The ‘itchy fingers’ pandemic

Global news has been overflowing with statistical updates and progressive government proposals to mitigate the damage caused by Covid-19.

In Malaysia too, the public is updated regularly about developments at home. However, propaganda and conspiracy theories abound, about the origin and spread of the disease.

These are entertaining to some, but have caused extreme anxiety and panic among many others.

Trends like this are not new of course, and not confined to Malaysia alone. They have happened in history, throughout humanity’s encounter with pandemics.

Some feel it is their right to gossip and exaggerate, with the intention to shock and draw attention to their egotistical selves. What is worse, the social media culture has misused technology, and facilitated these unfavourable and damaging trends, with speed and agility.

Since there is nothing else to do at home under the movement control order (MCO), hoards of itchy fingers among restless social media users decide to have some fun. These are irresponsible and selfish individuals, who see MCO as a way to kill time.

Legal punishment is now in effect in Malaysia, and I salute the government for hauling up these troublemakers. They deserve to be dealt with harshly, for inflicting confusion and acute anxiety on the rest of us.

But one does not expect political leaders to be equally irresponsible, ignorant or deliberate in falsifying facts about SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19, right?

One Southeast Asian leader caused an uproar in his country, because he did not know the difference between a virus and a disease. The official at this nation’s health ministry was not aware of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses’ (ICTV) announcement on Feb 11, that the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A Japanese tourist who visited this Southeast Asian country, upon returning to Japan, tested positive for Covid-19, but was asymptomatic. Two weeks later, the health official announced publicly that the Japanese visitor’s positive result was nothing to worry about. He was not sick. This government official did not realise that testing positive for Covid-19 means the Japanese man was at high risk of passing the disease onto others, regardless of being asymptomatic.

A government official in our own country confidently proposed a remedy for Covid-19 on national TV. He said by drinking warm water, the virus will be washed away. This is comical but also dangerously misleading.

But leaders in other parts of the world are revoltingly evil. One head of state insists on ethnicising the nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, that is too small to be seen by light microscopy, or, the SARS-CoV-2.

When a leader of the most powerful nation on earth refers to SARS-CoV-2 as the “Chinese” virus, it is deliberately provocative, calculative, arrogant and selfish.

Despite easy access to information, the current pandemic has revealed thousands of ignoramuses, and a surge of racist and bigoted sentiments.

In times of crisis, we expect an overflow of altruism and compassion. Instead, we are seeing an upsurge of prejudice.

In Malaysia, ground zero for Covid-19 was placed at a gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat movement, in KL. What emerged subsequently, was a feverish dissemination of newly-minted amateur videos across all mediums of social media.

Then there are clips justifying the surge in the pandemic, saying it was divine retribution for the sins of the previous government, because it deliberately compromised the special position of the Malays.

Speeches in many videos tried to be academic but ended up being horribly sensationalist.

They are examples of media filth, devoid of any systematic methodological research. They are meant solely to create more division in our society, at a time when we so desperately need to support one another.

Identity politics has not taken a back seat, despite the frightening rate of deaths caused by Covid-19, globally, and its threat locally.

Covid-19 does not care how Islamic you are, or whether you eat pork or prefer scotch on the rocks. It does not give two hoots about your political inclination.

It is also blind to how fat your bank accounts are, or whether you have an Olympic-size pool in your home.

When will Malaysians finally wake up to their disillusioned race-tinted and bigoted lives?

What does it take to slap us into realising that the world is really bigger than our petty disagreements over racial quotas?

When will we realise that life needs scientific and intellectual expertise, regardless of personal ego?

When will we accept that we can overcome crises only if we struggle together, to be the best, through the long haul?

During this entire Covid-19 crisis, which is still raging on, I salute our health care professionals, because they have been working professionally, without these blinkers.

They have proven that enough will never be good enough, until all the sick have been cured, regardless of race, religion or fashion.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.