- Yonden Lhatoo hopes the US president somehow turns out to be right in predicting the Covid-19 outbreak will burn out in the coming summer heat, wishful thinking or not
I really, desperately want to trust US President Donald Trump and put my faith in his recent public assurances that the coronavirus crisis will "miraculously" evaporate this summer.
"A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat, as the heat comes in. Typically that will go away with April," Trump declared. "I had a long talk with (Chinese) President Xi (Jinping) … He feels very confident. He feels that, again, as I mentioned, by April or during the month of April, the heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus. So that would be a good thing."
It would indeed. As long as it's not something he plucked out of thin air again, like his bizarre claim last November that "Hong Kong would have been obliterated within 14 minutes" if not for Trump's personal appeal to President Xi who allegedly had "a million soldiers standing outside", ready to put an end to months of social unrest in the city.
This time, Trump's optimism can be assessed in the broader context of Xi's proclamation this week that China had made substantial progress in bringing the outbreak under control and, for most parts of the country, the focus should shift to getting back to business as usual.
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Of course, people will understandably take this with dollops of salt, given China's track record for cover-ups and tight control over information. The illness that the coronavirus causes, now officially known as Covid-19, has already claimed more than 1,500 lives in the country, which continues to report confirmed cases in four-digit numbers every day.
So, will the coronavirus burn itself out in the summer heat? Experts say this tends to be the case with respiratory ailments, such as regular influenza, which flare up in colder months and then become less transmissible in hot weather. The same could happen with Covid-19, but there's no guarantee it will because this is a new disease that scientists are still trying to understand and grapple with.
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And it's the fear of the unknown that perpetuates so much panic and paranoia around the world, especially here in Hong Kong, where a total lack of confidence in an incompetent government and mass hysteria spreading through social media have reduced large swathes of the population to behaving like starving refugees in bread lines.
Tens of thousands continue to form snaking queues for hours on end outside price-gouging shops selling frustratingly limited supplies of masks, while supermarket stores are stripped bare of disinfectants and daily necessities such as rice and even toilet paper. When there is no need to at all.
One of the most sensible voices I've heard amid this madness comes in the form of a letter to the editor by a reader, Graham Rogers of Tsim Sha Tsui, who is distressed by the lack of common sense and reminds us that Covid-19 is "not the Black Death".
"If people take the prescribed precautions " mask, hand washing, sterilisation, there is a fairly low risk of catching it," he writes.
"A vaccine will not be produced until the end of this year at the earliest, and meanwhile the only solution seems to be to lock everybody in their homes and paralyse the economies of (mainland) China and Hong Kong in the hope that Covid-19 will disappear over the horizon with the coming of spring, like its brother Sars. What if it doesn't cooperate? Are we going to sit at home with fingers crossed until the economy of Hong Kong, then China, then the whole world, collapses?
"Carry on taking all sensible precautions, and go back to normal life … Let's just put our masks on, wash our hands regularly and go back to work. This is not the end of the world, but it will be the end of Hong Kong if we don't."
Or we could trust in Trump and pray he's right. Desperate times call for desperate measures and any straw of hope is worth clutching at.
Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post
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