September 28, 2023

As the number of infections and deaths caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) continues to escalate with 25 countries now affected by the outbreak in a matter of weeks, so is the spread of misinformation, myths, and misconceptions across continents made borderless by a highly contagious vicious disease and the modern technology through social media.
Getting the job done when there is an international health concern this time is more challenging for government and health authorities, not only because they are faced with a new and ferocious disease, but they are also trying to make themselves heard above false claims, reports, and information spread online that, for some reasons, tend to sound more believable to the unsuspecting public.
While the panic created by the spread of the 2019-nCoV is understandable, what we do not understand are the individuals who get pleasure from making things worse or seeing terror in others’ eyes as they spread lies about the unusual disease. We saw how protective masks, particularly N-95 and surgical face masks, run out of stock as people rushed to secure themselves, when it should only be worn in certain instances. The scarcity of the masks at the moment is leaving health workers who mostly need it exposed to health risks in the line of duty.
Without knowing the facts, many consider “persons under investigation” or “suspect cases” as equivalent to having the disease right away, while in fact these are subject to laboratory confirmation. Though we need to be concerned and it is a normal reaction to be careful since the new disease is fatal and has no known cure yet, there is no need to subject such persons to stigma or disgrace, whether it would turn out they have the disease or not.
As a result, the Department of Health needed to exert extra effort in convincing those who are showing the symptoms of the 2019-nCoV to voluntarily submit themselves to checkup and quarantine, if necessary. DOH-Cordillera OIC Director Amelita Pangilinan stresses that it is nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, having more PUIs is a good sign because it increases the chances of preventing the disease from spreading further.
A report early last week with a national government official informing the public that Baguio City is on lockdown from tourists and visitors amid the growing spread of the 2019-nCoV, which has turned out to be false and led the city mayor to clarify there was no such directive, also brings to light the importance of getting our facts straight and caution in making pronouncements on matters of public concern, as well as in the broader sense where reliability of information is crucial. We trust this to be an isolated case and an honest mistake, because if authorities themselves cause misunderstandings inadvertently or not, people would no longer know who turn to for the truth.
Further, we hope that those calling the DOH secretary to resign – supposedly for failure of leadership for not acting fast enough to stem the spread of the disease – would let the official do his job. He must be called to answer at any time later, but not now when the department has its hands full and needs all parallel measures from other government agencies and local government units to successfully hurdle the crisis.
To win this international battle against the 2019-nCoV, it is best to arm ourselves with the right information and precautions by learning to identify credible sources of information and separating them from the fake ones done by people as vicious as the virus the global community is currently battling.
We share the thoughts of an infectious diseases specialist from the University of the Philippines General Hospital, Dr. Edsel Salvana, who was prompted by the proliferation of fake news concerning 2019-nCoV to make some clarifications via the social media, as he urged everyone to do their part in helping the government protect us in these times of public health emergency:
“Whether or not you like the government, they have a job to do and the only alternative is to panic and run around in circles, which solves nothing. Our front-line healthcare workers are in harm’s way so let’s support them by following instructions, not sharing or making fake news, and praying for their safety.”