• Sunday, Sep 27, 2020
  • Last Update : 09:15 pm

The pandemic blame game

  • Published at 08:05 pm May 4th, 2020
Wuhan, China: global coronavirus pandemic partly reopened on March 28, after more than two months of almost total isolation
AFP

Which is important -- accusing others for spreading the virus or working out a solution to fight it?

President Donald Trump recently blamed WHO for the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus worldwide because, according to him, the international health organization did not let the world know the dangerous threat posed by the virus on time. 

He accused the entity of helping China in suppressing the spread of this viral disease from Wuhan, the place that supposedly incubated the virus. 

So much so, that Trump first threatened and later actually cut off US annual contribution to WHO -- a sum of about $200 million. 

But as the ferocity of the virus continued unabated across the US, a more frustrated Trump has now put the entire blame of “creating” and spreading the virus globally on China. He has now threatened to sue China for billions for causing human and economic disaster. 

This is a turnabout from his statement in February this year when he extolled the Chinese president for his extraordinary effort to contain the spread of the virus. 

What changed?

Finding a scapegoat

When a crisis hits an individual, he or she looks outward for someone to blame. This is also true for a community or a nation. President Trump is not alone in his attempt to find a scapegoat for the spread of the virus. 

Half a world away in India, the ruling party’s acolytes inspired and promoted the hypothesis that a third of coronavirus cases and deaths emanated from the religious gathering of Muslims in Delhi under the banner of Tabligh Jamaat. 

The media-fueled news led to a frenzy of attacks by people on the hapless members of this minority community elsewhere in India. 

In Bangladesh, when Narayanganj city was locked down because a high number of people were detected to be affected by the virus, people who fled from the city were apprehended and virtually imprisoned in boats for fear that they would spread the virus in a free-fall manner. People from this town became a pariah in other towns of Bangladesh. 

Can a virus as deadly as Covid-19 be stopped by simply identifying its origin or putting the responsibility for spreading it on a country, community, or an individual? 

We may point fingers at this or that, spend days and months on speculating how it all began, whether from a bat, a laboratory, or as a diabolical intention by a country to annihilate humans. 

But meanwhile, lives will continue to be lost and millions live in mortal fear of this novel virus as we debate this issue. Which is more important, finding a country or community responsible for spreading the virus, or putting out this fire that is raging through the whole world?

When lightning strikes it may fall on a person or a house. But when a tsunami strikes it strikes the whole strip of land with all that it contains -- lives, property, communities, and towns. It spares no one. 

We do not go about finding a scapegoat for the tsunami, because we know it comes from nature (from God for many), and we accept it if we survive. Covid-19 is like a tsunami, although it is not coming in one fell swoop. 

A bleak future

It is advancing fast although it is not taking every life that it touches. But it is affecting everyday life in every country that it has touched. It has stalled the economies of the countries in ways that they have never seen before. 

Mills and factories have stopped, businesses have ceased, schools and colleges have closed, and lives, in general, have stalled. With unemployment on the rise and future productions in serious jeopardy, the future is appearing bleaker by the day.

But will a blame game lift us from the morass now or the bleak future that the crisis portends? 

Finding out who spread the virus in India or whether the Chinese intentionally released the virus from its Wuhan laboratory will not bring back the thousands of lives lost or its further march in India or the USA. 

What will stop the virus is a sane approach to control it through science and medicine, and by protecting people now from the spread. 

Countries that have been able to contain the virus or at least slow its progress so far are the countries hit at the earliest, such as China itself, Italy, Spain, and Germany. 

It has been possible through strong government actions in social distancing, judicious decisions on the isolation of communities and cities, and making all-out efforts in treating the affected people with hospitalization, medical equipment, and medicine. 

These countries are winning not by finding scapegoats or blaming other people for their fate. They know the best way to handle a crisis is by attending to the problem with earnestness and helping and protecting their own people with whatever resources they have. 

This is the best way to handle a crisis.

A crisis can be man-made such as war or even famine. You can find people to blame. But in a pandemic like this, which the world has seen only a few times in the last several centuries, no one country or community can be blamed. 

If there is anyone to blame it is our combined failure to take measures to protect ourselves from it. These protective measures are both cure and prevention. 

As the pandemic keeps on marching, we have only one way to stop its march and further growth. This will be through international cooperation and strengthening institutions such as WHO that are engaging in combating this pandemic and others that may come in the future. Shifting blame to others for our failure will not help us.

Ziauddin Choudhury has worked in the higher civil service of Bangladesh early in his career, and later for the World Bank in the US.

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