Here in Manchester, England, I seem to live in two worlds. I am bombarded via the virtual platform by news and updates from family/friend about Coronavirus. Death trolls and infection number is rising rapidly each day. And then I am standing in the reality world: most of my British friends or colleagues pay little attention at the news. Many of them asked about virus only because they know I am a Chinese; some do not even know what is going on at the moment and even have the impression that the virus is under control now. When I share about the situation, I find that they are listening but only ‘listening’. They aren’t feeling as how I was feeling. Interestingly the only person who has ever discussed in detail with me is an Asian doctor. I am beginning to wonder if an epidemic is also tagged with a racial label too.
Here is the definition of an epidemic: It is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. I used to believe that everyone would have the similar level of reaction to a serious global outbreak. Perhaps not for the Coronavirus outbreak. On the streets in Manchester, the people who wear masks are all Chinese nationals. A European friend commented on the masks; she shrugged and said masks don’t work at all. But in Hong Kong, masks are an invaluable and inaccessible protection, physically or more psychologically.
The scenes in China, particularly Wuhan city were heart-breaking. Recently a picture was uploaded onto twitter, showing the relatives say goodbyes to volunteer doctors and nurses who would go to Wuhan to treat Coronavirus patients. It says, ‘This is a coronavirus suicide mission and many of these brave doctors and nurses won’t come back to their loved ones.’
I do not think it is an understatement. There is currently no cure for this virus. So far a number of doctors and nurses have sacrificed their lives. The infection rate is exponentially increasing. The virus has spread across over 19 countries and it is expected that more cases are or have not been included yet. The current situation reminds me of SARS epidemic in year 2003. SARS and coronavirus are from the same family. SARS is less contagious but more deadly. I was still at school at the time when SARS broke out. I remained at home for over three months. My parents and relatives told me that doctors and nurses sacrificed their lives to care for the affected patients. At that time I ‘knew’ what catastrophe was but I could not truly relate to it at such a young age. Now I recall those scenes as the doctors and nurses gave prayers for each other before they stepped into the wards. I could not help but shed tears of sadness. I guess I might relate more to the meanings of epidemic. I do see why I become emotionally caught up by Coronavirus. I was part of a national trauma, and now the history repeats to even a larger scale. ‘Those who have experienced would know the pain’.
Indeed it is reasonable that some people in the UK may not have paid attention to the outbreak YET. An epidemic affects the most those who are directly under the impact. There has not been any infection case being reported within the country until today. Those without the direct experience do not necessarily need to pay attention at people/things which do not concern them. It is just that an epidemic often starts with the localized national intervention, and occurrence of global intervention is dependent on the socio-political dynamics across nations. So as media coverage and the corresponding public attention. In this context, unintentional (or not) ignorance and silence are interpreted as distancing. This is how segregation forms.
And I am still torn in the two worlds I live in. There is a reality which I am physically part of, but I often do not feel understood. My worries and emotions are not tuned in. And then there is this virtual reality to which I have immediate access, but sitting in front of the laptop, or holding the phone is a reminder that I am not HOME.
Why am I writing now? I write to share about my feelings and personal assumptions. An assumption ends as a cultural stereotype though if we do not communicate with the others. I hope to write so as to invite more interactions which help us expand from our individual lens to the shared perspectives and experiences. If we could have more respect and understanding for one another. If we could have a space in which we feel supported. If we could care more.
At this point, Brexit day is happening today, and the UK has just received the British expats from Wuhan. There have been two newly found infected patients in North England. I hope the UK will strive to bring together more support and solidarity, instead of criticisms and pessimism. Prayers go to Coronavirus.