I’m writing this in the midst of our “circuit breaker” period. The latest figure reported for 13 April 2020, was a record number of 386. Meanwhile, international couriers announced that the export of face masks and other medical supplies has been banned from the US. Amazon also advised customers to only order essential items. It’s hard to imagine that our food supply chains won’t be affected. Indeed, while trying to make some nasi lemak at home, I couldn’t find a common item like ikan bilis. It’s obvious that the shelves in the stores are not what they used to be. Items are not stocked as quickly as usual. Certain brands are missing altogether.
With people working from home or at home but not working, the rise in activity on social media is quite palpable. Fortunately, I don’t use WhatsApp, otherwise, I would be inundated with repeated shares. But the majority of people do use WhatsApp and during this period, you’ll find them inundated with posts, articles, cartoons and videos that they may not agree with. The frustration is understandable, but how do we manage it? For me, I welcome the flood of information. Just like a journalist, I sift through, digest and present my own point of view. I can’t guarantee that it’s 100% “accurate”, but it’s definitely not the opinion of a brainwashed individual. As a writer, I’ve been doing this for decades. It would be an insult to brand me as some undiscerning “sharer” who needs to be reminded not to believe everything I see on the internet. I believe that I read a lot more books than my critics do and I do take in multiple points of view on YouTube. No, I don’t just depend on my cousins or just one cousin in China to tell me what things are like on the ground.
Against that background, what is the problem with a simplistic rant on Facebook that runs like this:
Do your job? You mean shut up and go back to the hamster wheel? Sure, it’s not the average citizen’s (paid) job to share stuff and start petitions on social media, but in times like this, shouldn’t we realise that we have been so absorbed with work that we have overlooked some ticking time bombs in our society? What better time to discuss these issues when we have a little more time than before?
I’ve advocated the wearing of masks and touched on some of the materials from which we could DIY when the epidemic first started. Common sense tells us that community spread and spread on our public transport system was imminent. Curiously, there was a senior academic who went to town and fought tooth and nail to challenge my view. Thankfully, I was able to influence a number of people and maybe, just maybe, I did inadvertently contribute to people within my social circle not being infected. If you really only respect “action”, then how about this video which I’m mighty proud of. Now, I wonder why only those who were against masks were allowed on TV.
Sure, some may not consider Chan Joon Yee an expert, but remember the 4 doctors who came up with a joint statement to advise our government to change their policy on masks?
On 10 February, four medical practitioners in Singapore came together to sign a letter advising people to wear face masks when leaving their homes to help control the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore.
In the letter entitled, “Health advisory from senior medical practitioners to Singaporeans”, the practitioners highlighted how “things are not so straightforward” with the Covid-19 as it was with Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARs) coronavirus in 2003.
The doctors – Dr Tham Hoe Meng, Dr Colleen Thomas, Dr Judy Chen, and Dr Lim Pin Pin – pointed out that given this virus is said to be milder and can be transmitted silently by asymptomatic people, “a certain percentage” of the population will be developing this deadly disease.
The doctors warned that temperature screening is less effective in identifying those who might be infected, stressing that masks are crucial to curb the spread of the virus.
I don’t know if the author up there would consider that “action”, but to me, there is no shadow of a doubt that it is and it needs to be pointed out that had we all worn masks two months ago, our numbers could be significantly lower today. Was it not a mistake to dismiss the 4 doctors’ statement?
Sure, we don’t need too much noise. But noise is an unavoidable by-product of free intellectual discourse. Water finds its own level. The mavericks may make their case and become the authority. We trash the misconceptions or in cases still arguable, agree to disagree. The author also seems to have forgotten that the pen can be mightier than the sword. Words can sometimes accomplish things that a hundred pairs of hands can’t accomplish. There is not a single great leader who is not also a great orator and perhaps a little counter-intuitively, it may take more effort to write a moving piece than to “use your hands”. Such attitude may actually reveal an innate aversion towards critical thinking, exploration, research, and investigation.
The are certainly gullible people who can be misled by misinformation (and I challenge you to show that I’m one of them), but it would be presumptuous to conclude that every unofficial channel that we subscribe to on YouTube is unreliable. People make mistakes. Newspapers make mistakes. Organisations and companies make mistakes. Leaders and governments make mistakes and the important thing to note for folks who are oblivious to best-kept secrets and things they don’t want you to know, is that whistle-blowers and other insiders often do not have the privilege of the official limelight. Logic and common sense tells us what’s plausible and what’s not. It’s certainly a lot more reliable than what a cousin has to say about what’s going on in China unless he’s serving tea at Zhongnanhai.
There is something else in the author’s simplistic rant that doesn’t cut any ice. The mouth and the hands are not antagonistic like flexor and extensor. It doesn’t mean that a person who talks is not doing anything. For most of us who are not in positions of power, complaining may be the best and only thing that we can do. It would be a big mistake to ignore some of the many serious issues out there – the performance of the WHO in particular. Trump may have been wrong in many areas and on many accounts (and I’m not a fan of his by any measure), but the WHO deserves to be castigated. Let’s check out the following timeline.
