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Panic measures and racism are no cure for coronavirus

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Issue 2691

The coronavirus outbreak poses a “very grave threat for the rest of the world”.

That was the message from the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week as he appealed for sharing virus samples and speeding up research into vaccines.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, was addressing a meeting aimed at accelerating development of drugs, diagnostics and vaccines against the flu-like virus.

By Tuesday morning China had reported 42,708 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 1,017 deaths.

Ghebreyesus said, “With 99 percent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world.”

Five British nationals were diagnosed with the coronavirus in France, after staying in the same ski chalet with a person who had been in Singapore.

The number of diagnosed people with the virus in Britain itself had reached eight by Monday.

“The detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire,” said Ghebreyesus.

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“But for now it’s only a spark. Our objective remains containment.”

According to the WHO, the coronavirus incubation period “could be up to 14 days”.

Panic measures designed only to create the appearance of action can do more harm than good and deter people who need treatment from coming forward.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for “more decisive” measures to tackle the outbreak in a rare visit to a frontline hospital.

Xi has largely kept out of the public eye since the virus outbreak spiralled across the country from Hubei province.

The outbreak has prompted action by the Chinese government, including locking down entire cities in Hubei as well as cutting transport links nationwide.

On Monday, some 103 people died in Hubei province alone, a daily record.

The national death toll stood at 1,016 at the start of the week.

But the number of new infections nationally was down almost 20 percent from the day before, from 3,062 to 2,478.

In Britain the swirl of somewhat apocalyptic headlines mixed with racism makes a rational response less likely.

There have already been false reports of the virus in some British towns.

Shouty headlines about a “super spreader”—a British person who recovered from the illness early this week—do little to help.

The man, Steve Walsh, made a point of thanking the NHS staff who had cared for him.

Repeated health cuts here can only harm the process of tackling the outbreak.

Bigoted attacks rise after outbreak

Racist attacks on people thought to be Chinese have increased since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Two south-east Asian pupils at the Brooke House college in Market Harborough had eggs thrown at them. The two pupils were in the main market square when two people hurled abuse and threw eggs at them.

Leicestershire Police said it was investigating the attack as aggravated assault. Jenny Wong, the director of the Manchester Chinese centre, said that she has seen a sharp rise in complaints of racist incidents.

She said attacks were mostly directed at children in schools.

Students in York, Sheffield and at Goldsmiths College in south London have reported incidents of verbal abuse. A Chinese student at the University of Newcastle was reportedly spat at in the streets.

Anti-racists and socialists must organise against these attacks.

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