China's anti-pandemic efforts deserve objective and fair judgement
14 May 2020 | Columns
The Covid-19 outbreak has dragged the human race into an unprecedented and fierce war with a highly infectious disease on a global scale.
Led and guided by President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government set up an open and transparent national system for collective outbreak control in the shortest possible time by swiftly taking the most rigorous, comprehensive and thorough measures.
After more than three months of hard work, China has achieved great success in the fight against the coronavirus with local transmission basically cut off. On 8 May, there was only one new infected case and two suspected cases in China, all of which were imported. As of midnight on 8 May, China reported 176 confirmed cases under treatment and an accumulative 82 887 confirmed cases, along with 4 633 deaths.
Despite the defence net China has built up with determination, unity and sacrifice, this dangerous disease has evolved into a worldwide pandemic.
At present, the number of confirmed cases outside China has exceeded 3.6 million. Facing the increasingly severe global anti-pandemic situation, China is making every effort to provide the international community with assistance and share its anti-pandemic experience.
However, some politicians in Western countries are not focusing on tackling the coronavirus outbreak, but are keen to politicise the pandemic by scapegoating and stigmatising China. Some of them labelled China with the virus or befouled China as hiding the truth, and some are even clamouring for claims and compensation from China.
It is clear that they are buck-passing their own failure by blaming others. Referring to the virus as a Chinese virus, peddling the theory of Chinese responsibility or clamouring for compensation from China is ridiculous hocus-pocus for all rational persons.
This slander is merely framing, political blackmail and manipulation with legal cover, which is full of de facto mischief, legal ignorance and political prejudice.
Virus not man-made
There is no scientific evidence to support the so-called 'virus made in China' theory and the hoax of Wuhan Virus Research Institute creating the virus. Those are all ill-intentioned false accusations. In fact, the source of the coronavirus is a scientific issue that deserves research and demonstration by scientists and medical experts. The joint statement published in the prestigious medical magazine, The Lancet, by internationally authoritative medical experts pointed out that Covid-19 had originated from nature and is not man-made. China is just a victim of this disease.
On 1 May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) held a routine media conference during which Dr Michael Ryan, the executive director of WHO, was questioned about whether the new coronavirus came from the Wuhan Virus Research Institute. He answered that many scientists had studied the virus gene sequence and had been convinced that it is indeed from nature. The origin of the virus still needs to be verified. No matter what the truth will be, it is meaningless to blame a certain country. What we need the most now is unity, solidarity and to fight together.
China has paid a huge price and successfully contained the epidemic, and thus won time for the world and contributed to the global fight. China's efforts should be fairly evaluated, rather than it suffering blame or unreasonable claims. The intention of demanding reparations is nothing but shifting blame to China for the inadequate response of someone else.
The subtext of befouling China to hide the truth is that the Chinese government knew the danger of Covid-19, but took a non-transparent stance on purpose, which is not true. As we now know, the coronavirus is a new virus and time is needed to scientifically assess its properties, transmission mechanisms and perniciousness. At the initial stage of the outbreak, there was no scientific evidence to show its infectivity and fatality.
On 27 December 2019, China received an unknown case report from Wuhan. China released the first pandemic notice and reported it to the WHO office in China on 31 December. Since 3 January 2020, China has been updating the WHO and relevant countries, including the United States, about Covid-19 on a regular basis.
On 12 January, China released the whole genome sequencing of the coronavirus, and on 20 January, China confirmed human-to-human transmission and shared it with the whole world.
On 23 January, on the eve of the Spring Festival, the most important traditional festival in China, China put Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, under quarantine. At that time, there were 571 confirmed cases in China and only 10 cases abroad. On 30 January, the WHO announced it as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), and there were only 82 confirmed cases outside China at the time.
On 23 February, one month after the lockdown of Wuhan, the US reported 35 cases, and except for the 76 cases in Italy, most European countries had not reported any cases at that time.
In fact, the Chinese government took decisive steps to stop the spread of the virus immediately after confirming the outbreak, which won a precious time window of at least a month for the international community to respond to the epidemic. Unfortunately, some countries did not realise the seriousness of the epidemic and failed to take precautionary measures in a timely manner.
Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said: “We knew in the last week of January that this was coming. The message from China was absolutely clear, but some countries wasted the whole of February and early March before they acted.”
Namibia's response trumps many Western countries
At the end of February, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that “no country should assume it won't get cases; that could be a fatal mistake”, while a certain American politician was burbling: “It's going to disappear. One day - it's like a miracle - it will disappear”. By contrast, Namibia adopted a completely different approach. After the first case was confirmed on 14 March, the Namibian government immediately declared a state of national emergency, and took decisive and forceful measures, such as imposing a lockdown and social distancing. No new cases were reported for more than 30 consecutive days since the report of the 16th case, and no deaths and community transmission have occurred. It can be said that Namibia has done a much better job than many Western countries, demonstrating the Namibian government's high sense of responsibility to protect people's lives and health. As we all know, according to international law, in the premise of a country assuming “state responsibility”, the country must admit to conducting “international wrongful acts”. Has China committed an international wrongful act? The answer is definitely no. The Covid-19 epidemic is a global public health emergency, which is legally considered a “force majeure”. There has never been a precedent in international practice that the country first affected by an epidemic should assume “state responsibility”. To date, no one has required a certain country to be responsible for and compensate for a pandemic such as H1N1, HIV Aids or mad cow disease. In 2009, the H1N1 flu first broke out in the United States and spread to 214 countries and regions, causing nearly 200 000 deaths. The United States has been confirmed as the source of the virus. Has anyone asked the United States to compensate for that? Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, China has acted in an open, transparent and responsible manner, and has tried its best to curb the spread. The so-called Chinese cover-up or nonfeasance does not exist. China actively carried out international cooperation. The measures taken in notification, prevention and control were fast, transparent and effective, many of which go well beyond the requirements of international health regulations.
Regarding China's early response to the epidemic, the WHO expert team visited China and submitted a comprehensive report, appraising China's response.
Dr Ghebreyesus has repeatedly stated that “the high speed and massive scale of China's moves are rarely seen in the world”. China has been working closely with the WHO and its prevention and control measures, diagnosis and treatment plans are emulated by other countries.
What should China answer for?
China has sent 15 batches of medical experts to 16 countries to help fight Covid-19 and has been working day and night to produce anti-epidemic materials for the world. What should China answer for? On the contrary, those countries saying that the coronavirus is just a common flu amounts to a cover-up. Claiming the virus will disappear like a miracle is in fact nonfeasance.
This virus is the enemy of the whole human race. It does not respect borders or races.
To defeat the virus, mankind needs to choose confidence over panic, unity over division and cooperation over scapegoating. The Chinese people will never forget the heart-warming help from the international community. To reciprocate the goodwill we received, China has actively contributed to global the anti-epidemic fight through a coordinated response, sharing experience and material support, on the basis of persevering domestic prevention and control work and actively fulfilling its own anti-epidemic responsibilities.
Justice naturally inhabits man's heart. No one could discredit or distort the facts and truth that China has responded to the coronavirus in a timely, responsible and effective manner, and that history will give its objective and impartial verdict.
*Zhang Yiming is the Chinese ambassador to Namibia