Even the most non-judgmental, dispassionate and apolitical amongst us must have at some point cursed China for the current horrific state of affairs.
What if Beijing had acted responsibly right at the start of the outbreak instead of covering up?
It is said that the Chinese doctor who first noticed the highly contagious virus which looked like Sars and alerted authorities about its virulence was silenced immediately. He died in February after contracting the novel coronavirus himself while treating patients.
Had his warning, sent out to fellow medics as early as 30 December 2019, taken seriously, maybe the fallout from COVID-19 wouldn’t have been so catastrophic. Maybe, there wouldn’t be a fallout at all and our 21st century lives would have gone on as usual.
Alas, that wasn’t the case!
The virus escaped from its initial epicentre of Wuhan and gripped the most populous nation in the world in no time. And even as China grappled to control it, other countries not just in Asia, but also in Europe started reporting their first cases. Far flung continents of north and south America didn’t emerge unscathed either.
Soon enough COVID-19 devolved into a pandemic that completely paralysed life all over the world. Locked indoors, we watched helplessly as the novel pathogen took down one nation after another by infecting lakhs (sometimes even millions), killing thousands and sending economies into a tizzy.
Against this scenario of gloom and doom, as authorities struggled to get things under control, predictably enough a blame game began.
Very much in headlines for it is the US President Donald Trump, who termed the novel coronavirus as the Chinese virus and blamed the Chinese authorities for failing to report the imminent danger on time. Recently, he even went to the extent of suggesting that the pathogen was engineered in a biological lab in Wuhan from where it escaped, despite investigation by the US scientific and intelligence communities stating otherwise.
The jabberwocky, to be sure, doesn’t give him a clean chit ahead of the 2020 US presidential election. He is as much culpable for his nation’s predicament as China.
The US spy agencies operating in China had warned the Trump administration of the killer virus well in advance, but it did nothing other than banning travel from the Asian nation. There was little effort to develop sophisticated mass testing kits to identify COVID-19 cases, if any, and ramp up production of hospital equipment and personal protective equipment in case if it exploded.
Instead, policymakers downplayed it as a distant threat even as Europe, which had emerged as the new epicentre, imported cases quietly to the US – New York particularly.
And by the time the government woke up to the severity of the situation, restrict travel altogether and shutter everything, things were way beyond control.
Most other EU nations remained equally blasé about COVID-19 for far too long, till it hit like a meteor pushing their well-equipped healthcare system to a breaking point. By not closing their economies in time and not going for aggressive testing measures like South Korea, they ended up paying a heavy price.
The World Health Organisation, the international body in charge of advising nations on handling health crises, is not be absolved either. It simply acted as a mouthpiece of China in the first two months when it should have recognized the danger looming large. On 14 January the international body tweeted that initial investigations by the Chinese authorities showed “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the new strain of coronavirus.
It took another whole week for the WHO to realise the massive health challenge and declare a global emergency. By the time it announced COVID-19 a pandemic, another month and a half had gone. A timely, effective warning from the organisation could have prevented mass deaths and exponentially rising infections.
Not one to take things lying down, and also to deflect the blame, Trump has already declared halting of funding to the WHO.
But where is all these taking us? Clearly, further downhill.
Instead of acknowledging their mistakes and learning from it to prevent a second wave of COVID-19, world leaders are engaging in a blame game. Petty politics is dictating reopening of various countries and this can prove to be even more damaging.