Saturday, February 1, 2020

2019-nCoV: Unnecessary Panic

The World Health Organisation cautioned yesterday that closing borders would be pretty much ineffective in stopping the transmission of China's deadly novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV and could even accelerate its spread. 

If you close official border crossings, you can “lose track of people and cannot monitor (their movement) anymore”, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland. 

The UN health agency had declared the outbreak a global health emergency, but emphasized they were not recommending any international trade or travel restrictions and urged the countries already taking such measures to reconsider. 

But with the disease fanning out in 27 territories and countries – todate, it has already infected 11,921 and killed 259 people – governments and even businesses have taken matters into their own hands. 

China's neighbors have closed their borders. As well as some other territories and countries elsewhere. 

Italy's government has stopped all air traffic with China, for example. Israel suspends all direct flights to the country. It also bars entry through sea and land crossings to anyone who has visited China in the last two weeks and is not a citizen or resident of Israel. Singapore halts entry to visitors with a recent history of travel to China and suspends visas for Chinese passport holders. The ban also applies to those transiting Singapore, a major travel hub. 

Even Sarawak and Sabah have banned all incoming flights from China. In fact, the Sarawak government has disallowed China students, who are studying in the state, from re-entering after their Lunar New Year holidays in their home country. 

And businesses such as Ikea, McDonald's, Starbucks, Yum China-owned KFC and Pizza Hut have closed their stores across China. 

However, Lindmeier warned that countries’ efforts to halt the virus by closing their borders and banning arrivals from China could be counterproductive. 

“It might be a logical step to... say, look we see a danger from outside, so let’s lock ourselves up”, he said. 

“But as we know from other scenarios, be it Ebola or other cases whenever people want to travel... if the official paths are not open, they will find unofficial paths”. He continued: “…the only way to control, to check fever for example, to identify travel history, to try to monitor who’s coming across the border, and to see whether they have any signs of infection is through official border crossing points”. 

He is right. There is no need for unnecessary panic. When we overreact, we are only making matters worse. 

For sure, my Toastmasters' days are numbered:

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