Beijing must answer some hard questions on Covid-19
With reports emerging that the first case of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) was detected in China as early as November 17, 2019, Beijing should reveal more information about the virus behind the global health scourge. The world economy has come to a virtual standstill, and people are forced to live in isolation, largely because one of the most powerful countries in the world either chose to be in denial or actively muzzled information in the initial stages.
As some confusion lingers over the exact nature and origin of the disease, a Chinese government spokesperson last week appeared to blame the US military for the spread of contagion, immediately attracting diplomatic retaliation from the US State Department. Though many in China and other places have now said the spokesperson spoke out of turn, official communiques in the country are known to have a sanction from the Xi Jinping regime.
In any case, for prevention, the world needs to know the exact source of this contagion. The total number of affected are heading towards 165,000 with more than 6,000 deaths, and the virus has spread to large communities in Italy, France, Germany and Spain.
The Chinese response to coronavirus was in two phases. First, it appeared to live in denial despite the numbers mounting in Hubei province late last year, and clamped down on contrarian voices.
This may have led to people from other countries getting affected and carrying the contagion to their countries of origin. The second phase was after China realised that it could not control the spread, and so it opened data and specifics of the disease to the world while locking down its own communities.
Professor K VijayRaghavan, principal scientific adviser to Narendra Modi government, told HT that the world has learnt two things from the Chinese responses to the virus. “Acknowledgement of a potential problem is best done speedily. China could, perhaps, have acted better, earlier. Second, act speedily to identify, test, contain, and manage. Hubei and China have done well here. India has analysed this and scenarios from other countries such as Iran, Italy, US and UK etc,” he said.
The former head of National Centre for Biological Sciences added: “ The health ministry, ICMR and the Central and state governments in general have been constantly analysing the global and national situation, and taking decisions based on best science and public health practices. This can help “flatten” the intensity over the time, allowing systems to effectively deliver to most needy and vulnerable, he said.
Given India’s weak health infrastructure, PM Modi, with foreign minister S Jaishankar and the para-military chiefs, have been involved in the health ministry’s response right from the start.
According to top experts, while the cure of the disease may be found in about a year, the best way out is to flatten its impact by controlling community spreads through social distancing. Virologists all over the world are meanwhile trying to tweak existing anti-viral drugs to see if they can control the coronavirus. Others are trying to develop new drugs so that they can scale up the production much faster, if proven successful.
We must remember that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) first appeared in November 2002 in the Guangdong province of southern China, affecting 8,000 people, with the source again linked to transmission from animals. Two decades later, it’s time Beijing answers some hard questions.