Coronavirus – beware the fear

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I am a Mum. I have two daughters and I worry for them. Usually it’s the typical apprehension about whether they will grow up healthy and have jobs which will sustain them, not only financially but also satisfy them emotionally. Today I’m worried about coronavirus, but not in the way you might expect.

I recently saw a story online, on the CNN World website, where a 23-year-old Singapore man of Chinese ethnicity had been assaulted in London. One of his attackers was alleged to have said “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country”. At the time, it seemed a horrific story but one that would surely be an isolated incident.

However, the fear of coronavirus seems to have spread, far faster than the actual contagion itself. Whether it’s legitimate news or whipped-up fear spreading over social media, people are clearly frightened. I found this out the hard way recently.

I have just come over to London from Hong Kong, a country that has cases of coronavirus but is managing to control the spread. It was one of the first places outside mainland China to catch coronavirus but currently has still only suffered 105 cases and 2 deaths. Compare this to European countries like Italy, who started getting cases much later but have spiralling numbers. Italy has already surpassed 3,000 cases and 107 deaths.

My children were excited to be back in the UK. They had the chance to catch up with all their London friends. My youngest daughter got in touch with one of her closest ex-classmates and arranged to go round to visit her.

Her Mum picked my daughter up but then whilst driving back the conversation started: “Aren’t you from Hong Kong where they have the virus thing?” she asked my daughter.

The ten-year-old, who was planning a surprise for her best friend for four years hastily said “yes, it’s called the coronavirus.” The lady stopped the car and frantically called her husband to ask if they should let my daughter in.

Shriya calmly said, “they check you at the Hong Kong airport before you board the flight and they made us sit around in the aircraft at Heathrow till all the passengers from Hong Kong were checked, before letting them in the UK.”

“I am healthy, I am not a virus. None of my friends have it in Hong Kong. Nobody I know has it too,” she pleaded. “Can I please meet her?”

The fear had obviously set in. My daughter was told to get out of the car, in the middle of the road on a rainy day while the lady drove off, to wait for me to pick her up. It was inhuman and an unlawful thing to do. My daughter was not only underaged to be left unaccompanied by an adult, she was treated this way by someone she considered a mother-figure; someone she could trust as being a part of the surprise she planned for her friend.

When my daughter called me, panic-striken, with barely 2% charge left on her mobile, I jumped and ran to the rescue, but by then, the incident had left a deep scar in the young, sensitive emotional child.

She couldn’t see her friend and was disappointed but bemused because she was in perfectly good health. There was no real reason to be fearful of catching coronavirus. We had followed all of the official advice, to make sure that we weren’t going to infect anyone. As a Mum myself, the last thing I would want to do is to make another Mum’s children sick.

The attack reported by CNN suddenly seemed more immediate and relevant. The panic had obviously set in and now people were scared. In that case he had been unlawfully attacked, just for looking Chinese. My daughter was left out in the cold on her own, despite being too young to be unaccompanied by an adult. To me it seemed irrational and unsympathetic.

When faced with something scary, the best way to combat it is to learn about it. Understand the risks and what you can do to minimise them. I’m happy to say that a lot of people have clearly been taking onboard all of the advice from the Government and health organisations.

Other Mums were quite happy for my daughter to have a sleepover and her old school gave her a warm welcome when she visited her old classmates. We should never give in to fear. As the saying goes “Forewarned is forearmed” and we’ll live safer and happier lives if we all follow good advice.

Smita is a multi-cultural freelance journalist, writer, and filmmaker based out of London, Hong Kong, and India. Global Indian Stories is her brain-child and she created the platform to help people share their stories, get published, and reach out to their diaspora across the globe.