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Editorial: A level-headed response to the coronavirus crisis is needed

FRESH evidence that the coronavirus (Covid-19) is spreading in Britain should give concern on a number of levels.

Clearly, this is a medical emergency that requires prompt and effective responses from our governments, health services and the general public. 

Already, our hard-pressed medical staff are rising to the challenge with their customary professionalism and courage. 

But much remains to be done by way of public health education and publicity. 

However remote the threat may appear to people personally at present, the reality is that Covid-19 is a highly contagious disease. 

In addition to the nine known patients currently isolated for treatment, at least 12 other potential carriers in Britain have been diagnosed by their GPs but cannot be found.

There is no room for complacency and, without raising panic or undue alarm, the public needs to be informed of the steps everyone can take to reduce the risk of infection to themselves and others.

Another area of concern should be the rising level of hostility faced by people who are — or mistakenly believed to be — Chinese and are therefore being targeted as prime suspects for the transmission of Covid-19.

This fear and suspicion is irrational and, in some quarters, downright malicious. It carries echoes of some previous epidemics in which racist and xenophobic behaviour spread faster than the disease itself. 

Such was the case with the Sars epidemic in 2003, when Asian — including Chinese — people were held responsible and attacked verbally and physically.

These attacks happened back then, even though most of the people being targeted had been born and raised in their host countries, having little or no recent connection with the lands of the forebears. 

Today, most Chinese people in Britain — let alone those from India, Vietnam or Japan — have no connection with Hubei province at the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak.

With cases of the virus now reported in more than 28 countries around the world, including our own, almost any international traveller is a potential victim and carrier.

Another point also needs to be borne in mind. Some of the ugliest attacks on Chinese and other Asian people during the Sars epidemic occurred in Canada and the US. The present-day crisis has seen vicious incidents there and in Australia.

In short, deplorable as they are, there is nothing peculiarly British about the rise in racist and xenophobic behaviour linked to diseases originating abroad. 

Nor, as previous episodes show, does it have anything to do with Brexit, much though the Guardian would have us believe otherwise.

But there is a common thread of white racism and feelings of superiority running through past and present attacks. 

These are as groundless as the fears of foreign carriers in our midst. 

The response of the Chinese authorities to coronavirus has — apart from some early and local lapses — been exemplary. 

Medical teams were flown into Wuhan from across the country. Two special hospitals have been built there in a matter of days. 

Researchers have developed vaccines against the virus and China’s pharmaceutical industry has been working around the clock. 

The openness, transparency and effectiveness of the Chinese response have won the highest praise from the World Health Organisation and other prestigious bodies.

The Chinese communists claim no innate racial superiority for their country’s magnificent efforts. Rather, these have demonstrated the superiority of socialist state planning and public ownership.

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