Forum: Nothing xenophobic about imposing restrictions

Medical staff transfer patients to the newly completed Huoshenshan temporary field Hospital in Wuhan, China, on Feb 4, 2020.
Medical staff transfer patients to the newly completed Huoshenshan temporary field Hospital in Wuhan, China, on Feb 4, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Mr Sim Lim Onn's remark that there is never a best time to take action when dealing with a public health crisis is most remarkable, given the rare admission of fault by the Chinese authorities that they could have acted earlier to curb the novel coronavirus at the outset (Beijing doing its best to contain outbreak, Feb 8).

The death toll from the contagion in China alone has already surpassed the fatalities worldwide for the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003.

Given the staggering growth in tourism, trade and travel to and from China over the past decade, governments across the world are right to be concerned about the threat of a widespread pandemic and implement the necessary measures to stem the tide in their respective territories.

There is nothing xenophobic about imposing restrictions on all China-related travel, regardless of nationality, to contain the viral spread.

Even China has done this domestically and internationally to mitigate the ongoing outbreak.

In fact, during the outbreak of swine flu in 2009, Mexico had accused China of discrimination against Mexicans as part of its control measures.

Mexican officials complained about its nationals residing in China's territory being quarantined, that direct flights to Mexico were cancelled, the issuing of visas to Mexicans halted, and consulates in Mexico closed - against the World Health Organisation's recommendations.

All this, despite Mexico's significantly smaller presence in global trade and tourism then, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, compared with the scale of current Chinese outreach across Asia and the world.

Yet, till today, China has not apologised to Mexico for its indiscretion. Instead, it sees fit to slam countries of "overreacting and sowing panic" to trade and tourism.

Even Chinese nationals are reportedly fed up with their own government's response to the coronavirus crisis.

During this critical period, it is especially important to adopt an evidence-based clinical approach to saving lives as confirmed cases and infection rates from the outbreak continue to rise rapidly.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2020, with the headline 'Nothing xenophobic about imposing restrictions'. Print Edition | Subscribe