Why are Chinese-Australians taking social distancing seriously?

Thanks to a culture which recognises individuals should act with the greater good in mind, Chinese-Australians have potentially spared tens of thousands of Australians from COVID-19 infection

25 March 2020 | Marcus Reubenstein

Short of completely shutting down all of Australia’s major cities, which is an imminent possibility, it defies belief how a significant proportion of Australia’s population is oblivious to the dangers of COVID-19.

One group is taking this seriously, 1.2 million Chinese-Australians who for weeks have almost universally practised social-distancing and self-imposed isolation which sees them only venture out for necessities.

They began this long before Prime Minister Morrison chastised the populous for raiding supermarkets and recklessly gathering in groups that dramatically increase the risk of COVID-19 infection. 

Make no mistake. This action on the part of the often-maligned Chinese-Australian community will potentially save hundreds if not thousands of Australian lives.

Asian Australians, not just from Chinese background but also many Korean-Australians, have seen all of this before. They know exactly what is coming, they are deeply concerned, and they are almost all prepared.

Asians learnt from the painful lesson of SARS

It happened in 2003, when the SARS pandemic swept through Asia, a more deadly but far less contagious strain of coronavirus. 

Just as we in Australia are about to find out with COVID-19, Asian nations were hopelessly unprepared for SARS. They learned a very painful lesson and resolved never to let this happen again.

As you read this, outside of mainland China, the present coronavirus pandemic is spiralling out of control across Europe and the Unites States. Yet in South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan the rate of new infections has slowed dramatically.

What did they do differently? They acted immediately.

They widely tested people and quickly identified sources of infection. The procedures and health infrastructure were already in place to immediately isolate and treat those infected.

Populations practised the utmost care in not exposing themselves to the virus, through social-distancing, mandating essential services workers coming in direct contact with the public all wear face masks (N95 standard, also called KN95 or P2) and other PPE (personal protective equipment), limiting outside movements and, above all, self-isolating.

Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Hong Kongese and Singaporeans did this to protect themselves – but also to protect their entire community.

Asian culture not Asian politics is behind social distancing and isolation

It is the constant mistake of western politicians and western media to say this Asian compliance is because of hard-line governments or, in the case of China, a heavy-handed authoritarian communist regime.

It is deeply embedded in Chinese culture – back to Confusion times – that individuals should act for the greater good of society.

As draconian as the recent actions of Chinese authorities appeared to the west, those actions were needed and now China’s national infection rate is less than 0.01%. We in the west are being told to expect up to 60% infection.

The images, just six weeks ago, of Chinese authorities dragging crying people from their homes were absolutely heartbreaking.

Given the trajectory the rest of the world finds itself on, it is accurate to say that the action of China’s authorities potentially saved millions of lives.

The Taiwanese hate the Chinese communist government, yet they did exactly the same.

Forget about politics, it is Chinese culture that underpinned this mass response to COVID-19.  

Around 15% of the readership of APAC News are in China. For the past three weeks I have been bombarded with messages from them asking why Australia is not taking this seriously?

Mass contagion of COVID-19 is deadly

For 80% of people getting this virus, it will not significantly harm them. However, spreading this virus WILL KILL OTHERS.

Overseas experience shows that 38% of those needing intensive COVID-19 hospital treatment are under the age of 50.

Hospitals in Italy and Spain are turning away 40 year-olds – effectively sending them home to die – because they don’t have enough ventilators.

There have been abundant warnings in Australia, from leading academics like Professor Bill Bowtell and epidemiologists, like Professor Raina MacIntyre, that we will likely reach this point in mid-April. That’s three weeks away.

Undoubtedly there have been too many mixed messages coming from our leaders but the Prime Minister himself tweeted a chart showing the calamitous consequences of not practicing social distancing.

Commonwealth Health Department data shows, in the absence of any social distancing, one person with this virus can potentially spread this infection to 406 people in just 30 days.

That is not a hypothetical.

Infections are rising exponentially

30 days ago, Italy had 124 infections and two deaths. Today, Italy has 69,000 infections and more than 6,800 dead.

If we take today as day one for the next 30 days, Australia’s starting point is 2,252.  

This exponential explosion in COVID-19 infections and deaths can be halted.

30 days ago, South Korea had seven deaths, now it’s 120. The Korean death rate is approaching a figure 99% lower than Italy.

1.2 million Chinese-Australians are the only significant group in our community that perfectly understands these numbers. Because of the pain of SARS, and similar epidemics, they also realise these numbers are people who are dead because others did not take social distancing seriously.

Australians are not listening

Last Friday, a trainee doctor from Sydney, Sanj Mudaliar wrote an opinion piece warning, “You don’t want me to have to save your life.”

His area of speciality is gastroenterology and hepatology but he, along with a multitude of medical personnel from every discipline, will soon be on the COVID-19 frontline.

This young man made an eloquent and impassioned plea to his fellow Australians to think of others and practice social distancing.

The consequence, he warned, was that they might end up in Intensive Care where their life would depend on his decisions. The decisions of a trainee in a completely different discipline to the life-or-death practise in which he might soon find himself.

Among attending doctors and nurses in COVID-19 wards and ICUs, 20% will get this virus – a number of them will die.

How did his fellow Australians respond to Dr. Mudaliar’s dire warning? That very same day tens of thousands of them went to the beach, even more to bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs.

Chinese-Australians stayed at home, protected themselves, their families and an entire nation!