By TONYO CRUZ
Before anything else, a request. If you’re a student, graduate, or a member of the professions — now is your time to shine. With many of our family and friends in a state of panic and alarm over the novel coronavirus, we have the obligation to calmly explain to them what it is and what to do.
I’m not saying we all turn into medical experts overnight. What I’m saying is we bring to our homes, schools, offices, workplaces, and communities what the medical experts are trying to tell all of us.
Perhaps the most important stuff to share right now is the World Health Organization’s public advisory on how to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection. WHO’s five-point advisory is rather easy to explain and do: (1) Clean hands with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. (2) Cover nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with tissue or flexed elbow. (3) Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms. (4) Thoroughly cook meat and eggs. And (5) avoid unprotected contact with live wild or farm animals.
This is a chance for the educated to refresh and, more importantly, to share what we’ve been taught about health and science basics. Like the difference between virus and bacteria, what antibiotics are for (to fight bacterial or viral infection), the importance of basic hygiene like handwashing, how our body naturally defends itself from infection (immune system), and how that natural defense becomes weak or susceptible to new, more virulent viruses like the coronavirus.
If we do these two things, the effort could mean many lives spared and saved. And at a time of disinformation and panic, we could be forces of social good, science and understanding — which if we remember was partly why we were brought to school to study in the first place.
That being said, it is also being scientific to ask questions about how the government is responding to what WHO has declared as an “international emergency.” It is fair to inquire about the steps the government is taking to monitor the situation, and to prepare the public for any eventuality. It is valid to demand full transparency and disclosure about what the Department of Health knows and does at this time, as well as other agencies starting with the Office of the President. Regardless of who is the president during any “international emergency,” we have to ask those reasonable questions and demand immediate and full answers.
The sense of panic and the rising anger of the public are not without basis.
We live in an interconnected world, with tens of millions of people studying, commuting, and working together every day, and hundreds of thousands visiting our islands, or passing through our airports. Unlike in the past, there is a higher possibility nowadays for an outbreak if the institution and structures we mandated to protect our health won’t adequately respond to a situation.
The demand to temporarily ban flights from all of China is well-meaning and urgent. China is ground zero for the coronavirus, and the first recorded infection in the country is a visitor from China. Many other countries have done it as one of the preemptive measures to stop the spread of the virus and as medical experts scramble to find an antiviral to address infections. It is apparent that the feelings of Beijing are more important to the government than the health of our own people.
And as the WHO warned in its declaration, countries with “weaker health systems” are in a greater risk than others. One doesn’t need a doctor’s license to know and admit the state of our elitist, privatized, and commercialized health system on days without a coronavirus emergency. Regardless of our political leanings, I think we could all agree that this system cannot possibly handle coronavirus infections if the problem reaches epidemic proportions.
Based on what the medical experts have known and said, the new coronavirus is not choosy. It doesn’t care if you’re politically apathetic, independent, DDS, Dilawan or Red. Neither if you’re Filipino, a Filipino puppet or a tourist from China or from another country. Those differences don’t matter to the coronavirus. Everyone’s a target.
We thus must reach out to everyone and tell them about the WHO’s public advisory. We must help reduce the risk of everyone, and combat the spread of the coronavirus, disinformation, racism, and tyranny. And because we belong to one country and we have a government to which we have given a mandate to do everything possible to secure our health, we as a people have the right and obligation to make that government work for all, especially the most vulnerable. Surely, we can multitask and we must. The traitors, the inept, the self-serving, the opportunists, and the fake news peddlers don’t rest.
And after this is all over, our work is cut out for us — to educate ourselves and our people better about medicine and science, to build a pro-people health care system, to support people’s doctors and scientists, and to demand a government that puts the Philippines and Filipinos first.