Three years ago, to the date, on December 31, 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s “Country Office in the People’s Republic of China picked up a media statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission from their website on cases of ‘viral pneumonia in Wuhan, People’s Republic of China”.
At WHO’s request on January 3, Chinese officials “provided information to WHO on the cluster of cases of ‘viral pneumonia of unknown cause’ identified in Wuhan”.
These statements have been taken from a June 2020 statement of the WHO and is pertinent because it shows that the Chinese did not volunteer information to the WHO but guardedly responded about the emergence of a new coronavirus.
Virologists soon concluded that it had jumped from bats to humans through an intermediary animal host.
It is important to recall these facts about the Covid 19 pandemic’s origin because, once again. the world is facing Chinese reticence in sharing full information about the sudden and great spread of the disease in the country’s vast population. This outbreak has come in the wake of the Chinese communist party and government being compelled to lift its ‘zero covid’ policy a few weeks ago.
The sudden change in course of China’s covid management became necessary because of manifested popular anger at the draconian lock downs of cities and areas at the emergence, from time to time, of only a few covid-19 cases in these places.
Clearly, President Xi Jinping after being elected as the country’s supreme and unquestioned leader for a third five-year term by the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress in October this year could not withstand the pressure of the growing and great popular resentment. Clearly, also, till the Party Congress he did not want a rise in covid 19 cases; hence, the continuance of the ‘zero covid’ policy.
WHO’s Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus voiced the organisation’s frustrations with China although in a guarded manner. At a press conference on December 21 Ghebreyesus said on covid 19’s origin “…gaps in our understanding of how this pandemic began compromise our ability to prevent future pandemics. We continue to call on China to share the data and conduct the studies we have requested and which we continue to request.
As I have said many times before, all hypotheses about the origin of this pandemic remain on the table. At the same time WHO is very concerned at the evolving situation in China, with increasing reports of severe disease”.
What Ghebreyesus added was particularly pertinent. He said “In order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground WHO needs more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and requirements for ICU support”.
There has been no indication in the past ten days that China is willing to come forth officially with more information on the number of infections, the variants which are causing it, the number of fatalities and the prognosis of its virologists about the disease’s future trajectory.
Whatever information is coming out on these aspects is through informal sources and it is finding mention in the international media. This information indicates that China’s health system is under tremendous pressure with critical shortages of oxygen, the number of infections has spread rapidly because the ‘zero covid’ policy did not enable the building of natural immunity to the levels achieved in most other countries, and fatalities in the thousands are taking place.
The worrying feature of what is happening on the covid front in China is the possibility of the virus mutating into a far deadlier form than the current Omicron variants. Memories of the 2021 deadly Delta variant are being revived though most virologists appear optimistic that with adequate precautions the spread of the disease in other parts of the world will not go out of hand.
Significantly, China is also lifting restrictions on incoming travellers. It is doing so at a time its infections are rising. This too will fuel global worries. Obviously, Xi Jinping wishes to show to his people that the situation is under control and that the party does not need to show any anxiety. This is not what a responsible leader should do either to his own people or to the world.
Like many countries India is taking steps to handle the potential fall out of the rise of covid 19 infections because of developments in China. The Central health authorities have cautioned the states to gear up their health machinery to handle a rise in cases.
Importantly, the genome sequence of the virus infecting the people is being carried out to ensure that any particularly dangerous variant is caught in time. The people have been advised to take basic precautions including by following social covid protocols.
For the time being no mandatory instructions have been issued though the health authorities have warned that the country will have to be careful over the next two months.
The developments in China on the covid front highlight, once more, the absence of real international cooperation in combatting the pandemic. It is true that many countries, including India, sent out vaccines and medical equipment to the less fortunate countries.
However, what has been absent throughout these past three years is the international community coming together to formulate a common set of policies which would ensure that the world was on the same page.
Instead, what has been witnessed is that every country looked at only its own situation. And, in China’s case it did not and does not still care how much damage it has and continues to inflict because of covid 19. Simply put, its actions have been completely irresponsible.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.