There is sense of suspended time these days. Anxiety. Angst. Solidarity. The new coronavirus outbreak broke out into the Lunar New Year of the Rat, casting a shadow off contagion, death and fear. The impact of the current crisis is set to surpass that of the SARS outbreak back in 2003.
We are before exceptional times that pose unprecedented challenges for local authorities, health service, institutions, companies, businesses, social groups and ultimately all citizens. The depth of what we are experiencing is yet to be assessed but one should not underestimate the impact across the board.
Authorities have no other option other than full transparency.
Unfortunately, this was not what happened in mainland China, in Wuhan, when the first cases of pneumonia of unknown cause surfaced. All initial evidence points to a gross undervaluation, negligence and lack of transparency in the initial phase of the outbreak by the Wuhan authorities, with devastating consequences. The Central Government's subsequent response was firm, with unprecedented measures aimed at containing a new type of virus for which there is no vaccine yet and which shows much higher levels of infection than SARS, although the mortality rate at this stage is still considerably smaller.
In addition to the urgent measures that are required immediately, others must follow such as the prohibition of wild animals trade as well as effective changes to put an end to the opacity and secrecy that prevails in the mainland system, notwithstanding the progress made in recent years. This is unacceptable especially in situations of public health crisis. Transparency breeds confidence. They are two sides of the same coin. At the same time, it is absolutely necessary to debunk the flood of "fake news" and disinformation that has been spreading like wildfire on social media.
Macau authorities seem to have learned lessons from the 2003 SARS crisis and have acted swiftly showing a more determined and efficient approach than the neighbouring Hong Kong authorities. However it is too early to say whether it will be sufficient to cope with the ensuing crisis. The voices in the community calling on the Government to take bolder steps such as greater border restrictions of a temporary shutdown of casino operations are understandable.
While it is of paramount importance to demand greater transparency, one should not lose sight of the importance of strengthening mutual aid in the community and solidarity with the affected mainland Chinese regions.
The key lies in effective prevention, swift response, solidarity and international cooperation. Public health is a global public good.