Tarnishing WHO's mission can't heal Western woes

2021-02-02 12:09:28

The emblem of WHO. [Photo/Agencies] A year after the novel coronavirus pandemic broke out, efforts to control the spread of the virus have yielded uneven results around the world. China, however, has largely contained the epidemic, creating a relatively safe environment. And although sporadic coronavirus clusters have been reported in some parts of the country, the authorities have worked out ways to prevent large-scale outbreaks. China's fight against the pandemic has not come without a cost. The country's economy contracted by 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 due to lockdowns and other strict measures to check the spread after the virus was first detected in Wuhan, with the city and its parental province of Hubei being the most affected. But with the government taking rigorous measures in the initial stages, both Wuhan and Hubei started retuning to normal after a couple of months. And with production and other economic activities resuming throughout the country in second half of last year, China, against all odds, achieved 2.3 percent growth for the year 2020. Compared with the performance of the rest of the world, China, despite facing a devastating pandemic, has contained the virus as well as safeguarded the lives and livelihoods of the people thanks to the government's competence and efficiency. Many experts thought the industrialized economies were better equipped to contain the pandemic, because of their advanced healthcare systems and medical resources. To the surprise of the world, that was not the case. Almost all major Western countries are still struggling to contain the pandemic, with the United States being the worst hit. By now across the world the pandemic has claimed more than 2 million lives. In the US alone, there are about 25 million cases and more than 430,000 deaths. In the United Kingdom, there are about 2.5 million cases, with over 87,000 deaths. A 13-member team of World Health Organization experts, after completing a two-week quarantine on Thursday in Wuhan, began their scientific study of the source of the virus origin. Part of their study involves abandoning all preconceived notions about how the virus evolved and spread, and to look at what the evidence says, and proceed from there. As early as Jan 3, 2020 Chinese officials provided information to WHO on the cluster of cases of "viral pneumonia of unknown cause" identified in Wuhan. It was on Jan 20, 2020, that China announced the novel coronavirus is contagious. In February 2020, a report by an earlier WHO team in China had said that "key knowledge gaps remain" about the virus. This is a very important development in the world of medical science, and through such cooperation with, especially with UN bodies and other countries, China has been shouldering its responsibility as a major country. Not to mention it shared the results of the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus with the WHO and other countries, so as to help the world check the spread of the virus. And lest we forget China sent 30 updates to the US administration on the outbreak situation between Jan 3 and Feb 3 last year. The new US administration should take note of China's regular briefings last year — and American journalists can use the US' Freedom of Information Act to get access to this set of crucial information and go through it before blaming China for "mishandling" the outbreak in the initial stage. Despite such positive developments, however, some Western media outlets have been arguing again that China initially covered up the epidemic's details last year. But now that the WHO team has started its study it would be prudent to wait for the outcome. The WHO team's mission is to conduct a joint research on the origin of the virus; it doesn't have the mandate to ascertain who is guilty. Nevertheless, this inquiry is an opportunity to understand in depth how the local authorities responded to the public health crisis. Such information will help understand the details of the outbreak and scientifically trace the origin and host of the virus. It is, however, necessary to emphasize that the novel coronavirus is also suspected of have emerged in some other places in the world, and it is the WHO's job to identify such places and send its expert teams, possibly including Chinese scientists, to conduct similar studies to trace the origin and path of the spread of the virus. New US President Joe Biden, in line with WHO rules, has vowed to not stigmatize any country or region as the place of origin of the virus, and hopefully, the US federal government will not use offensive terms to refer to the novel coronavirus. China welcomes the new US administration's move to correct its predecessor's mistakes, and asks the Western media to think before speaking, and stop branding a country for the spread of the virus to cover up the mistakes of some Western governments. The author is a professor at and former executive dean of the Institute of International Studies,Fudan University. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.