You can do a lot to protect yourself by using hand hygiene, cough etiquette and staying home if you have a fever.

– Rebecca, writer and artist

By M Rajah

These days I am wary of people coughing and sneezing, what with the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic worldwide. I just turn away and scurry off. People may say I am rude or paranoid, but I don’t give two hoots what they think.

Covid-19 has infected more than 49,000 worldwide, excluding China. The latest figures for China alone at the point of writing this piece stand at 68,000 infected patients and 1,665 deaths.

Despite all the precautionary measures, the disease is not slowing down. Experts say it might take at least six months before it shows signs of abatement. 

In Malaysia, authorities have reported 22 cases, most of them foreigners. Fortunately, there are no confirmed cases in Sarawak though there have been reports of suspected cases.

Talking about those who do not take measures to shield others from their coughs and sneezes, these people are a nuisance and a danger to anyone nearby.

They could infect a whole lot of us — all because they don’t take the trouble to use their blinking hankies! Even when one is perfectly healthy, it’s important to practise proper cough and sneeze etiquette.

Recently, I was on board a flight returning home from Kuala Lumpur. Seated behind me next to the emergency exit was a twenty-something woman. With her were an elderly couple — the parents, I think.

That’s not the issue. The problem was she was sneezing like nobody’s business, and occasionally coughing too. I could see through the gap in between the seats that she was not wearing a mask. Nor was she using a handkerchief to cover her nose.

She was sneezing non-stop. I could see the other passengers weren’t too happy but they didn’t do or say anything. Well, at least they could have advised her.  They didn’t bother. Perhaps they thought it was none of their business.

Just 20 minutes into the flight, I lost my cool. I stood up, looked over the seat and sternly, but politely, told her to have the decency to get hold of a hankie. I even offered to give mine if she hadn’t one.

What happened next shook me to the core. She gave me that look; I mean if looks could kill, I’d have dropped dead right then.

What came next was another shocker.

“Why you care, huh! I also pay (I guess she was referring to the fare). You not happy, you sit over there (pointing to an empty seat a few rows away).”

I was lost for words. At that moment I felt like opening the emergency exit and forcibly ejecting her mid-air. The elderly couple next to her looked nonchalant.

“Please-lah, lady! You are going to infect everyone with your cold and flu, or whatever,” I retorted.

The flight attendant saw us arguing and defused the situation. He went back to his corner and returned with a mask, demanding her that she wear it.

Thanks, Shafiq (the crew member). But I guess you or your colleagues should have acted much earlier.  The damage was done.

Anyway, after we landed, I saw a doctor as a precaution. Weeks have passed and I am okay. Thank God.

Anyway, let’s make it our duty, especially during this crucial time, to educate our family members, relatives, friends and colleagues on the practice of good cough and sneeze etiquette.

Good etiquette means adopting measures to minimise the chance of someone else catching your cold or flu when you cough or sneeze.  The measures that I picked up from the Internet include but not limited to the following:

  • Cover your mouth and nose every time you cough or sneeze (at all times, not only when you think you are sick).
  • Use a disposable tissue if possible.
  • If a cough or sneeze sneaks up on you and no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve. This prevents your hands becoming contaminated with viruses.
  • Dispose of single-use tissues immediately. Try to ensure a waste bin is available so that tissues can be disposed of (e.g. if you’re in bed with the flu, put a bin beside your bed so you don’t have to get up to throw your contaminated tissues away).
  • If there is no bin, use a plastic bag to store contaminated tissues until a bin is available.
  • If you cough or sneeze onto a hard surface like a desk or telephone, clean it immediately with a disposable disinfectant wipe to remove the cold and flu germs.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15–20 seconds every time you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands every time you touch a contaminated object like a tissue.
  • If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitisers. These products are also effective in removing cold and flu germs from contaminated hands.

The next time you are not feeling well, and sneezing or coughing up a storm, think of your family members and friends — and the general public. Adopt the simple measures that I have listed.

Don’t forget your poor colleagues. Go on MC and stay at home and have a good rest. But don’t be seen at the movies or caught shopping with your family.