Covid-19: Don’t fall into Trump’s trap of shifting blame
CAPE TOWN – If we’re to believe US President Donald Trump, the Covid-19 outbreak can be blamed on a range of suspects, from China to frontline medical workers, troublesome American governors, and possibly even the tooth fairy.
This week, Bryan Adams added his voice to the controversy, in a foul-mouthed racist rant on Instagram, deriding China as the “bat-eating, virus-making source” of the virus, conflating unproven theories about the disease’s origins.
The Canadian crooner, angered after the cancellation of his residency at the Royal Albert Hall in London, posted on Instagram: “Tonight was supposed to be the beginning of a tenancy of gigs at the @royalalberthall, but thanks to some f**g bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy bastards, the whole world is now on hold, not to mention the thousands that have suffered or died from this virus. My message to them other than ‘thanks a f***g lot’ is go vegan.”
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for the artist’s cause: People the world over are angry and frightened. They have just cause: the pandemic has not only infected 4.18 million people the world over, but it’s also killed around 286 500 people – many of whom include vulnerable members of society and frontline workers. The disease has also felled the young and the old, across the class spectrum.
In South Africa, infections are sharply increasing, with an estimated 11 400 infections and at least 220 deaths. Under lockdown, social systems have been pushed to the brink, economies have collapsed and political machinations laid bare. Critically, jobs have been lost, schools shut, citizens imprisoned and entire sectors of the economy declared non-essential, therefore unable to trade.
And yet, the blame game played by Adams, Trump and his Republican fandom is a distraction. A dangerous one at that.
Trump’s trade war has already pushed US-Sino relationships to its most fragile point in decades. Now, in an effort to deflect criticism of his own mortifying response to the outbreak in his own country, he has shifted blame onto China. It’s classic Trump bait-and-switch politics.
By calling the novel coronavirus the “Chinese virus”, Trump has conflated various theories of the origins of the virus.
One of these theories suggests the virus was passed onto humans after eating bats – or pangolins – sold in “wet markets” in Wuhan.
But that “wet market” theory is not supported by the evidence as a number of early cases were traced to people who had not visited the market.
Another theory says that the virus is a man-made bioweapon, which was leaked, either accidentally or not, from one of two laboratories within walking distances of a Wuhan wet market. Trump has actively promoted these theories because they deflect blame from his administration’s sheer inertia in responding to the imminent crisis.
The laboratory leak theory is not new, having gained traction back in January when the conservative Washington Times published a report suggesting the laboratory link.
On February 18, 27 prominent scientists – outside China – published a statement in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin” and state the research “overwhelmingly” concludes the “coronavirus originated in wildlife”.
Further comments and updates have been published, offering zero conclusive evidence, and on April 30, the New York Times reports that senior Trump administration officials had coerced spy agencies to help push the agenda – even though most intelligence agencies had poured scorn on the suggestion.
That day, the US intelligence community released a statement saying they concur with the “scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified”, adding that officials would continue investigating a possible link.
No such link has been found – because it does not exist.
It is still not even clear if the virus jumped species in Wuhan, nor is there consensus on the outbreak’s source.
And yet, class actions for damages suffered from the pandemic have been filed in the US against China.
The plaintiffs claim Chinese authorities knew that Covid-19 was dangerous and capable of causing a pandemic, but responded too slowly.
The fact is that Chinese authorities were in the dark when the virus first presented as a mysterious lung infection late December.
China has been proactive: On January 3, they notified the US government. On January 9, the state broadcaster, China Central Television reported for the first time about the discovery of the new virus, known as Covid-19.
Days later, Chinese scientists shared the virus’ genetic sequence internationally. On January 20, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first public statement on the outbreak, demanding that the government “put people's lives and health first”. On January 23, authorities locked down an entire city: Wuhan.
Whether or not the virus originated in a part of China – or large parts of Central and West Africa, where pangolins continue to be openly trafficked, despite China’s ban on wildlife imports – countries were notified of the outbreak and chose their own responses to that intelligence.
The virus knows no borders and has even been found in the deepest Amazon: What the world needs now is for co-operation and support, in the effort to fight this invisible enemy that has introduced humanity to concept of social distancing; and the need for hand sanitiser and masks. It’s forced us to face up to our mortality and given the world pause for thought. Let’s face this global threat together: Not as pawns in a political game.