‘The reckoning’: China and the virus blame game

Boys’ toys: Life beginning to return to the streets of Beijing yesterday. © Getty

Does China deserve to be blamed for Covid-19? As Western nations are brought to their knees, recriminations are mounting. The Chinese government is under fire as never before.

In a recent speech about the virus that is spreading across the world, President Donald Trump crossed out the word “Corona” and replaced it with the word “Chinese”.

Many saw this as a needlessly belligerent and borderline racist thing to do. Since the start of the outbreak, East Asians have faced indefensible abuse.

But critics of the abuse also say the Chinese government has a lot to answer for.

Yesterday, for example, the Daily Mail’s front page read: “No 10’s fury at China’s lies”, Former Tory Party leader Ian Duncan Smith called on the UK to rethink its relationship with the world’s most populous country.

The virus is believed to have come from a bat, and spread to a human via a pangolin. Both of these animals were being sold at a live food or wet market in Wuhan, China.

A 2019 article by Chinese academics had warned it was “highly likely that future [...] coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats”. But no action was taken and wet markets were allowed to operate.

Chinese scientists had identified the virus genome as early as 2 January, but did not share this vital information with the rest of the world for 10 days.

During that delay, a massive Chinese Lunar New Year banquet took place and millions were allowed to leave the city.

Does China deserve blame for Covid-19?

Fault lines

No. The virus knows no borders and knows no nationality. It does look like it started in China, but it was not deliberately unleashed. At a time when the world needs to come together to defeat a common enemy, blaming each other is an unhelpful distraction.

Yes. In the early days of the outbreak, the Chinese Communist Party lied about how much it knew and focused on silencing doctors instead of warning the world. China has also failed to regulate its wild food markets, which are believed to be behind this virus.

You Decide

  1. If you were a national leader, would you be looking to blame China?

Activities

  1. Get to know China by painting a cultural map of the country. Use your own key to include the major cities, rivers, regions, and monuments. Make it beautiful rather than trying to keep to scale.

Some People Say...

“Act decisively, China did – not against the virus, but against whistle-blowers who were trying to call attention to the public health threat.”

Nicholas D Kristof, US journalist and winner of two Pulitzer prizes

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The virus appears to have started in China. It was covered up for a while. Then China responded with the full force of its centralised state, enforced a strict quarantine of its citizens, built giant hospitals in days, and has wrestled the virus under control with great success. Now, it is making and exporting vital protective equipment for the West.
What do we not know?
Whether there is anything to be gained in the long run by blaming other countries once the crisis is over. We can imagine a national report card that says something like this – China: guilty of an early cover-up; Italy: guilty of a chaotic response; UK: guilty of changing tack after a month; USA: guilty of being far too lax. And so on. But is pointing the finger at various governments likely to make the world a safer place for next time? Perhaps. And perhaps not.

Word Watch

Belligerent
Angry, aggressive, obtuse, looking for a fight.
Populous
Having a large population.
Pangolin
Nocturnal, tree, or burrow-dwelling mammal also known as a “scaly anteater”. Its meat and scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Wet market
Food market where the animals are still alive and are killed fresh once they have been bought.
Academics
People who research and study topics in great depth, at university.
Genome
Genetic material, or the organic code of an organism.
Chinese Lunar New Year
Chinese festival that celebrates the beginning of a New Year on the traditional Chinese calendar
Unleashed
To cause (a strong or violent force) to be released or become uncontrolled.

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