January 31, 2020

It’s been a while since we witnessed such an immense number of people obsessing over N95 masks, and this time, it’s not because of the haze. With the turn of the New Year came a new strain of coronavirus, causing an outbreak in Wuhan, China, threatening to kill our “New Year, New Decade”, #2020Vision spirit. By the time the virus reached our shores, it had killed more than 100 and infected over 4,000. Here, the number of confirmed cases has recently risen to 13 (all of whom are Wuhan natives), spurring the population to snatch as many masks as possible from pharmacies and convenience stores. Although most of these patients are in stable condition, it hasn’t stopped the fear-mongering, fuelled by fake news, conspiracy theories, factual exaggerations and a fair bit of xenophobia. Before you swear off all human contact, here are 10 myths about the Wuhan virus, dissected and debunked.

1. The virus can be spread through the air.

While it’s true that the Wuhan virus can be transmitted from human to human—a fact that’s supported by research studies published in The Lancet by experts from Hong Kong University and the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases in China—there’s still no concrete proof of the likelihood of airborne transmissions. This means airborne germs, produced while an individual is talking, coughing or sneezing, may or may not contribute to the spread of the disease.

2. You’re safe as long as you wear a mask.

We’re all in a mad scramble to get N95 masks for our families right now, but do we really need them? According to the group director of operations at Ministry of Health, Koh Peng Keng, a surgical mask is sufficient and more practical for daily use. N95 masks, while more secure, are made for medical situations. Even so, it’ll only offer basic protection from the Wuhan coronavirus. What’s more important is observing proper hand hygiene (that is, washing your hands thoroughly before and after a meal, after using the toilet, and after coughing and sneezing into your hands). One should also steer clear of consuming raw or undercooked animal products, and going near wild animals at this time.

3. The Wuhan virus originated from the consumption of bat soup in China.

As fairly westernised folks whose delicacies aren’t tremendously adventurous or offbeat, it’s easy to brush off videos of mainland Chinese citizens devouring bat soup as grotesque. After all, it’s not like the bat’s meat has been separated from its body, sliced and diced like an average meal. It comes in a bowl, fully intact, as if it’d been cooked alive. Coupled with the fact that bats are known to be carriers of the coronavirus, many have jumped to the conclusion that the consumption of bat soup was what caused the outbreak. In reality, however, this is all hearsay. Researchers still aren’t sure where the virus came from. Much like how Ebola was first believed to be spread through the consumption of bat meat when the real culprit was an accidental contamination of bat droppings, it’s likelier that physical association with wild animals, rather than the eating of their meat, is the cause of the virus.

4. The Wuhan virus is a lab-constructed biological weapon, designed for population control, among other things.

Since the emergence of the coronavirus, multiple conspiracy theories have also sprouted, including one that claims the deadly virus, which has taken the lives of a staggering 213 individuals and infected 9,700 more in a short span of time, is really an artificially created bioweapon. The theory, concocted by erstwhile Israeli military intelligence officer Danny Shoham, draws links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a government-run lab that has been associated with the bio-weapons programme in Beijing. Some purport that it’s used to reduce the human population of the over-crowded planet. Others imagine it’s a “biological attack” on other countries like the United States of America. However, Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, debunked the myth that the virus is man-made, explaining to The Washington Post, “Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus.”

5. The coronavirus can be treated with traditional Chinese medicine.

Because it originated from China, the Wuhan virus can only be treated by folk remedies from the same country right? Wrong. Pay no attention to the iffy articles that have been circulating the social media sphere, detailing practices such as gargling salt water, downing a mixture of smoked vinegar and banlangen (a traditional Chinese medicine), and munching on garlic cloves as legitimate cures for the coronavirus. They may not be harmful practices per se, but neither are they effective treatments for the life-threatening disease.

6. Drinking bleach can help cure the coronavirus.

Perhaps one of the most insane myths is that gulping down bleach, which some refer to as the “miracle mineral solution”, can cure patients of the Wuhan disease. Those who subscribe to this notion probably believe that vaccines cause autism too. In case you don’t already know, here are a few facts about the industrial-grade cleaning liquid: It contains toxic chemicals, and could lead to severe diarrhoea, vomiting and kidney failure if consumed. If anything, it’ll weaken your immune system to make you more susceptible to the new coronavirus.

7. Researchers have come up with a cure for the Wuhan virus.

We’d like to believe that this is true, but alas, no one has identified and confirmed an effective cure for the fear-inducing virus. Most treatments are still in the development stage. The US National Institutes of Health, for one, is currently working on a coronavirus vaccine, for which human trials will only commence in about three months. Alternative vaccines are also being developed over in Houston, Texas, by a group of scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine, and in Shanghai, by the experts from the Fudan University.

8. Contracting the Wuhan virus will very likely kill you.

Sure, the death toll surrounding this latest coronavirus seems high, but a closer look beyond the jarring statistics show that most of the deceased victims in China had already been suffering from underlying health conditions, and were middle-aged, elderly citizens. According to the World Health Organization, about 4% of people so far who have been infected by the virus die. That’s less than half the percentage of the mortality rate of SARS (about 11%) and MERS (about 35%). Yet, our fellow keyboard warriors have led us to believe that the Wuhan strain is more dangerous than anything we’ve seen thus far. Take precautions to keep yourself safe, but know also that it’s not going to be an instant death sentence once you contract the disease.

9. Stay away from Chinese people, and anyone who is coughing and sneezing.

Firstly, not everyone who coughs and sneezes is infected by the Wuhan virus. Just so you know, the common cold is also a type of coronavirus, and that guy on the train might just be battling sinus issues. You don’t have to stare them down as if they’re nothing but a hotbed of deadly bacteria. Also, the virus may have originated in China, but that doesn’t mean you should be avoiding all Chinese folks. Viruses don’t discriminate. They can infect people of all races. There’s no reason to be condemning the Chinese race for indulging in odd delicacies like bat soups either, given that the French eat snails and pigeons, the Thais eat crickets and mealworms, Cambodians gorge on spiders, and in certain parts of South America, guinea pigs are considered food. Singling out Asian faces is just another act of racism.

10. Due to the skyrocketing death toll, China has begun to build mass graves.

The authorities are building something in Wuhan, but it’s not a mass grave for the victims of the coronavirus, as various proponents of fake news have insisted. Rather, those images of construction sites that have appeared online are of two new hospitals—the Wuhan Huoshenshan Hospital, which opens February 3, and the Leishenshan Hospital, which opens February 5. Built to combat the lack of resources and hospital rooms, these emergency constructions will speed up the treatment process for those infected by the strain.