While the world is making concerted effort to curb the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, events suddenly took an awkward twist on Tuesday April 28, 2020, when the United States’ President Donald Trump demanded compensation from China “for damages caused by coronavirus.” The compensation voice has risen to include Australia, some organizations and individuals, though differently, pointing accusing finger at China over its handling of the virus. Some have even sued China for what they described as its “deliberate deception and insufficient action to check the outbreak.”
If this turn of events on the reparation were left to succeed, it would not only damage what humanity stands for but our common history will be upturned while our love, sympathy and solidarity in which everyone and country are currently demonstrating will be questioned. This is not against China but humanity. This is because if one paid attention to the body of evidence on the human knowledge in scientific advancement, cooperation, qualities that make us human as well as the politicization and misinformation campaigns surrounding the covid-19, it is easy to conclude that such compensation claim is an affront to humankind.
With hindsight on historical records on plagues, no such claim had ever been made on their origin or spread such as the 1720 Great Plague of Marseille, 1793 Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever Outbreak, Russian Flu (1889/90), 1918 Spanish Flu, HIV/AIDS, 2003 SARS, MERS, Swine Flu, Dengue and Lassa Fever and Ebola. For instance, the government of Marseille did not ask for reparation from the Turkish whose national brought the infection into its ship that killed the city’s 50,000 people out of 90,000 population. Likewise, no one was held liable for the Spanish Flu (the most severe pandemic) caused by HINS virus with genes of avian origin that infected over 500 million people worldwide.
Civilizations have been battling virus throughout human evolution and learned a lot along the way. In the case of covid-19, it was not only China that has repeatedly explained to the world how it originated, but the World Health Organization (WHO) and renowned scientists in the US, Europe and Asia have validated the Chinese statement based on their longstanding collaborative activities.
According to WHO in constant statements since the outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, a virus could have come from anywhere in the world. Also while tracing the pandemic source on his CNN programme on Sunday 26 April, Fareed Zakaria interviewed one of the world’s famous virus specialists, an American Peter Daszak (a Virus Hunter), President, EcoHealth Allianceand has worked extensively with Chinese scientists in the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s laboratory on origins of viruses. Daszak described the head of the lab, Ms Shi Zhengli as “an excellent virologist” with whom he has worked with for 15 years. He stated that most of the coronaviruses, which infected about seven million people annually, are usually found around the Chinese borders and originated from the wildlife especially bats.
On covid-19, Daszak said, though “there is a broad consensus that it came from a bat in human wet market” a few miles away from the controversial laboratory, but “we may never know where it originated.” But he said openness and transparency have been there since China discovered the disease by sharing the genome sequence of the virus.
Other virologists, while alluding to the view, rejected the conspiracy theory that the novel coronavirus was created in a Chinese lab including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the American National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In his analysis published in Nature Medicinein mid-March, “studies of the virus’ genome have strongly indicated that it was transmitted from an animal to a human. We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.” Most of these experts have expressed their surprise that the covid-19 is now being politicized, evidence that it would soon encounter a conundrum. This is what Jovan Byford, a conspiracy theory expert said on anyone who engages critically with the phenomenon.
One can postulate that the compensation’s demand by Trump administration came out of strong criticism he is facing from the Democratic lawmakers and public health experts over its handling of the pandemic. He had in the beginning of the virus spread downplayed the threat that has now claimed more than 67,000 deaths and over one million infected cases as at the first week of May. He has also been accused of scapegoating China and WHO to deflect from his own failures. Interestingly, he had earlier in February 2020 praised President Xi Jinping for his handling of the disease.
In deed, China with a 1.4 billion population has demonstrated more effective approach in controlling the Covid-19. It has been able to flatten the curve by imposing what the WHO calls “bold approaches.” To discerning mind, all compensation statements point to Trump’s re-election strategy coming up in November this year. Thus demanding recompense for a genuine scientific and moral declaration could not only be portrayed as unprecedented step but also irrational, unethical and preposterous, and therefore should be rejected for the sake of humanity.
Furthermore, the US Intelligence Department leading investigations into the theory has said there was no evidence yet that the Covid-19 is a concocted virus. Neither President Trump showed any evidence that the virus came out of the Wuhan lab. China had rejected the allegation of a cover up. It has cooperated with the WHO and has not foreclosed any genuine international findings to ascertain how covid-19 originated.
Le Yucheng, China’s Executive Vice Foreign Minister told NBC News in an interview that Trump’s demands are ‘preposterous’ and present a ‘political farce.’ He added, ‘Asking China to make reparations for these kind of claims – they have no legal basis. There is no international law that supports blaming a country for simply being the first to report a disease.’ In its opinion, The Conversation (a South Africa-based media group) advises the world to rely on common sense to unravel the question about the origins of the coronavirus. This is because the international investigation team being advanced by western groups might run into a tricky problem that lacks clearly defined parameters. The bogus investigation of Iraqi nuclear weapon and its invasion by the western allies are still fresh. The New York Times (May 1st) has also warned that the pressure to blame China for the pandemic “could distort assessments about the coronavirus.” According to the paper, “Scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus say the overwhelming probability is that it leapt from animal to human in a nonlaboratory setting, as was the case with H.I.V., Ebola and SARS.”
Crucially, what the world requires most amid the coronavirus crisis is leadership and not the fault lines the compensation claims are generating. According to Fareed Zakaria, Germany’s Angela Merkel is providing exemplary leadership in the way she’s coordinating the country and Europe’s prevention strategies. This has fetched Merkel a 79% approval rating. The growing claims can potentially damage the qualities that make us human and tests our morality and civilization.
The world should also be wary of the misinformation campaign surrounding the reparation demand. The Trump administration’s recent opposition and smeared campaign against the launch of 5G technologies in which China premiered indicates so. The arrest of Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei’s daughter, Meng Wanzhou, in Canada in 2018 at the request of US is an example of the prejudice. Today, a number of the European countries have started upgrading their system to 5G and thereby ignoring the US’ warning.
In a similar vein was the criticism of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday April 30 over South Africa and Qatar’s acceptance of doctors from Cuba to battle the coronavirus. If one remembers the rise of Germany in the 19thCentury, the rise of the US in the 19thCentury and the subsequent rise of Germany in the 20thCentury, one would validate the argument that the compensation proposal is part of the challenge to China’s rising to power status.
But more importantly, coronavirus will be over, but what will be left is our generosity and empathy that will go a long way in ameliorating the harmful effects of the pandemic. The British Prime minister, Boris Johnson, in his first public speech after recovery from the disease said, “we are throwing everything at it, our hearts and souls.” The pandemic offers us a sense of common humanity and time we come together to find common remedy. In this huge challenge to curb the pandemic, it is our collective responsibility that will turn the tide of reparation calls.
Likewise, if this onslaught were allowed to succeed it would show the world has lost faith in the political, economic and social order that we evolved. Equally, it may disallow humanity to learn from the cradle of the pandemic in order to prevent its reoccurrence. Now is the time we should out of altruism be extending unconditional love to one another and not to bully. President Trump and others should therefore freeze their accusations and stop doubling down on their claims. It is when the world humanizes and not politicizes the tragedy of the covid-19 pandemic that our compassion, support and solidarity will mitigate its impact and coordinate global efforts at discovering effective vaccines for the coronavirus as quickly as possible.
Babatunde, PhD, is a fellow at the Nigeria’s Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja.