Like most students here, I enjoy scrolling through Meme Queens of the 5Cs. In the past two weeks or so, I have seen many memes and commentary surrounding the novel coronavirus. At first, I would laugh. But then I would become sad, uncomfortable and angry.
As someone who has lived in China for 13 years, it is scary to see the infection rate and death toll rise. It is especially scary for me because my mother and grandmother are currently living in Beijing. Even though I know that Beijing has imposed strict restrictions to ensure public health, I cannot help but worry for my family’s safety.
This novel strain of coronavirus is currently called the 2019-nCoV. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses will decide on an appropriate name in the coming months. Other strains from the coronavirus family include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
The 2019-nCoV started off as unusual cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, the capital city in China’s Hubei province. A coronavirus strain was isolated from patients, and the genome of the virus was published online in a short amount of time. Ever since then, scientists and health professionals have been working tirelessly to develop treatment and a vaccine.
Wuhan is close to my heart because my dad’s family is originally from there. My dad always talked about Wuhan in high regard, especially because it is known for many things, including its famous cherry blossoms and hot dry noodles.
The news currently depicts Wuhan as the epicenter of the contagious coronavirus, and it saddens me that Wuhan and the rest of China are seen in such a negative light. Some news sources are blaming Chinese citizens and the Chinese government for this outbreak. The diction being used online implies the entirety of China is “diseased” or “unclean”.
It breaks my heart to hear that Chinese families are being separated, especially during the Lunar New Year. It is one of the most important and festive holidays in Chinese culture. The greatest significance lies in the gathering of families. Every year, millions of migrant workers return to their hometowns to see loved ones they have not seen in the past year.
However, because of the alarming spread of the coronavirus this year, transportation systems have halted, deterring the reunion of families and loved ones. In many cities, festivities have been canceled. What should have been a bustling city center filled with fiery red decorations is replaced by a deserted street. What should have been a joyous celebration is replaced by tragedy.
Despite some news outlets framing the 2019-nCoV as a deadly virus, it is a misconception that a diagnosis will always lead to death. So far, only around 22 percent of those diagnosed experience severe illness like pneumococcal infections, according to a report by the World Health Organization. Most people diagnosed experience milder symptoms such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Less than 5 percent have died, and death rates have been associated with patients with weaker immune systems. The seasonal flu, which killed 80,000 Americans in the 2017-2018 flu season, is a much bigger threat, in terms of total deaths.
The amount of Sinophobia, or anti-Chinese sentiment, I have seen in public, the news and social media is sickening. Just because the coronavirus was first detected in China does not give people the right to discriminate against Chinese people or any Asian people. There is still a lot still unknown about the coronavirus, so it is hurtful to see prejudice and hateful threats directed at the Chinese population.
As more accurate information is dispersed about the coronavirus, I hope that it will allow people to have empathy and stand in solidarity with the Chinese community.
To China: Stay strong.
Stephanie Du SC ’21 is TSL’s science and food columnist. She is a biology major and she aspires to work in healthcare. Her hobbies include cooking, traveling and eating all kinds of foods.