Briones: Xenophobes

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FILIPINOS can be so ignorant and narrow-minded at times.

Take, for instance, some local authorities’ reaction to the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China and other parts of East Asia.

I’d like to think their zeal has to do with their concern for public health and not for the election that lurks around the corner. I really do. Unfortunately, I have my doubts.

Maybe in an ideal world, they’ll come up with measures that actually address the problem. Instead, they’ve taken the opportunity to rake up age-old prejudices against the Chinese. And the majority, sad to say, is more than happy to lap it up. After all, it’s easier to pin the blame on a group of people rather than take responsibility for one’s own shortcomings.

And so you have two local chief executives who are calling on national agencies to ban the entry of Chinese nationals.

Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella and Lapu-Lapu City Junard Chan recently announced that they would ask the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Health, respectively, to ban flights from China and the entry of Chinese nationals from Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province and adjacent provinces.

“We are ready to prevent Chinese tourists from entering the city and, of course, ask the assistance of police if health authorities would prefer their exclusion within the territorial jurisdiction of the city,” Labella said.

Say that again?

So the mayor is willing to physically bar Chinese nationals from stepping foot on Cebu City. How will he go about it? How will his minions distinguish between Cebuanos, who have Chinese ancestry, and Chinese visitors? If Labella gets his way, even the Lapu-Lapu City mayor, who is urging the health department to ban flights from China to prevent the entry of 2019-nCoV, may need special permission to enter Cebu City.

Now, let’s look at what the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand has done since it identified a case of 2019-nCoV earlier this month. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Thai authorities implemented measures for screening travelers from Wuhan and activated enhanced surveillance at public and private hospitals. They isolated and tested febrile travelers who were detected by a thermo-scan at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

They also shared risk communication guidance with the public, while the Department of Disease Control established a hotline for people returning from the affected area in China with related symptoms.

The Ministry of Public Health is closely coordinating with WHO and related departments for potential response measures. Thai authorities made no mention of banning entry to anyone.