Paranoia. Fear. Hordes of people hoarding masks, food and toiletries. These are but a few ugly examples of how Singaporeans have reacted to COVID-19. At first glance, all this seems to be understandable.
As I write this, there has already been over 78,700 cases of infected patients and over 2,400 deaths globally – surpassing the damage that SARS inflicted over nine months in a third of that time… and the numbers are only growing.
But there’s another emotion that seems to be making rounds in online sphere that seems to be spreading faster than the virus itself – and that is hate.
No Point Spreading Hate
Although it isn’t the first time Singapore has dealt with infectious diseases, I have absolutely no recollection of what happened during the SARS outbreak. All my knowledge of the deadly virus comes from old news articles, videos and documentaries.
An online forum that I chanced upon was filled with hate comments towards Singapore’s SARS patient zero, who was identified as a “super spreader” – a patient who infects significantly more people with a disease than usual.
She had contracted the disease at a time when Singapore had no knowledge of this infectious and deadly pathogen. She was admitted into a general ward in Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and was free to accept visitors. Unfortunately, she had spread the disease to 22 of those visitors, including her parents and pastor, all 3 of whom perished.
Patient zero recounted in an interview that she too went through a difficult time, but has since managed to find strength again through the support of family and friends.
Fast forward 17 years, and netizens have been bashing a “crazy ahjumma” from South Korea, who had developed symptoms such as a sore throat and fever, but had twice refused to be tested for the coronavirus and instead continued attending church.
The question as to whether super spreaders should be held accountable would depend on whether they took the necessary precautions upon suspecting that they might have contracted the disease, or come into close contact with a disease carrier. While the Korean patient could be held accountable for disobeying the health authorities and refusing to be tested for the coronavirus, it was unclear if she really was even aware of the virus, or whether she had firmly and truly believed that she could not have contracted the disease.
Therefore, while we see these super spreaders as people who indirectly create pain and suffering onto others by passing on the virus, let’s not forget that they themselves are victims too. No amount of blaming and hatred towards these patients can reverse the situation. Instead, I believe that netizens should channel their energy towards showing appreciation and concern to healthcare workers instead.
Spread Love Instead
COVID-19 has shown both the good and bad sides of humanity.
On one end of the spectrum, there are people who hoard onto masks and resell them at exorbitant prices. The hoarding of toiletries has even culminated into the “toilet paper heist” in Hong Kong. There have also been instances of discrimination of healthcare workers, which Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs, Amrin Amin, termed as “disgraceful”.
On the other hand, there are medical staff who selflessly devote their time and effort in this fight against the coronavirus. Brands such as Old Chang Kee, Udders and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf have also launched initiatives to provide free food to healthcare workers as a form of appreciation.
Recently, I personally witnessed an act of kindness on the train. A lady was coughing, and instead of scurrying away, another lady nearby kindly offered a mask to her. On social media, I watched how a Singaporean man and his Vietnamese wife selflessly gave away 17,000 masks tirelessly on the streets, even though doing so would expose themselves to the risk of contracting the virus. Coupled with the fact that these masks are in such a high demand that people are selling them at exorbitant prices, it only served to accentuate the brighter side of humanity.
With all these heart-warming sights of kindness and love, the virus does not seem as scary as it initially was to me anymore. Truthfully speaking, when I first learnt of the Wuhan lockdown, I was struck with so much fear, and wore masks out for a good few days. Thankfully for me, I have gotten past the phase of paranoia and it has been weeks since I last wore a mask. Stigmatising “super spreaders” and healthcare workers does nothing but add on to the negativity that the world is already facing with the virus outbreak.
COVID-19 has indeed been an unexpected and unfortunate event, causing major disruptions to the economy, travel plans, life…and even a possibility of the cancellation of the Olympics. But at the same time, it has taught us to cherish peace when we have it, and that it is precisely in these moments of weaknesses that our strength together as a community counts. I remain hopeful that, having won the battle against SARS and H1N1, the world will defeat the coronavirus as well, as long as we stand together, united.