On 31 December 2019, Taiwanese authorities (excluded from the WHO) warned the WHO that they had evidence of human-human transmission for the novel coronavirus and advised that the WHO should change their advisory and announce this. WHO ignored them.
On 14 January 2020, Tedros announced that “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus in perfect synchronisation with the Wuhan Health Commission’s public bulletin declared, “We have not found proof for human-to-human transmission.”
On 28 January 2020, after a visit to China, Tedros said that he was confident in China’s ability to contain the virus and urged calm. He said there was no need for countries to overreact and evacuate their people from China. (Reuters)
On 20 January 2020, China’s top epidemiologist Dr Zhong Nanshan announced that China had evidence to show human-human transmission. It’s believed that they knew this more than a month ago.
On 21 January 2020, acting like an echo, the WHO announced that they had evidence of human-human transmission. White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Deborah Birx immediately pointed out the lack of transparency which may cause the rest of the world to be slow in responding.
On 22 January 2020, the WHO Emergency Committee held a first meeting regarding the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019 in the People’s Republic of China, with exportations to other countries. After much deliberation, the Committee ruled that the situation did not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. No restriction on trade and travel recommended.
On 30 January 2020, the WHO held a second meeting of the Emergency Committee. Once again, after much deliberation, the Committee ruled that while the situation then did constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, they still did not recommend any travel or trade restriction!
On 3 February 2020, Tedros claimed that there was no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade” in trying to halt the spread of a coronavirus that has killed 361 people in China. Below is the screen cap from Reuters.
But as cases began to show up worldwide, countries began to close their borders with China. How did Tedros respond? Leaders began to question the WHO.
10 February 2020 Even as a WHO team headed to China to help coordinate a response to the outbreak that has so far infected more than 40,000 people and killed 908 in the country, Tedros appeared to be diverting attention from China by saying: “There has been some concerning instances of onward #2019nCoV spread from people with no travel history to (China),” (Bloomberg)
24 February 2020 Dr Bruce Alyward who led a joint mission to China held a press conference where he said he was convinced that the measures adopted by China were working. He even declared that if he ever got infected, he wanted to be treated in China. When questioned by journalists why he did not quarantine himself, he exposed the fact he did not set foot in any of the “dirty” areas. He was only in the clean areas in Hubei Province. In other words, he did not observe the situation personally. He didn’t even get into Wuhan! His report was based on information provided by the Chinese authorities.
29 March 2020 Dr Bruce Alyward, as senior advisor at the WHO, appeared to hang up on a journalist who asked about Taiwan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and then did not answer further questions because they had “already talked about China”. If you have not seen that video, go watch it before you dismiss it as irrelevant or not worthy of your time.
8 April 2020 Tedros revealed to the press that he had received racist death threats. He accused Taiwan as the mastermind behind those threats. I’m not sure what sort of messages he had received, but out in the public domain, all I see are calls for his resignation and make no mistake, they are not just coming from Taiwanese.
Even as Taiwan’s foreign ministry refuted Tedros’ claims, Taiwanese president Tsai Ying Wen extended an invitation for Tedros to visit Taiwan and see things for himself. Of course, President Tsai can’t be serious. Would he dare step on Taiwanese soil? Would he have been offered such a friendly (albeit humourous) gesture if he had accused China instead? Does he know that it’s mainland China that is evicting foreigners and subjecting them to discriminatory tests, especially Africans? Go check out the videos from Africans reporting live from Guangzhou and other cities.
More than one country and numerous netizens from all over the world have noticed the political slant of the WHO. Trump is feeling indignant that US contributions to the WHO in 2019 exceeded $400 million, almost double the second-largest country donor. Information on the WHO website concurs, showing the US as its top donor, contributing nearly 15% of the budget. At a White House briefing, Trump pointed out that Beijing’s payment was a small fraction of Washington’s WHO contribution, and that was “not fair at all.”
Well, Trump doesn’t seriously believe that America is actually paying more than China, does he? Trump being Trump, will always be unbecoming of the leader of the free world. But his maladroitness aside, it’s not difficult to understand how countries sponsoring the WHO would feel.
To our government’s credit, they did not blindly follow the WHO’s recommendations. They did impose some travel restrictions, but probably not timely and extensively enough. On the issue of masks, we even had a minister mock others for wearing it. Let’s not even try to put it any other way. Insisting that we wear masks now on public transport and inside supermarkets is a major flip flop. Whether we have the reusable masks ready for distribution or not is immaterial. The use of masks should never have been discouraged. The advice should have been: those who have them, please wear them. We will make it our top priority to get everyone (healthy or otherwise) a mask as soon as possible.
I’m assured that I have done my part (without using too much of my hands). The trouble is, few people regard me as an influencer or expert. That’s OK. I will continue blogging my opinion pieces here. Those who want to follow will follow. The least I can expect from those who do not respect my views is not to assume and summarily dismiss me as some clueless and gullible troublemaker.