Red herrings of the coronavirus narrative

The true narrative of the coronavirus should state that the virus originated in the seafood market of Wuhan, and that the Chinese authorities suppressed information about the outbreak for several weeks before it became impossible for them to hide it from the world.

Red herrings of the coronavirus narrative

Niraj Srivastava

Former Ambassador

The Associated Press reported from Rome on March 19 that “a visiting Chinese Red Cross team criticised Italians’ failure to properly quarantine themselves and take the national lockdown seriously.”

On March 12, Lijian Zhao, the official spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, tweeted that Covid-19 virus originated in the US. Zhao’s allegation was obviously preposterous, because if the US had indeed done any such thing, it would have first taken steps to ensure the protection of its own population, knowing very well that the virus would inevitably spill over into its territory. It would not have found itself in the sorry state it is in today.

US President Donald Trump was so offended by the allegation that in his press conference on March 18, he angrily denied it, and insisted on calling Covid the ‘Chinese virus’. He repeated the nomenclature a couple of times.

On March 18, Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive for the coronavirus. He issued a tweet in which he likened China’s role in the coronavirus outbreak to that of the erstwhile Soviet Union during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, alleging a cover-up. “It’s China’s fault and freedom is the answer,” he tweeted.

His comments, which echoed those of Trump, provoked an angry response from the Chinese embassy in Brasilia, which tweeted that he had contracted a ‘mental virus’ while in the US a few days ago.

“Sadly, you are a person without any international vision or common sense,” the Chinese embassy tweeted. “We suggest you don’t rush to become the US spokesman in Brazil, or risk an ugly fall.” Eduardo Bolsonaro is also the principal foreign policy adviser to his father and the head of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The above incidents point to two things. First, China is trying hard to deny that Covid-19 originated in Wuhan. Second, China is trying to change the narrative about the virus to suggest that the Chinese authorities did a heroic job in containing its spread inside China, and is now offering support to other countries to overcome the crisis caused by the virus within their borders.

Both points are wrong. And there is evidence to prove that. In an article published in the Global Times on January 1, it is stated that the seafood market in Wuhan had been closed “after 27 people were hospitalised in December 2019 with unidentified pneumonia.” Most of them were vendors in the market. In another article published in the newspaper on February 22, it is stated that a ‘wider spread’ of the virus took place in the Wuhan seafood market in ‘early December (2019).’

Now, the question is: what did the Chinese authorities do when the outbreak took place in Wuhan in early December? The answer: Nothing. More than three weeks were thus lost. And the lockdown was imposed on Wuhan only on January 23, resulting in the loss of another more than three weeks. Thus, the Chinese authorities virtually took no action and did not alert the world for seven to eight weeks after the virus was first detected in Wuhan. And all this while, the virus was making its way all over the world, creating a crisis of unimaginable proportions.

One cannot help asking: Would the Chinese have kept quiet for so many weeks if the coronavirus were brought into their country by the US or some other nation? The answer is an emphatic no.

Moreover, is it a heroic act to impose a lockdown on Wuhan on January 23, almost eight weeks after a ‘wider spread’ of the virus took place in Wuhan in ‘early December (2019),’ according to their own newspaper, the Global Times.

In addition, as widely reported in the global media, the Chinese authorities harassed and silenced 34-year old Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who first raised the alarm about the coronavirus on December 30, 2019. He died on February 7, after contracting the disease while working at the Wuhan Central Hospital.

The true narrative of the coronavirus should state that the virus originated in the seafood market of Wuhan, and that the Chinese authorities suppressed the information about the outbreak of the disease for several weeks before it became impossible for them to hide it from the world. The Chinese exported their virus to the rest

of the world, which is still struggling to control it.

Meanwhile, having controlled the coronavirus in their own country, the Chinese are busy accusing the US of producing the virus, which is a lie, and lecturing other countries, such as Italy, about what they should do to control it.

China did not just create a problem for itself, it created a problem of devastating proportions for the whole world in terms of lives lost and economies damaged. The world should not let China off the hook by buying the phoney narrative it is trying to peddle.

The world in general, and India in particular, should draw some important lessons from this crisis. One of them is that the dependence on China for strategic goods, such as Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API), for India’s pharmaceutical industry, should be ended. India imports around 70 per cent of its API from China. Self-reliance should be created in the strategic goods sector irrespective of the extra cost involved. China’s leaders have a record of halting exports of strategic goods (such as rare-earth minerals) to punish countries that have defied them.

One also hopes that the coronavirus crisis will finally convince India’s decision-makers not to award the 5G contract to Huawei. We cannot outsource our strategic communications network to an adversarial and unreliable country like China.

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