

People may experience a little fear from getting such messages. That cannot be avoided. In fact, one study has pointed out that while the US, Canada, and European countries can afford a more relaxed response to a deadly flu outbreak, middle- and low-income countries are more inclined to employ “more rigorous biopolitical measures because of their limited medical resources, their crowded populations that facilitate spreading the virus, and the urgent need to block the virus from their borders.”

In “Transcultural Risk Communication and Viral Discourses: Grassroots Movements to Manage Global Risks of H1N1 Flu Pandemic” published in 2013 in the scientific journal Technical Communication Quarterly, Professor Huiling Ding of the North Carolina State University wrote that at the beginning of new and emerging epidemics such as SARS and H1N1 flu, “government agencies cannot tell the public that scientists still know little about the new epidemic but that the public should not panic because experts will get things under control.”

“Instead, risk experts should respond from both scientific perspectives and the people’s point of view, because we—not ‘‘us,’’ the experts, and ‘‘them,’’ the ignorant public—must work together to contain the emerging epidemics,” wrote Professor Ding. “The public may play an equally important role whenever mass mobilization is needed to ensure that individuals shoulder their social responsibility in observing travel restrictions and social distancing practices.”

In the Philippines, while our archipelagic nature helps limit the spread of viral infections, our lack of resources may still cause complex problems in a pandemic. Yet our health scientists are so far doing a good job in providing objective scientific narratives about the risks of this latest health scare.

We should take it from there. In today’s modern telecommunication and social media world, we can alert everyone and educate friends about preventive measures like proper hygiene and coughing and sneezing etiquette.


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