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TOPSHOT - This photo taken on January 26, 2020 shows medical staff members wearing protective clothing to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in the city, accompanying a patient (2nd L) as they walk into a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. - China on January 27 extended its biggest national holiday to buy time in the fight against a viral epidemic, as the death toll spiked to 81 despite unprecedented quarantine measures and travel lockdowns. AFP

THE Wuhan flu is spreading. As this Leader went to press, China has reported 81 deaths and 2,744 cases of infections. The Wuhan flu, also known as 2019-nCoV, has crossed the Chinese border. More than a dozen countries have made it to the unhappy list. Sadly, Malaysia is there. Should we be worried? Yes. Should we panic and ban all China tourists into Malaysia? No. There are several reasons for this.

One, China has locked down, not only Wuhan, but several other cities. In a few, wearing surgical masks is mandatory. This is laudable, but ordering a lockdown may appear extreme. A city as big as Wuhan cannot be shut down at the press of a button. There are 11 million people, a vast majority of whom are free of the virus. There are lives to live, work to do and schools to attend. A freeze as uncertain as this is not an easy thing to cope with.

Two, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has yet to declare an emergency. Malaysia, like any other country, will have to act in accordance with the advice of WHO as and when it declares a public health emergency of international concern. Those who are placing their signatures on the petition of panic may want to bear this in mind.

Our government, on its part, has done the right thing by temporarily suspending immigration services for China tourists from Wuhan and Hubei province.

Three, the 2019-nCoV virus may have started in China but hasn’t stayed there. The world is on alert. So is Malaysia. Some of us think that banning tourists from China would keep the virus beyond our borders. Let’s not forget, there are also Malaysians who are flying home from China. Besides, banning tourists from one country and not the others will defy logic. It might even show up some prejudice. Now that the virus has shown up in Malaysia, should other countries ban Malaysians from their shores? So where do we draw the line?

Caution is good, but it must be more of a precaution. Not panic. In times of trouble such as this, we may have to restrict our travel to what is necessary. Under such circumstances, a postponement may even be necessary. Because if we travel to a place with high cases of infections, there is always a chance of taking the virus back home. It will be prudent to adopt all the measures recommended by WHO to reduce the risk of being infected. Good personal hygiene for ourselves and for the benefit of others around us would reduce risks tremendously.

Finally, we should learn from this coronavirus episode not to make the mistakes of the past. The 2019-nCoV virus, like those of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus and Ebola, are zoonotic viruses, meaning they jump from animals to humans. The 2019-nCoV virus was able to do that because the Wuhan “wet market” provided the needed proximity. Trading in wildlife for food or fun brings with it a high risk of virus transfer to humans. We must learn how to keep our distance.

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