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Saving lives amid the Covid-19 pandemic: China leads with science

Nurses in protective suits distribute meals to patients at a temporary hospital at Tazihu Gymnasium in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province at the start of the pandemic last year. Picture: Chinatopix via AP

Nurses in protective suits distribute meals to patients at a temporary hospital at Tazihu Gymnasium in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province at the start of the pandemic last year. Picture: Chinatopix via AP

Published Mar 24, 2021


Wesley Seale

On March 20 alone, China is said to have vaccinated more than 844 000 people. February 2 was recorded as its best day in the past three months, with nearly 2 million vaccinations on that day.

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With its vaccine programme well under way, China’s aim is to get 40% of its population vaccinated by the end of June.

As the world watched in awe as China responded to its public health crisis when the Covid-19 first broke out in Wuhan, for example building hospitals within a week, there should be little doubt that China is capable of vaccinating 480 million people within six months.

Yet as the fight against Covid-19 turns to vaccinations, China has also paid attention to another issue. The cause of the virus. As we know, much of the conspiracy theories and propaganda against China has emanated from what caused the virus. In the aftermath of the first global cases, anti-China sentiments went into overdrive and were fuelled by some disgraced former world leaders. When that happened, China, together with many other sensible leaders including Pope Francis, encouraged people to fight the spread of the virus first before trying to cast blame.

However, the time to investigate the origins of the virus has arrived and China is the first to co-operate with the World Health Organization. A week or so ago, Liang Wannian, the head of the WHO in China, briefed more than 40 envoys and diplomats, from across the globe, and suggested that this version of the coronavirus was probably transmitted from human to human or through cold-chain food to a human.

Liang confirmed that it was highly unlikely that the virus was transmitted from a lab to a human, as some conspiracy theorists have stated.

The remarks by Liang echo a World Health Assembly resolution in May last year by health ministers who passed a resolution requesting that WHO work with partners and countries “to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts”.

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In July lat year, China invited WHO experts to evaluate the preliminary scientific findings of Chinese experts on the origin of the novel coronavirus. During mid-January to mid February this year, a joint team, from WHO and Chinese experts, conducted their 28-day investigation in Wuhan and visited nine institutes in the city.

According to The Lancet, 10 international experts, among them epidemiologists, animal and human disease experts, veterinarians, medical doctors and virologists as well as five WHO experts, two representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization, and two from the World Organization for Animal Health, formed part of the WHO team. The preliminary findings of the inspection concludes that more research needs to be done in order to establish the true genesis of the virus.

In a virtual press conference at the closing of the 13th National People’s Congress, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, assured the international community that China was open to and would be co-operative in the investigation of the Covid-19 origin tracing.

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Li, who is considered to be China’s second-most powerful leader, reiterated that China would work with the WHO and was also interested in discovering where the virus came from. But, emphasised Li, the investigation must be scientific and understood to be complexed.

What this all means for South Africa is that we should take scientific evidence seriously. Like China, WHO and the rest of the international community we must not succumb to conspiracy theories or anti-China propaganda. Rather, we must follow the advice of the experts and, like China, save lives.

* Wesley Seale has a PhD in international relations.

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** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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