In the quarantined Chinese metropolis of Wuhan this week, otherwise-empty streets have been filled with the spirited shouts of residents. Advised to stay at home for fear of spreading the new strain of coronavirus that emerged in the city this month, thousands of Wuhanese have stood on the terraces of their apartments, yelling: “Stay strong, Wuhan!”.
It is a show of unity cutting through an atmosphere of alarm.
Video footage of the scenes have spread across social media in China, which has now confirmed cases of coronavirus in every province. The total number of infected stands at more than 7,000, and the dead at 170. Other countries have taken dramatic steps to help China contain the virus, screening passengers on inbound flights from Chinese cities or even ceasing flights altogether. The relatively few individuals in 15 countries, including the UAE, who have been infected have been quarantined or closely monitored as well.
Chinese authorities have taken significant measures to contain the epidemic, including a ban on transport in Wuhan and a lockdown of Hubei province. Beijing has also shared data with other countries and worked with international institutions such as the WHO to help counter this threat. As stated by the World Health Organisation’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, such efforts have helped to limit the international spread of the virus outside China to 68 cases and no deaths so far.
There is an inherent sense of disconnection in any decision to quarantine or isolate. But it is important to remember that such measures are limited to physical contact, and in the service of a greater, collective effort. They should not detract from the fundamental lesson of epidemics, which is that we are all in this together. In the words of Dr Ghebreyesus, China "needs the world's solidarity and support" to fight coronavirus.
“Solidarity” and “support” are words that cannot be uttered enough as we reach the end of the first month of this new decade. Efforts to disconnect and isolate appear to be the modus operandi of global politics, too, though they are lacking a sense of service to the greater, collective good.
The international community has been unable to summon a unified stance in the face of egregious events occurring from Syria to Libya and Yemen. In Israel and Palestine, the opposing parties seem to be on a path to even greater polarisation. Even in Europe, which has enjoyed peace and security for most of the past century, 2020 begins with the disconnection of Britain from the rest of the continent. Successive refugee crises and financial shocks have shown that these are not problems that can be quarantined.
As fractures appear and wounds deepen, efforts to heal must be redoubled. Lessons must be learnt, and immunity must be built. This is something doctors know well, but of which many global political leaders often need reminding. The citizens of Wuhan and China have rallied around each another to alleviate the sense of panic that comes with an unseen threat. For coronavirus, and other more visible dangers, too, we should all be taking to our own terraces, so to speak, and shouting for solidarity alongside them.