Depoliticising Covid-19: in the context of China and the West

Tuesday July 27 2021
China pic

By Sweba Unuki

As the world struggles to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the virus itself continues to mutate into new variants... And, so does the politics around it – now that the blame game linking the virus to China has been steadily resurfacing.

It is real that the deadly virus continues to claim people’s lives across the globe, with India numerically continuing to record the highest number of both deaths and new infections every day.

With over 600,000 of Americans dead from it so far, the virus has obviously affected the United States more than any other country proportionally, given its around 320 million people which is less than a quarter of the population of China or India. The situation should be more worrying in the US where rules continue to be relaxed. In its recent briefing, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attributed over half of new Covid-19 infections in the US West Coast to the new variant.

Furthermore, the New York Times reports that the state of Florida records over 3,000 daily hospitalizations. Florida has relaxed its Covid-19 containment strategy for quite some time now despite the surge in new infections in the state.


While the Covid-19 tragedy is still hitting hard in India and remains a major threat across the globe, and in consideration of the high death toll in the United States despite its supposedly being the epitome of science, at least two areas require global concerted efforts.

First is about finding some better ways to stop the virus from further adapting and spreading, and second is about de-politicizing the fight whose direction, so far, seems to be heading to a dead end. Framing the SARS Cov.2 virus as a lab creation originating from China, or a mishandling and misreporting of the same by Chinese authorities, impedes the global efforts toward ending the suffering. Covid-19 also increases the socio-economic impacts, including anti-Asian hate crimes, especially in the Western world where a number of Chinese or a Chinese-looking individuals are being linked with the virus and consequently discriminated against and sometimes attacked.

It was Donald Trump and some of his allies who amplified the US blaming of the virus on China, a political bandwagon whose hangovers seem to continue affecting the hegemon even after Mr. Trump’s retiring from the oval office.

As a matter of political and social culture, the post-Trump era in American politics suggests that a change of administration may not translate into a sudden change of a people’s mentality. Despite the ongoing anti-China propaganda, the World Health Organization (WHO) and China have been waging a war to dismantle the virus for a better world where economies would return to normal.

In doing so, China has helped several resource-constrained countries in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe to fight the pandemic by supplying them with medical expertise, necessities and equipment. The efforts are in recognition of the quest for global good in that, the suffering of people in one country is the suffering of all: Covid-19 affecting one country means it may affect all, especially in our world of complex inter-connectedness. The efforts went even further with President Xi Jinping announcing that China would make its vaccine a global public good once finalized.

With all the unfolding efforts, it cannot be insisted enough that the CovidOVID-19 pandemic is not just a global public health concern, it also involves human rights considerations for the fact that people in both resource-rich and resource-poor settings have the right to prevention and treatment.

While implementation of various activities largely depends on political will, politics itself should be informed by science and not vice versa. In other words, politics should not in any way influence scientific inquiry, and in this case in tracing the origins of the novel coronavirus. Although the first cases of the coronavirus were reported from Wuhan, the investigation, if objectively conducted, should not necessarily be an investigation on China: It should rather be an inquiry into the disease itself.

After all, there had been reports of France and other countries in continental Europe to have had patients suspected of harbouring Covid-19 symptoms prior to the virus being reported in Wuhan.

According to a May 2020 report carried by both Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, the first known Covid-19 case who received treatment at a French hospital near Paris dates back to December 27, 2019, had no history of travelling to or being close to someone who had travelled to China.

This is prior to the spread of the disease outside China. It could be the case that the virus itself entered China from somewhere else.

Despite these revelations, no effort is made to understand the origins of the disease outside China, a situation which could make anyone become suspicious of the otherwise selective, and perhaps discriminatory, approach that the supposedly Western science is trying to take in attacking China rather than pursuing a candid investigation with the aim to generate a better understanding about Covid-19 and ultimately defeat it.

After all, China has fully cooperated with WHO by providing more funding to the world’s health body after the US withdrew its funding sometime last year. It has provided case-by-case information to WHO of all those who had contracted and received treatment for Covid-19.

Comparatively, the West has done far less in fighting the coronavirus pandemic than what China has done and continues to do.

 The writer is a social affairs analyst based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.