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  • Hamsini Hariharan

Do onion uthappams cure Coronavirus?

This article first appeared in CNBC TV-18 on February 03, 2020 and can be accessed here.

I was hiking in Yunnan when the confusion about coronavirus blew up. All the shops were sold out of surgical masks. One night, while I was picking up supplies at a grocery store, they luckily stocked up on masks: yellow, purple, patterned with ice-creams and clouds. “Were these even the masks we needed?” I asked my friend. We didn’t know but ee ended up buying a pack of ten masks each. The store was sold out of masks in fifteen minutes. 

By the time I returned to Beijing, wechat groups were buzzing with advice and information. Here is a sample of what’s on Chinese social media: planes will be disinfecting cities, snow and pets can be infected with the new virus, the city of Beijing will be quarantined, a plethora of DIY videos on homemade masks, and cures for the virus including (but not limited to) red wine, garlic water, aspirin, strawberries hot baths and paediatric urine. 

Beijing generally empties out during Spring Festival but coronavirus made it so that roads would have hardly one other person walking through (a rare sight in a city of 20 million people). Temple festivals were cancelled, as were events and any gatherings of people. Temperature checks became a regular feature of life. When I flew back to India (a day before Hong Kong announced that it would halve flights from Beijing), a woman chided another passenger for not wearing a mask.  

Fears and misinformation within China are understandable but the Indian counterpart is far worse. From pepper rasam to onion uthappams to homeopathy (backed by the Ministry of Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, no less), Indians have spun their own concoctions on how to deal with the epidemic. For its part, the Indian administration has risen to the occasion with the evacuation of two batches of Indian citizens (and seven Maldivians) who were unable to leave Wuhan. Health check and quarantining of passengers from East and South East Asia led to the detection of the two cases of the virus in India. The suspension of e-visas for Chinese travellers, while following the global trend does not bode well as a confidence-building measure. (for which it was instituted). Meanwhile, Indian internet is spewing racism (and casteism) through hashtags such as NoMeat_NoCoronavirus.

Accounts of racism against Chinese people has been evident in countries all over the world particularly in light of the virus. The assumption that Chinese people contract diseases because they eat wild and exotic meats is racist and creates a norm for what meats are “normal”. We already live in a country that is prejudiced against anyone who does not fit an Indian ideal and is obsessed with the ideas of purity. Couple this with a lack of knowledge and a relative sense of envy, and we have the perfect recipe for discrimination – one that has no place in a multicultural nation. These attitudes fuelling a torrent of misinformation to deal with the coronavirus outbreak (often with backing of influencers and the government) will only further complicate relations between India and China. 


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