Coronavirus, like other contagious viruses, spreads fast. But what is actually spreading faster is Schadenfreude, xenophobia and racism against China and the Chinese people. Recent headlines are particularly disturbing, as some Western media refer to the disease as "a communist coronavirus" or a "yellow peril."
Rumors, misinformation and fears about the virus have flooded social media and news outlets worldwide. Accusations of the government hiding the scope of the disease, inaction in the early stages and suppression of information have quickly gone viral online.
But remember, in these situations, the truth unfolds in real time.
On December 29, local health authorities received a report showing four cases of pneumonia patients carrying an unknown virus.
On December 30, they started to collect data on similar cases.
On December 31, the National Health Commission stepped in and issued an early warning of a possible outbreak of an unknown disease.
On January 1, the seafood market where the virus was believed to have come from was shut down.
On January 3, Wuhan started to investigate and research the new virus and reported its findings to the WHO.
On January 10, China shared the genome sequence of the virus with the WHO.
And you all know about the rest of the story.
Official responses regarding the virus should be based on developing circumstances, much like soldiers guarding a fortress, deciding how to deal with a situation where they are faced with less than 10 enemy soldiers. Do they weigh their options or do they overreact and immediately close the gates and start to build an iron wall?
When Li Wenliang, a doctor who died of the virus, reportedly warned in his WeChat groups about the new virus, few doctors knew anything about the virus or whether it could be transmitted from person to person. At that early stage, his warning could easily have been a false alarm that could cause panic and confusion.
But it's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.
When the H1N1 flu swept the U.S. in 2009, about 60 million people contracted the virus and some 12,000 died. Did the U.S. Government do anything to stop it? No. But, we can't blame it because it doesn't have the capacity to mobilize the whole nation just to do anything.
Global readers are largely kept in the dark about how the whole Chinese nation is being mobilized to contain this deadly virus from spreading and how China is sacrificing its own economy to keep the world safe.
There are few headlines in the Western media about the brave doctors, nurses and ordinary citizens making heroic efforts to fight the disease, or the Chinese construction workers who finished building two hospitals with more than 2,500 beds in 10 days, or the timely updates on the disease by the government to the general public.
But thankfully, the WHO has acknowledged China's tremendous efforts in containing the virus and has praised its actions.
So, Western media bashing aside, what does responsible journalism actually look like? Let's review the alleged "censored" and "state-controlled" Chinese media response to major worldwide outbreaks like the H1N1 flu in the U.S., the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Ebola and Zika.
From Beijing Time: "World governments race to contain swine flu outbreak;" From China Daily: "China, U.S. develop new MERS treatment;" From Beijing Review: "In sickness and in health: China stands by Africa against Ebola and other disease outbreaks and plans to do more;" From China Daily: "Precautionary measures advised to fight Zika virus," etc.
Compassion, empathy, and solidarity prevail.
So although we have no control over what others write or say, we do have control over how we choose to treat and view those who are suffering.
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org