The same energy that governments, the private sector, and citizens use to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as the coronavirus must be used to fight prejudice and stigma that affect individuals and groups in society.
La propagación del COVID-19 en decenas de países ha generado preocupaciones legítimas sobre salud pública a nivel mundial. Esas inquietudes deben propiciar iniciativas de protección, sin de ninguna manera traducirse en conductas prejuiciadas o hasta xenofóbicas.
The spread of COVID-19 in dozens of countries has generated legitimate global public health concerns. Those concerns should lead to protection initiatives but in no way translate into prejudiced or even xenophobic behavior.
We stand in solidarity with foreign citizens and residents in Puerto Rico and other parts of the world who are at risk of being victims of discrimination because cases of coronavirus have emerged in their home countries. Prejudiced expressions and behavior often feed on the irresponsible spread of misinformation about the virus. It is up to all of us to prevent any stigmatized expression from becoming usual, especially in our communities.
So far, the virus has spread to almost all continents, with the most incidence in Asia and Europe. China and Italy are the countries with the highest number of cases.
Cases confirmed in neighboring jurisdictions such as the Dominican Republic, St. Martin and St. Bartholomew, as well as in Florida and New York, with intense tourist, commercial, government and family interaction with the island, should open up opportunities for coordinated prevention strategies.
Fear and rejection are the basis for prejudice. In situations of outbreaks or epidemics, they hinder efforts to contain them and provide proper care to patients. Replacing accurate information with unfounded beliefs that lead to injustices against others only undermines prevention and response to the spread. We must urgently eradicate such attitudes.
Neither the coronavirus nor any other disease can be attributed to a national or ethnic origin. To do so would mean repeating old mistakes, when social stigmatization, fuelled by ignorance, replaced solidarity and left entire communities exposed to contagion.
An example of this was the "Spanish flu", which killed between 40 and 50 million people between 1918 and 1920 and is considered the most devastating pandemic in history. Subsequent studies indicated that the epidemic did not start in Spain, but in a military base in Kansas. However, since Spain was the only country that officially reported the existence of the disease – as Spain was neutral in World War I and didn't impose wartime censorship on its press unlike other countries involved in the war that did not want to undermine the morale of their troops - it was incorrectly pointedas responsible.
In similar situations, using official information sources - such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) - emerges as the mechanism to avoid misconceptions that could lead to discrimination.
Meanwhile, authorities must continue to strengthen their response to prevent coronavirus infections in Puerto Rico. The island is at Alert Level 3, which refers to prevention, communication, and guidance. From a perspective of calm and caution, it is necessary to continue activating the security protocols established by the CDC, monitoring the movement of passengers at the Luis Muñoz Marín airport and verifying the resources available in hospitals, among other measures.
In times of crisis, human beings tend to go out and give their best to those who need it, as we have demonstrated in Puerto Rico. We Puerto Ricans can continue to raise the flag of solidarity, closing the door to xenophobia and discrimination, while continuing to prevent the coronavirus from reaching our island.