When confronted with disasters, misfortunes and crises, human beings tend to respond with their best qualities. It happened recently in the Philippines with the eruption of the Taal Volcano and is taking place right now with the new virus epidemic.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is claiming thousands of lives in China and is fast spreading around the globe. And yet, in the midst of panic, anxiety and fear, the outbreak is bringing out the best in humanity.
Doctors, nurses and health personnel are risking their lives attending to COVID-19 patients. They are being hailed as “heroes” for their altruism and utmost dedication. A noble illustration of such heroism is Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who contracted the virus while working at the Central Hospital of Wuhan and died.
He was the first to raise the alarm of a pneumonia-like illness back in December last year. Police arrested him for spreading rumours about the mysterious disease and destabilizing the social order. After being released, he was back in the hospital to continue taking care of patients up to the moment he fell ill. Eventually, he succumbed to the fatal virus at the age of 33.
On knowing of Dr. Li’s death, the public reacted angrily demanding freedom of speech and transparency in dealing with the health crisis. Authorities have been accused of covering up the true extent of the coronavirus and blocking the flow of information.
If the doctor’s warning had been heeded there could have been a much earlier intervention in tackling the outbreak of the COVID-19. Critics are blaming President Xi Jinping and his government system of top-down control that prevents local authorities from acting until they get word from the top.
In widespread and virulent health epidemics, societies are prone to panic which in turn leads to social tensions, rumour-mongering, hoarding and discrimination. However, panic can hamper the best efforts in dealing with the crisis.
Actually, panic can become a more severe problem than the threat of the infectious disease itself. That is what Dr. Rafael Castillo asserts in his weekly column “Medical Files” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “The panic gripping the public is a more serious concern than the actual threat of being infected with COVID-19.”
The doctor advises the public to exercise extra care without undue anxiety that makes us more vulnerable to infections. May the selfless life of Dr. Li Wenliang and his passion for the truth shine in the midst of the present daunting challenge and embolden us to surmount the actual COVID-19.