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"Patience, Not Panic" - A Doctor's Plea For Reason Amidst COVID-19 Outbreak

"Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts. Our children will thank us for it."

Cover image via Abdu Sharkawy/Facebook Daily Mail

A post by an infectious disease specialist went viral after he shared a warning that people's exaggerated reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak could do more damage than the disease itself

Abdu Sharkawy of University of Toronto's Division of Infectious Disease took to his Facebook page on 6 March to clarify his biggest fear surrounding this epidemic - the implications of mass panic.

As a doctor for more than 20 years, Sharkawy said his job has taken him from city hospitals in Canada to the poorest slums of Africa, and he has seen people with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection, Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, and even Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

There is very little he has not been exposed to.

"And with the notable exception of SARS, very little has left me feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed, or downright scared," he said in a post that has been shared over a million times.

"I am not scared of COVID-19," Sharkawy wrote

Instead, he explained what scares him is the "loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic", where people have begun to stockpile "obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world".

"I am scared of the N95 masks that are stolen from hospitals and urgent care clinics where they are actually needed for front line healthcare providers and instead are being donned in airports, malls, and coffee lounges, perpetuating even more fear and suspicion of others."

"I am scared that our hospitals will be overwhelmed with anyone who thinks they 'probably don't have it but may as well get checked out no matter what because you just never know'."

And due to people like that, he is afraid that those with more serious diseases such as heart failure, emphysema, pneumonia, and strokes "will pay the price of overfilled emergency department waiting rooms with only so many doctors and nurses to assess".

Three women in Sydney, Australia were caught on video yelling, pushing, and fighting each other over a trolley full of toilet paper on 7 March.

Image via Daily Mail

Other than criticising actions by these individuals, Sharkawy warned of overcautious actions by governments, like limiting travel and trade, which would disrupt lives and economic growth

"I am scared that travel restrictions will become so far reaching that weddings will be cancelled, graduations missed, and family reunions will not materialise. And well, even that big party called the Olympic Games, that could be kiboshed too. Can you even imagine?" he questioned.

"I'm scared those same epidemic fears will limit trade, harm partnerships in multiple sectors - business and otherwise - and ultimately culminate in a global recession."

A sign that says face masks and hand sanitisers are sold out at a store in Central Jakarta.

Image via The Jakarta Post/Asia One

But most of all, he is afraid about the message we are telling our children when faced with a threat

"Instead of reason, rationality, openmindedness, and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary, and self-interested."

And the outbreak is "nowhere near over", he said.

"It will be coming to a city, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. Expect it. Stop waiting to be surprised further," he said, adding that the virus itself will not likely do much harm when it arrives.

"But our own behaviors and 'fight for yourself above all else' attitude could prove disastrous."

Shoppers in front of almost bare toilet paper shelves in a departmental store in Australia.

Image via Tracey Shelton/Al Jazeera

He urged his readers to "temper fear with reason, panic with patience, and uncertainty with education"

"Let's meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts, and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation, and catastrophising," he wrote.

"Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts. Our children will thank us for it."

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