Corona Virus & the Singapore Malayalee

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Singapore is in the grip of a terrifying thought much like the rest of the world… the novel Corona virus. Singaporeans struggled last week with the idea of a DORSCON orange alert resulting in panic buying of supplies and masks thus resulting in photos of empty shelves in supermarkets, circulating in social media, aggravating the panic. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stepped up and issued public statements explaining facts and not hiding the reality, causing a huge demographic proportion to calm down.

The Prime Minister said “fear can do more harm than the virus itself” amid reports of long lines and hoarding at local supermarkets. He then laid out steps residents could take to help prevent the spread of the virus, like exercising good hygiene, while assuring them that the city had enough supplies of enough goods. He reassured Singaporeans that the virus didn’t appear as deadly as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003, meaning that most people would likely experience a minor illness. The long queues in the island on Friday night returned to normal levels by Sunday thanks to the speech which was posted in 3 languages in the Government’s official pages. The public statement was an example of clear communication by the Government. Public health experts, even from the UN, lauded Singapore’s approach in communicating to the public as a model for others to reduce panic, rumors and conspiracy theories.

But has some people become too nonchalant? Pravasi Express recently shared a video on our official page where the Kerala Health Minister K. K. Shailaja clarified that passengers from China, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia must undergo 28 days of quarantine on return. No official statement has been released by the Health Ministry yet, and passengers are unsure what measures they would face on arrival in Kerala. An example of unclear communication from the Government.

New research based on data gathered from more than 1,000 coronavirus patients in China found that the incubation period for the virus was as long as 24 days rather than the previously believed 14 days, and fewer than half of the patients showed fever symptoms when they first saw doctors. The study, produced by over 35 researchers from Chinese hospitals and medical schools led by Dr Zhong Nanshan, stated an early-identification method might have defects that could have resulted in large numbers of infected people going undiscovered.

But the good news is that the World Health Organization (WHO) said on February 7 that Chinese data of about 17,000 cases shows 82 per cent of cases are deemed mild. The data also showed that only 15 per cent of the cases are severe and 3 per cent are deemed critical. Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said during a media briefing on Friday. “The older you are, the higher the proportion of (severe) cases there are.”

Although this puts our minds at ease, we must think of the ramifications of the statement. It is natural tendency for humans to want to stay together with their families at times of crisis, but we would like to urge the people considering visiting their Kerala homes to think again. Perhaps in Singapore’s highly protected environment, you are free of the novel corona virus. But what about the fellow passengers with you on the plane? What about the transit passengers at the airports? As per new data, you could be a silent carrier for 24 days. And when you visit back home, what of the aged parents that come in contact with you? What of the children?

Are we so irresponsible that we would think past all of this despite Singapore having one of the most educated expat Malayalee community in the world? At times like this, we urge everyone in Singapore to trust the experts in the Government and follow the steps advised and limit travel/ contact. Defer your plans.

On a funnier note, a respondent who would remain anonymous quoted, “My out-laws (in-laws) coming in tomorrow (from Kerala). When they head back, I guess they will need to be quarantined.” Pravasi Express applauds the Malayalee’s ability to see humor in these dark times. After all, we survived two devastating floods in 2 years!