With over 3,00,000 lives lost across the world and over 500,000 afflicted cases, and the figures still swelling, the COVID-19 outbreak is bound to evoke global outrage bordering on panic. Who or what triggered this pandemic which could lead the world into recession on a worse scale than in 2009 and cripple everyday life for billions to a frightening degree is a question exercising the minds of multitudes everywhere.
Inevitably, there are several conspiracy stories doing the rounds and the finger of suspicion points towards China whose Wuhan city was the epicentre for the epidemic, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified as a pandemic as it escalated.
If the origin was a chemical leak from a laboratory in Wuhan it would have been dismissed as an accident, however bizarre, but imputations that it was a deliberate act on the part of the Chinese authorities to spread mayhem in the world and to derive unfair benefits for China, cannot be brushed aside with even US President Trump imputing such motives. The fact that the Chinese Government tried to suppress the attempts of the whistleblowers (the insiders as well as eight doctors), who tried to warn the public of the pandemic, is rather alarming and didn’t help their cause.
It reinforced the belief that the Chinese are secretive to the core and cannot be easily trusted. While the rumours of the Chinese cover-up are unsubstantiated, there is a distinctly growing line of thinking that while the pandemic struck China first, it was largely kept under wraps so that the rest of the world may suffer grievously. Strangely, while coronavirus spread worldwide, China’s capital Beijing and its commercial hub Shanghai were largely unaffected.
The Internet was brimming with conspiracies about the coronavirus, and, perhaps, one of the most prominent ones was that the virus could be a bio-weapon. According to a media report a group of Chinese scientists in Canada was accused of spying and was stripped of their access to Canada’s National Microbiology Lab (NML) which is known to work on some of the most deadly pathogens. Let us face it. Scientists have so far failed to determine with any degree of finality the origin of COVID-19 but there is intense speculation that the virus originated in the seafood market of Wuhan.
This has been borne out by reports from Chinese health authorities and the World Health Organisation which said that ‘most cases’ had links to the seafood market, which was closed on January 1 last amid widespread fears. Some experts say the virus could have originated from Wuhan, Institute of Virology, which houses China’s only level-four bio-safety laboratory (the highest-level classification of labs that study the deadliest viruses).
There is also intense speculation, mainly online, about the connection between 5G and coronavirus. Significantly, China turned on some of its 5G networks in November and it is being surmised that a link with the virus could be a possibility. But there is nothing to substantiate this thought process. Some health professionals have been comparing the outbreak to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak which happened in 2003.
Scientists argued that while COVID-19 is more contagious it is less deadly. Experts say the mortality rate for coronavirus is 2.3 per cent while for SARS it was a massive 9.6 per cent. But this is little consolation because the figures are constantly swelling. While the world at large is surprised that new cases in China are tapering off, it cannot be overlooked that China, being the epicentre of the virus was the first to feel the onslaught of the pandemic.
Besides, the Chinese are masters in covering up and they could well be under-quoting the new cases since they are in the process of reviving industry and trade and reestablishing confidence in their system and processes. Amid the unleashing of a trade war on China by the US under President Trump and the Chinese anointment of Xi Jinping as a lifetime President, USChina relations have reached their lowest point.
Mutual suspicions are therefore a natural consequence. There is indeed a fierce blame game on with Trump calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” while senior Chinese officials and state media have incredibly pushed the theory that the U.S. created the virus and planted it in China during world winter games in Wuhan last year. On behalf of the US it can be said, however, that had China not hidden the fact of the emergence and ferocity of coronavirus, and earlier of the SARS epidemic in 2003, many, many lives could have been saved through corrective action. By exposing the world at large to the deadly virus, the Chinese are guilty of contributing to infecting people all over.
Indeed, the rivalry and mudslinging between the two world powers is causing incalculable damage to humans around the globe. Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, went on to say recently that if experts would have had those two months to get ahead of the spread of the virus, “we could have dramatically curtailed what happened both in China and what's now happening across the world.” All said and done, the world needs to get to the root of the emergence and spread of this unfortunate affliction.
The motives that Trump and some others are attributing to China may or may not be true but a thorough, impartial probe is called for. Contrary to claims of China bouncing back and having the last laugh, World Bank has predicted that the Chinese economy has been hit hard and that China is heading for a zero growth rate. On balance, it is a frightening scenario worldwide and the recession threat is no exaggeration. The writer is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.