Empathy Without Borders

Closed borders, suspended flights and idle factories can’t stop humanity from lending a helping hand

Since the beginning of globalization, in what’s now an interconnected world, the vow “for better, for worse… in sickness and in health” is no longer just for couples wishing to get married. Today, it applies to all nations, rich or poor, large or small, as countries around the world join China in the fight against the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Diseases know no boundaries, color, ethnicity or gender. An infectious disease originating in one country can rapidly spread to many others with far-reaching international consequences.

The death toll in China has been rising while cases of overseas infections have been confirmed in over 20 countries and regions. These include top destinations for Chinese tourists like Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Germany, Malaysia, the U.S., Canada and France.

The 2019-nCov reportedly came from a market in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province in central China that sold seafood and wild animals, reminiscent of the origin of a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Contingency plans to respond to the epidemic have brought the Chinese economy to a grinding halt.The global implications are yet to be evaluated as the world’s second-largest economy, the largest trading nation and the largest source of international travelers battles against the outbreak.

On January 20, after China’s National Health Commission classified pneumonia caused by the 2019-nCoV as a Class B infectious disease–the second-highest level that includes SARS, AIDS and viral hepatitis–the Dow Jones, which peaked on January 17 at 29,348, dipped 152 points when the stock market reopened on January 21, followed by even sharper declines. To date, the Dow has lost 3.7 percent. The Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index in the UK fell 5.05 percent from its second-highest reading recorded on January 17.

Thailand, a popular Chinese travel destination, has reduced its GDP forecast for the year due to an expected revenue loss of $1.6 billion.

In times of peril, rumors fueling conspiracy theories and fearmongering become instant bestsellers, as sensationalism becomes the mantra. For instance, if you do a web search for “closed border + China,” the results are overwhelming: Mongolia closed its border crossings with China; Russia banned Chinese tour groups and closed its Far East borders; Viet Nam closed its border to Chinese tourists; Nepal sealed its border with China, and so on.

Search for “suspended flights + China,” and you will get a detailed list of airlines that have canceled flights to and from Chinese cities: Air Canada, American Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, and the list goes on.

Following Apple’s lead, Samsung closed its flagship store in Shanghai until February 9. Automakers like General Motors, Nissan, Honda and Groupe PSA have either suspended production or flown their staff back home.

The fixation on how countries have axed contact with China is keeping global readers largely misinformed about the international community’s show of solidarity, courage and encouragement.

If you do a search for international support to combat the 2019-nCoV, you will only get the World Health Organization declaring the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

The picture that a lot of sensationalized media reports don’t present is that while the borders have been temporarily closed to some people to prevent the virus from spreading, they remain very much open to medical assistance and personnel. International assistance is pouring into China in the form of medical supplies every day and the people in China are heartened by the reports diligently published by the domestic media.

For example, despite the troubled historical legacy between China and Japan, the Japanese Government and its people have sent protective suits, goggles and rubber gloves in addition to millions of face masks. Other countries extending aid are as diverse as Russia, Pakistan, Iran and the EU.

Previous viral threats, such as SARS, the Middle East respiratory syndrome, Ebola from Africa, and Zika from South America, have rung an alarm for global citizens. They underscore the need for concerted measures to contain outbreaks and save lives in our global community.

So while infectious and deadly diseases lead to cities being locked down temporarily and people being quarantined, compassion, empathy and solidarity continue to prevail as we battle together for a shared future.