It became a domino effect, as infected people took foolish risks, knowing full well they could spread the virus.

— Jason Medina, author, photographer and artist

I am surprised to discover that some people haven’t bothered to follow the latest news on the coronavirus outbreak which began in China. When news of the virus epidemic in Wuhan in Hubei Province first broke out, many people thought it was not serious thinking it was a local problem that emanated from a wild animal market.

The novel coronavirus was first detected in Dec 2019 after many people had pneumonia and symptoms such as fever, cough and breathing difficulties. What is most scary about the epidemic is that there is no cure for it yet.

A sneeze or cough from an infected person seemed to be the main transmission mode. Those infected can spread the disease before they show any symptoms of fever or respiratory difficulties.

By last January 30, there were eight positive coronavirus cases in Malaysia. All were Chinese nationals. The last case was a 49-year-old woman who was admitted to an isolation ward in Hospital Permai, Johor Bahru. She was reported to be in a stable condition.

Last January 29, six of the eight suspected coronavirus cases in Sarawak have tested negative while two are pending laboratory results.

Five of the cases were in Kuching while Sibu, Miri and Bintulu had one case each. Of the eight, four are locals, three China nationals and one Thai. All had returned from China.

Deputy Chief Minister and State Disaster Management chairman Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas has advised those arriving from China within the last few days to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days.

Individuals with symptoms have been urged to report immediately to Sarawak General Hospital or hospitals in Sibu, Miri and Bintulu.

Meanwhile, officers in high risk sectors such as frontliners, immigration officers and hospital workers are wearing face masks. Thermal scanners have been installed at airports and entry points as precautions.

Face masks have also been distributed to many schools while demand for face masks and hand sanitisers shot up as the public seek protection.

Last January 28, I visited two pharmacies in Tabuan Jaya. I was told they had run out of stocks. Luckily, I found some in a discount store there and quickly bought more than 10 packets. Each packet of 10 was sold for RM1.70. When I returned to the shop a few days later, the price had been increased to RM2.

My niece, who is in Johor Bahru, said she bought five surgical face masks for RM10 there, so she asked me to buy a few more for her.

That morning while sitting in a crowded food court in Tabuan Jaya, nobody wore a face mask. But then it occurred to me that you can’t wear a face mask while eating or drinking.

A few days later, when I went to pick up some medicine for my mother at a government polyclinic in Kuching, I made sure I wore a face mask. I noticed all the nurses and pharmacists wore face masks as were a few members of the public.

Many people are apparently still not seriously taking the coronavirus epidemic (2019-nCoV) which has been declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Jan 30, 2020 as a global public health emergency.

When the declaration was made after the Emergency Committee Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, there were 7,834 confirmed coronavirus cases — 7,736 cases with 170 deaths in China and 98 cases in 18 other countries.

With the number of people infected still climbing fast, many groups are working round the clock to find the treatment. To mitigate the spread of the virus in Sarawak, the State Disaster Management Committee has banned the entry of all Chinese nationals and foreigners who have been to China in the last 14 days.

In a statement issued on Feb 1, it said, “All Chinese nationals and foreigners who have been to China will be refused entry into Sarawak until further notice except for those who have Employment Passes, Student Passes or Long Social Passes.

“However, they must undergo compulsory self-quarantine at home for 14 days.”

Sarawakians who returned from China in the last 14 days must also undergo self-quarantine at home.

Chinese nationals already in the state have been advised to report their whereabouts and places of stay to the Chinese consulate.

It is unfortunate that the spread of the coronavirus coincided with the Lunar New Year. What should have been a time of immense joy for millions of Chinese people has become a time of fear and panic. Let’s hope the virus would get eliminated or someone would come up with a cure soon.

A vaccine that stops infection would obviously be better than any treatment, but that is some way off.

“A vaccine would take at least a year, if not more,” says virologist Jonathan Ball at the University of Nottingham, UK.