Predictably there's a lot of false reporting around the Wuhan coronavirus. Don't be caught up in the scare and fooled into sharing racist nonsense.
Depending on your news sources – or increasingly, on your friends group – the alerts you may have read around the Wuhan coronavirus may have been, to put it less than politely, complete garbage.
Yes, there's good reason to be alert around the coronavirus outbreak, just as there is for any major disease outbreak. Sadly, however, there are already plenty of groups using the outbreak as an excuse to indulge in fear mongering with a pretty explicit racist tone. This is made considerably worse, of course, by the speed of internet communication and the way that current internet culture often splits into virtual echo chambers.
So what kind of falsehoods are doing the rounds?
No, there aren't any 'contaminated foodstuffs' to avoid buying
One line being peddled around social media pretty widely is that a range of foods of Chinese origins and train stations around Sydney have "tested positive" for "Corona's disease".
Now, that alone should be cause for the critical thinking parts of your brain to kick in.
If anything, "Corona's disease" would have to do with drinking too much Mexican beer. I can think of worse ways to go, really.
It is of course 100% false, and has been debunked specifically by NSW Health via its own Twitter feed:
2/2 Further, there is no such entity as the “Department of Diseasology Parramatta”.
NSW Health would like to assure the community that the locations mentioned in this post pose no risk to visitors, and there have been no “positive readings” at train stations.
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) January 28, 2020
The actual story here
While the precise transmission vectors for the Wuhan coronavirus are still being investigated, the most likely transmission vectors are likely to be through infected people coughing or sneezing.
Also, you can't test a train station for viruses, because they can't sneeze.
No, there aren't any places in Australia you can't – or shouldn't – visit
Tied into the above, there's also been a spread of misinformation about areas that are "no go" zones in Australia due to "reported" outbreaks or frequently a high population of individuals of Chinese origin.
And once again, they're 100% fake racist nonsense. As SBS News notes in Queensland, this kind of call has been specifically debunked by the local MP:
This media release is 100% FAKE!!! FAKE!!! FAKE!!! I don't normally like to give any credence to ppl who seek to malign our community but wanted to make things clear this time.
To get latest updates go to the Queensland Health website & FB page. Any questions call 13HEALTH. pic.twitter.com/mIW2XVKTH7
— Duncan Pegg MP (@DuncanPeggMP) January 27, 2020
It's all too sadly predictable to see what the responses to this were going to be, though:
Might be fake, but it’s probably good advice to not go there unless you need to. There is an increased chance of exposure to people who may have the virus by virtue of them being chinese and more likely to have travelled or been around people who have travelled recently to China. pic.twitter.com/uoqnyu2n1g
— Boydy73 (@boydy_73) January 27, 2020
Here's the problem with that thinking, which I'll put into the context of a more recent, Australian-specific problem.
There's been a large and widespread call for Australians to make sure that they include areas of regional Australia worst affected by the bushfires in their holiday plans, in order to help those communities rebuild.
The last thing you want is for those places to suffer even more financially than they already have, right?
The exact same logic applies to every "Chinatown" area – or indeed, anywhere that somebody might find — or think there was — a large Chinese population. Individuals may be of Chinese origin, but they're also Australians, running Australian businesses that have every right to be treated as equally and fairly as any other business.
Staying away because of a racist fear campaign only accentuates the differences that divide us, rather than bringing us together as Australians.
The actual story here
According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) situation report the primary centre for the spread of the disease is – you guessed it – China. Yes, there are confirmed cases in Australia for a very small number of individuals, but the current guidance from WHO is that "most seem to have mild disease".
Patients with 2019-nCoV infection, are presenting with a wide range of symptoms. Most seem to have mild disease, and about 20% appear to progress to severe disease, including pneumonia, respiratory failure and in some cases death.
There's nothing wrong with taking standard viral precautions, including covering your mouth when you cough and properly washing your hands, but avoiding entire areas on the basis of pure fear is not an educated idea.
No, your kids (probably) don't have to stay home
The reporting on the outbreak coincides with the end of the summer school holidays here in Australia, and it's not surprising to see concern writ large on the faces of many parents. Schools are pretty fertile grounds for the spread of disease after all, because you've got a lot of individuals in close proximity and – to be frank – kids can be somewhat gross in terms of their personal hygiene habits.
The problem here is largely one of an uncoordinated response, because some schools — mostly private — went in early asking students not to attend if they'd recently visited China, or in some cases set up segregated areas in the school for students they felt were at risk.
At the same time, however, the Federal Education Minister was stating that this wasn't an entirely necessary step for students who were healthy despite any recent China travel.
However it appears that some states are taking this as practical advice at a state level, albeit with somewhat muddled messaging. In New South Wales, an email was sent out to parents yesterday stating that:
There has been a small number of cases of confirmed Novel Coronavirus in New South Wales. In accordance with national public health guidelines, exclusions only apply for those who are a: • Confirmed case of Novel Coronavirus - exclude until medically cleared • Close contact of a confirmed case of Novel Coronavirus - exclude for 14 days since last contact with the confirmed case
Staff or students who have recently returned from overseas and are well, and are not close contacts of a confirmed case, are able attend work or school as normal."
However, today the NSW State Government has taken a harder line, while admitting it's not entirely necessary. In a press release, it states that:
"UPDATED ADVICE AHEAD OF SCHOOL RETURNING The NSW Government has today requested that children who have visited China in the last two weeks not attend school or childcare services until 14 days have lapsed from their date of departure from China. Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said although the risk to children is very low, the NSW Government has taken this step as a precautionary measure. “I’ve been advised that it’s not medically necessary, but the NSW Government has acted in line with community expectations to ensure the safest possible environment for our students,” Mr Hazzard said. “The internationally recognised incubation period for the coronavirus is 14 days, so this is the logical timeframe to ask students to refrain from attending school. After this time, there is no risk."
So it's not entirely surprising that there's confusion here. There's no insight as yet from other states, but it seems likely they may take the same approach.
The actual story here
If you and your children have visited China within the last 14 days, it's probably advisable to extend those summer holidays just a touch.
It's not actual a ban on any student attending, but the practical reality for anyone who hasn't made such a trip is that the risk is extremely low to non-existent. Frankly, they're more likely to catch fleas from each other.
No, this isn't an excuse to be a racist
I mean, I really really shouldn't even have to write that sentence to begin with, but it's substantially clear that the outbreak is being used by a number of Australians to be blatantly racist online.
5Why journalist Soaliha Iqbal writes on this far more eloquently than I ever could, pointing out disturbing messages like the one below that have sadly proliferated on Australian social media of late.
— lily (@_lxlyevie) January 27, 2020
It's deeply disturbing stuff, and all it does is make you look like a racist moron.
There is absolutely no way in which this particular virus discriminates on race, so there's no reason for you to do so either.
If you're unsure about the Wuhan coronavirus, we've put together a guide to what you actually want and need to know here.