I realized the panic was real last week. Sarah knew I was traveling and just back in the city. As I said, “I am not feeling well today,” she jumped away from me and asked, “Why what happened?”
Her face was frozen, and she stared at me. I immediately knew what she was thinking. I am traveling + I am not feeling well = Coronavirus.
Plus my Mongolian look does not help me either. “No, no, just stomach upset. I am not sure what I ate last night,” I said, making Sarah feel safe to be around me.
She was no different from me. My husband was in India two weeks ago. At that time, I had heard about a particular virus spreading from China. “Airports are not safe,” that’s what one news anchor had announced. That morning, I called him, and he did not pick up the phone. I started panicking, thinking if he were sick because of this virus.
When we do not know, we imagine the worst. And this is exactly what is happening with coronavirus too. For many days, I did not even bother to check until I started noticing #coronavirus as a popular Twitter hashtag and comments like ‘It all started because of bat-eating Chinese.’
First, I ignored such comments until one of my friends rejected my offer to have lunch in Chinatown, Manhattan, “No, not there. What if we get a coronavirus from them?”
“Them?” I asked.
“No offense, but many are from China in Chinatown,” she replied.
She was not alone in suspecting Chinese people. In the past three weeks, we have seen many racist memes and jokes about Chinese eating bats and how they caused this coronavirus. Videos of Asian people selling and eating bats have been circulating on social media, making many believe that that’s all Chinese eat.
And I must admit, if I had not visited China in November 2019, I would have probably bought that notion too. But let me debunk that opinion about China using my husband’s story.
My husband grew up in a traditional Hindu family that considers eating meat a sin. In general, his upbringing or background does not matter, but when it comes to meat, it matters. For whatever reason, he fears dead animals. He runs away from anything that looks remotely like hanging meat (or even fish), including Whole Food’s meat section.
That afternoon, we were starving and entered a local restaurant in Beijing. I looked at my husband, who looked nervous, “What if I see dead animals?”
He was somewhat surprised when he found the restaurant full of locals enjoying their meals, and there was no hanging bat, monkey, or any exotic wild-meat. Instead, a friendly Chinese host helped my husband select a full course of vegetarian food. Tofu, vegetables, non-meat soups, sprouts, greens – you name it. Since then, every day, my husband wandered around those narrow streets of Beijing, discovering different kinds of vegetable dishes. He not only survived, but he also thrived in China.
So, I have a theory. If my husband, who would have panicked if he had seen any hanging dead animal (trust me, it happened to him in Madrid witnessing a bull’s head hanging in one restaurant), could thrive in China, that country cannot be this vicious meat-eating nation that some of us are assuming today. There are a few people in China, who have a preference for eating wild animals, which they think are more nutritious, but this impression that China is a place with every street filled with hanging wildlife meats, and people eating bat-soups is wrong.
Now, let’s talk about people in China that are dealing with animosity and suspicion today. My cousin studies in China. She messaged me two weeks ago, “I am under self-imposed isolation for two weeks now. I am avoiding a panic call from everyone because it is not making me feel better.”
“Why don’t you go back to your country?” I asked.
“I am scared to go back home. I am not sure if our country can face this outbreak if I end up taking it there…besides, people think we bring the virus with us. Everyone is avoiding us.”
Two days ago, I received another message from her, “I am tired and emotionally traumatized. It will take a long time for me to come out of this ordeal. Every Chinese person feels the same today.
“We live in absolute isolation. The whole world looks at us with suspicion. Even though I know, it will get better, but I cannot explain the psychological stress that I am carrying right now. I hardly sleep, and I cannot eat. I find myself very sensitive to all the news, so much so that I have stopped following the announcement.
“Receiving calls from home is no less tiring. I convince them that I am fine while I am panicking round the clock.
“We are locked in our housing complex guarded with security guards filtering people. Only one person from a family is allowed to go and buy vegetables once a week. Two families are not allowed to gather for meals. Apps showing infected areas keep us alert, but it scares me as the red spots grow near my area.
“Besides, don’t you see the racism and animosity that people from China are facing right now? Everyone is suspecting us. We need love and support. And it hurts seeing the comments on social media about our food habit and us. One even wrote, ‘they deserve to die; they have killed enough animals.’ Are we that bad that we deserve this level of hatred when we are dealing with isolation, fear, and anxiety?”
I stared at her message for a long time, and I did not have an answer for others’ behavior.
Yes, the coronavirus is scary. And we do panic. Do you remember the movie Outbreak? We imagine being in that kind of situation, where the world is coming to an end because of some virus that we are not aware of. But the reality is different. As frightening as the coronavirus sounds, a bit of research about it might make us feel better about the situation.
I am sharing some information.
A quick history
‘Wuhan coronavirus was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019. Snakes were originally suspected as a potential source for the outbreak, though other experts have deemed this unlikely and proposed bats instead. As of February 2020, the search for the animal origin of is ongoing.’
So, what is it?
What are the symptoms?
As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
What can you do to prevent yourself from this virus?
These numbers might scare you ….
You can get live updates about the virus here
Live Science Staff updates about Corona Virus every hour. As of Feb 20, the day I am writing this blog, there are more than 75,700 confirmed cases. In USA, 29 were found to be infected, out of which 14 were those American passengers that were stuck on a cruise ship off the coast of Japan. As per this data, there are 3 confirmed cases in India; and 1 in Nepal.
Who is severely hit by the virus?
A report from the health officials in China suggests the sick and elderly are most at risk of this virus. Among those ages 80 and older, the death rate was 14.8%, compared with 1.3% for those ages 50 to 59; 0.4% for those ages 40 to 49, and 0.2% for those ages 10 to 39. No deaths have been reported among children from birth to age 9.
Are we to be scared?
Panicking never helps. But prevention is important. CDC has outlined how we can take prevention. There is currently no vaccine to prevent the virus. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.
If you are really worried about this virus, please take time to read about it. Here is a detailed guide from BBC.
And if we can, let’s send love and support to people of China, who are suffering and struggling today; not those vile messages filled with judgement, prejudice and hatred. As my Chinese friend messaged me, “Thank you for just asking how I am. You made me cry. At least someone cares.”