By Austin Maho Ph.D.
“Hundreds of Chinese left Nigeria for China to celebrate their annual festival –Lunar New Year– to return next week. At the moment over 300,000 Chinese are already infected with coronavirus. FG should take serious precautions and preventive actions before we have an epidemic in Nigeria. Coronavirus in Nigeria will be a giant catastrophe.
Please circulate this until someone high in authority hears about it”
A typical social media message full of misinformation, designed to spread fear and uncertainty over the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The above message have been trending on the Nigerian social media space for quite a while and is designed to create panic and profile Chinese nationals living in Nigeria especially those returning to the country from China after the celebration of the Lunar New Year as carriers of the coronavirus.
It is a season of China bashing and a wrong time to be Chinese! Chinese citizens are coming under intense scrutiny over the outbreak of the coronavirus.
To be Chinese, is to be a virus!
The obviously misleading information is that a whopping 300,000 Chinese have been infected with the coronavirus; nothing can be further from the truth. As at the time of writing this article the figure is about 20,000 with less than 500 deaths globally. Saying over 300,000 have the virus is designed to alarm the unsuspecting, create panic and lead to racial profiling of anything and everything Chinese!
Old myths and misconceptions about China and the Chinese have become the topic of the day and often by people you expect should know better.
Even a government agency was recently sucked into this bandwagon by undertaking an ill-advised raid on an Abuja based supermarket for selling frozen foods it allegedly said were imported from China.
It is curious that a major government agency would choose this particular point in time to carry out such raid and the reason given. Such raids only serves to fuel speculations over the coronavirus and deepens confusion over the mode of transmission.
It is disturbing when you take into cognisance the statement attributed to the helmsman of the agency in question who was quoted by the media as justifying the raids on grounds that it was a precautionary step to address the “coronavirus scare”.
Note that this agency is not the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)!
The NCDC by the way are the experts when it comes to public health issues and have been issuing public statements and advisory since the outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria and coronavirus in China without drama or instigating public panic over “frozen sea food imported from China”.
The truth is that frozen sea food whether from China or anywhere else has not been associated with the coronavirus.
The Chinese for a long time have been known to have a very lavish and generous appetite that includes all sorts of sea foods that are not common in these parts of the world. These seafood includes turtles, frogs, exotic marine creatures and other varieties. This has never been a crime.
Some Nigerian cultures are also known to have very generous appetite for anything that comes out of the bush in the name of “bush meat”. I am sure many foreigners are squeamish about our love for bush meat. During the last “Ebola” outbreak some conspiracy theorist even said you can contract Ebola from eating bush meat especially monkeys
What the agency in question did and the full media attention it generated amounts to an attempt to link sea food and the Chinese to the coronavirus. This is racial profiling and biased conduct that should be condemned by all means.
This however is not to underplay the severity of the coronavirus which has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation, (WHO). Irrespective of the WHO declaration the same body has acknowledged its confidence in the ability of the Chinese government to handle and contain the outbreak.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference that he was confident in China’s capacity to control the outbreak, which has sickened so many people and led to the death of several others mostly in China’s Hubei province, which surrounds Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
“Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak and which has been met by an unprecedented response”.
He also praised the Chinese government. “The Chinese’s government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak, despite the severe social and economic impact those measures are having on the Chinese’s people. We would have seen many more cases outside China by now, and probably deaths, were it not for the government’s efforts and the progress they have made to protect their own people and the people of the world”.
He also commended the speed with which China detected the outbreak, isolated the virus, sequenced the genome, and shared it with WHO.
“This is very impressive and beyond words. So is China’s commitment to transparency and to supporting other countries. In many ways, China is actually setting new standards for outbreak response, and it’s not an exaggeration”.
Dr. Tedros also noted that the declaration was not a vote of no confidence on China but a vote of China’s ability to manage the crisis.
“Let me be clear. This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China, I have never in my life seen this kind of mobilization.” The Chinese government working round the clock, mobilising men and resources to control the spread of the disease. To demonstrate its preparedness to deal with the scourge at the highest levels, the Chinese government handed over responsibility for the deadly coronavirus outbreak to the Communist Party’s No. 2 leader, Premier Li Keqiang. Keqiang has already hit the ground running, with massive deployment of assets and the construction of new health facilities in record time to control and contain the coronavirus outbreak.
China has successfully completed building 2 emergency hospitals in Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly Coronavirus. Within 10 days, the two hospitals have been made ready to admit patients. The Huosheshan Hospital was thrown open earlier this month.
The virus itself is not a death sentence much as the number of deaths and infected are of concern, perhaps people should also be aware that more people have been treated of the infection and have become well. As at the time of writing this piece, less than 400 people have died of the coronavirus while over 500 people have been treated and fully recovered from the disease. Moreover, irrespective of the large number of infected individuals the WHO estimates that the fatality rate of the coronavirus is a little over 2%.
While some people ignorantly, jeer at the Chinese over the coronavirus we should remember that malaria still remains endemic in Nigeria and is still the biggest killer in the country. An estimated 100 million malaria cases with over 300,000 deaths are reported yearly in Nigeria. Malaria contributes to an estimated 11% of maternal mortality. This same malaria that’s ravaging the country has been significantly eradicated in several African countries while it remains endemic in Nigeria, with no government policy in place to eradicate the disease whatsoever.
Similarly we should also not lose sight of the recurring cases of Lassa fever, a haemorrhagic fever similar to the coronavirus. Lassa fever as at last count has killed many Nigerians including health workers with several others affected.
These are health emergencies that are on our door steps that should dominate public discuss. As for the coronavirus no case has been reported in Nigeria and we hope that our public health officials put measures in place to make sure it remains so.
There is no need at this point to spread fear, or result to racial profiling, the global response to the outbreak would certainly contain and control the disease. The world has faced health emergencies in recent times and like SARS, H1N1, ZIKA, EBOLA, MERS, the coronavirus would eventually succumb to the power of modern medicine.
And as President Muhammadu Buhari said in his sympathy message to China, it is only a matter of time “before this nightmare passes”. Nigeria should stand by China as China has always stood by us and other developing countries of the world in times of crisis.