After watching the increasingly gloomy media coverage, for the last couple of weeks, I have a few thoughts on the coronavirus outbreak.
On one hand I can see why there is a lot of concern about it. Coronavirus appears to transmit more easily than SARS (2002) or Swine Flu (2009)did, but is that really a testament to its characteristics, or the fact that airlines go to a lot more places in 2020 than they did in 2009? For example in New Zealand Chinese airlines did not fly to Christchurch until a few years ago. China Southern did not start flying into Auckland until 2011, when three flights a week were introduced, which had ramped up to 14 flights a week by the end of 2014. Then Cathay Pacific announced flights from Hong Kong to Auckland would start in 2016 using the then brand new Airbus A350 and more recently into Christchurch. For New Zealand’s part, Air New Zealand started flying into Shanghai from Auckland.
On the other hand, measles send over 140,000 people to their graves each year and no one seems to be making a big kick and stink about it. In 2018, 140,000 people or a bit more than the combined populations of Hastings and Napier put together were killed worldwide.The outbreak in Samoa last year showed that New Zealand should be focussing considerably more on helping our Pacific neighbours who lack the resources, the financial ability and the staffing to do the necessary work.
Similarly the influenza is more lethal than coronavirus. In the 2018-19 season in the U.S. alone between 34,000 and 57,000 people were killed; 500,000 hospitalized and millions made sick. And that was just the United States. Around the world, influenza kills 250,000-500,000 people each year. To put that into perspective, the upper end of that range is nearly everyone living in the Wellington Region. Like the measles, it does not seem to get the same level of coverage one might
In New Zealand the Chinese Consul General in Auckland has criticized the reaction of the New Zealand Government, saying it is excessive and is biased. The Consul General said that events such as Japan Day, which has been left in limbo by organizers worried about potentially spreading the disease, should go ahead.
Unfortunately there have been incidents of racism displayed towards Chinese people, visitors or otherwise. Taxi drivers have refused to pick up Chinese people; e-mails have been sent to the parents of Chinese students saying New Zealand does not want “your disgusting virus spreaders” in their children’s classes. Without doubt, there has probably been an increase in that kind of attitude, and I can only say sorry to those Chinese who have suffered such abuse.
Perhaps the most affected sector is probably the tourism sector, which would be expecting in any Chinese New Year period to have a big surge in business. From rental car companies, to accommodation suppliers all would have been looking forward to the business transactions that come with hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists going in every direction across the planet on holiday. With flights from China now suspended for the immediate future much of that business has suddenly vanished.
Whilst it is sad for all of these people, the Chinese Government has not helped anyone – or themselves – by threatening the media outlets who dared to comment on the systemic under reporting by Chinese officials of coronavirus cases. In what could only be described as an attempt to cover up a growing crisis, they censored articles suggesting Wuhan health officials were being economic with the truth.
With behaviour like that, little wonder people are on edge.