Why can we not ONLY blame China for the spread of the coronavirus?
In the wake of the pandemic, the world leaders and media organizations are calling out China as solely responsible for the spread of the coronavirus. With the number of cases touching three million and over two hundred thousand deaths globally, the sentiment to blame China is understandable.
This novel strain of coronavirus, whose official name is SARS-CoV-2, causing COVID-19 originated in Hubei province in China in December 2019. There have been multiple reports that the Chinese Communist Party silenced the early warnings by the doctors in Wuhan. They issued admonishment to about eight doctors in January 2020. It took the Chinese government three more weeks to impose lockdowns. The first was imposed in Wuhan on January 23, 2020, and eventually, the country went into lockdown on February 2, 2020.
China has been a super economy for quite some time now. As per the 2018 report published by the United Nations Statistical Division, China is responsible for over 28% of the world's manufacturing. It is by far more than the second-largest manufacturing country - the United States of America (16%). Acknowledging the pandemic of any sort would have been a severe threat to the Chinese economy. This was proven right as China's economy shrank 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019.
This being said, no reason can justify silencing the doctors and keeping the world dark for three weeks about a possible deadly virus. I think China is definitely responsible for the initiation of this pandemic and undoubtedly responsible for the loss (in terms of both lives and economy) in their country.
But is China alone to be blamed for the scale the virus has affected the world?
Let's take a look at the timeline, the world's most affected countries imposed.
(*The dates are the earliest dates the countries imposed any measures of the lockdown or social distancing in some states. It does not indicate the whole country being shutdown)
The data above clearly indicates that no leader in the country took the effects of virus seriously before their citizens started dying in numbers.
On February 3, 2020, 12 days after China imposed the lockdown, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, gave a speech on Brexit. He reshuffled his cabinet on February 13, 2020, and then left for a 12-day vacation. In early March, when the countries were starting to exercise caution, Boris Johnson gave a speech, in which he claimed to continue shaking hands. One week later, he was diagnosed with the virus and almost died.
The US president, Mr. Trump, has repeatedly called the virus "hoax." Throughout January and February, he did what he does best - gave speeches to big crowds, played golf, and tweeted. At a campaign rally in late February, he labeled the virus as a hoax created by his opposition. A few weeks later, the US was the epicenter of the virus with the most number of cases. Till today, the country has not imposed lockdowns and social distancing measures in all states. The country, with almost one-third of the cases, is now talking of reopening the economy.
Similar ignorance was shown by leaders of Italy, Iran, Spain before taking any definitive measures. The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, still downplays the severity of the virus by calling it "measly cold." The healthcare systems of all the countries were put to the test and have failed miserably. The world leaders who, at first, nonchalantly dismissed the virus, now are blaming their health departments.
An argument could be made that these countries did not see a large number of cases early on. But this is not the first pandemic the world is facing. The world has seen these outbreaks of coronavirus since 1918. Even if we were to blame lack of medical preparedness, during the Spanish flu a century back, we have seen SARS and MERS outbreak in recent times. The group of researchers, responsible for discovering new zoonotic viruses (the viruses which can be transmitted from animals to humans), reported a new virus RatG13 in bats. They deemed it low risk. The decoding of SARS-CoV-2 shows a 96% overlap with the RatG13 virus. We know that the virus mutates when it transmits from animals to humans, we now know how deadly the 4% change can be.
The virus has been threatening human lives for centuries now. The silencing of doctors, dismissing of the threat, lack of preparedness to respond even after previous experiences, prove that we collectively are to blame for this pandemic.
Blaming one country alone for unleashing pandemic, will help win trade wars and brownie points with the voters. But it will also make sure this will happen again in the next five, ten, twenty years. It will boost another plague, which has been haunting us for centuries - racism. The sanctions of any kind, isolating China, might lead us to other wars.
Instead, learning from this tragedy and working to avoid a repeat in the future is a better solution. The mutation of the virus cannot be controlled. The outbreaks of new diseases cannot be controlled. But we can control the scale of these outbreaks and stop them from becoming pandemic. I believe our world has enough medical expertise to make sure we are proactive and not reactive. Let's be prepared to respond faster and better the next time these viruses decide to attack us.