By Orçun Göktürk
We have come to the end of the neoliberal historical period that started with Thatcher and Reagan. The helplessness of the West in responding to the pandemic reminds us of Mao Zedong’s famous declaration that American imperialism is a ‘paper tiger’. More recently, in 2002, the German Minister of Justice asserted that she was planning to divert attention from shortcomings at home while examining the causes of the aggressive history of the US (1). The american media is still trying to cover their own failures by launching a smear campaign against China’s extraordinary efforts.
US politicians and media sources have been making allegations that China acted slowly or faked death numbers in response to the coronavirus crisis. In order to test these claims, we can compare the timeline and actions to the responses to the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009.
It takes months to sound the alarm for an epidemic. Six months had passed before the announcement of the Swine Flu pandemic, which started in January 2009 in Mexico. Of course, factors such as the rate of infection and the deadliness of the virus are decisive here. After the Swine Flu appeared in Mexico, the main country affected by the epidemic was the US. According to WHO data, Swine Flu infected 1.4 billion people for the first year, killing 150-575 thousand people. While the genetic sequences of Swine Flu were determined nine days after H1N1 isolation in the US, the gene sequence of COVID-19 was performed five days after the virus was isolated by Chinese scientists (2).
It is a fact that Covid-19 has a much higher mortality rate and transmission rate than Swine Flu. However, despite the lower transmission rate, about a quarter of the world’s population was infected. In other words, no precautionary measures were taken. It took only three months for the WHO to declare Covid-19 a pandemic. This is approximately half the time in the case of Swine Flu. Undoubtedly, the measures taken by China and the effort to convey the seriousness of the issue to the world public opinion have been effective.
Chinese doctors were swift to report to the WHO
Dr. Zhang Jixian noticed that in the lung screening of the elderly couple who went to the hospital with various complaints on December 26 in Wuhan, there was something other than the usual cold or flu. Two days after, Dr. Zhang reported the situation to the relevant bodies. On December 29, the Hubei Center for Disease Control and Prevention addressed the situation by sending an expert team.
On December 31, it was shared with WHO that a new infectious disease was encountered. Almost everyone, especially healthcare professionals, who evaluated the incident objectively, appreciates the performance of Chinese authorities in diagnosing a new type of a mysterious disease, identifying the virus in a week and sharing it with the WHO Chinese office in just five days during a time when influenza and cold incidents were in dramatic increase. Contrary to what the western media said, the British science magazine The Lancet thanked Chinese scientists for the rapid detection and sharing of information with the rest of the world. Again, Peter Daszak, president of the American-based Eco Health Alliance, declared that “the virologists in China are some of the best in the world, they are working extremely fast and they are very efficient” (3). WHO Director-General and specialist doctors also appreciated the Chinese scientists for quick discovery of a new type of coronavirus during the flu and cold season, such as winter months (4).
The WHO China Office announced on December 31 that a new type of virus, previously unknown, was seen after a series of incidents. The first death due to coronavirus occurred on January 11. Long before the virus was found to be transmitted from person to person, health checks were started at the entrance and exit to Wuhan on January 3. On January 20, three days after the announcement that the epidemic was transmitted from person to person, China quarantined Wuhan, preventing the spread of the epidemic to mainland China by 80%. According to the American Science journal, 700,000 people living in China were prevented from becoming infected thanks to these early and strict measures (5).
The power of the Chinese Communist Party
After Wuhan, a quarantine was launched in all other cities of Hubei, where the total population is 60 million. In addition to this, restaurants, movie theaters and tourist centers were closed in all regions in China and it was prohibited to go out without a mask. Entrances to subway, supermarkets etc. were controlled through QR codes on applications like WeChat and Alipay. Social isolation was monitored with these smartphone apps used by the vast majority of the people and the organized power of the Chinese Communist Party and the neighborhood committees. Meanwhile, directives from the center were transmitted to the public. In this way, the risk of cross infection was reduced and advanced big data and artificial intelligence programs were used to control population movements. 4 million neighborhood committee members actively fought in more than 650,000 urban and rural living areas to convey directives from the center to the public and reach out to those who suffer from economic hardships (6). In China, in the first two weeks of February, measures to break the impact of the epidemic such as lockdown and temporary interruption of production in factories reached such a high level that the carbon dioxide emission in the country decreased by 25% in the two weeks following the new year holiday (7).
Emergency statements and measures not taken
The WHO, which the US has now cut aid to and targeted, declared an “International Public Health Emergency” as early as January 30. So what measures did the United States and other Western countries take, which have now become the epicenter of the epidemic? Let’s examine further why lies are being spread that China was not transparent.
While China was quarantining Wuhan, the Western media reported that it was a “human rights violation” (12). At this point, almost no one in the Western media was interested in the virus other than as an excuse to attack China. The United States on January 20, France on January 25, Germany on January 28, Spain, England and Italy on January 31, reported their first cases of Covid-19 within their borders. Approximately two months after the first case in the US, a national emergency was declared, although the WHO had declared a pandemic two days before.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “We have to fight the epidemic as if we are at war, and our guide is science,” while US President Trump was making statements that made the epidemic seem trivial, claiming that “the virus hysteria” was being raised by his political opponents.
A similar attitude was present in Europe as well. Countries such as Spain, Italy, England and Germany began to take isolation measures and banned public gatherings long after January: almost 1.5 months after first cases were reported. During all the time that was gained by China’s hard and successful measures, developed capitalist countries could not compromise on the characteristics of the society of the spectacle. The reflexes of the state, withered from neoliberalism, were weakened and measures were taken late, while the treatment process for a large number of people who could not cover the costs of treatment failed as a result of the neoliberal health system, where the patient is seen as a customer.
‘China’s warning system was clear’
Richard Horton, who is the Editor-in-Chief of the famous British science journal The Lancet, pointed out the failure in the West in a program he attended on the BBC: “The warning from China was very clear, but we have wasted all of February!” (13). In the same program, Horton mentioned the publication of the first findings of Chinese scientists in The Lancet: “Under extremely difficult conditions of the fight against the epidemic, they took the time to write their first important findings in a foreign language and publish them in medical journals thousands of miles away. We are thankful for these scientists. ”
Hobsbawn gave it a name…
Now it is easier to understand why the leaders of developed capitalist countries, who initially underestimated the epidemic and did almost nothing, embraced the lie that China is actually hiding the real numbers as the epidemic broke out in their own country and the toll exceeded China’s cases.
“Post-modernists attack with no evidence” Hobsbawm says (14). That which does not exist cannot be proven scientifically. If you claim that something exists, you are also obliged to prove it. But of course, the lie cannot be proven, it muddies the water, it captures minds but it cannot replace the truth at the end of the day. The correct thing here is to take the epidemic under control with tight measures and science with China as our guide.
The quarantine comes to an end
The quarantine, which lasted 76 days in Wuhan, ended in the first week of April. Entrance and exit into and from Wuhan is now permitted. People in China have returned to their normal lives. Strict measures taken during the epidemic were gradually relaxed when the spread of the virus was successfully controlled. Production in China reached a capacity of over 90%. Primary and secondary schools are open again.
If the number of cases is a lie, how could China end the strict measures in the first place?
Of course, having zero new daily cases does not mean zero risk, it is still forbidden to enter public spaces without wearing a mask. It seems that social distance and mask use will continue for a significant time after the epidemic.
Despite all the smear campaign led by the US, world leaders including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, General Coordinator of World Health Organization Tedros Ghebreyesus, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan stated their appreciation and praised China for its dedicated fight against coronavirus and continued support to countries in need.
The smear campaign against China is an effort to cover Trump’s extraordinarily unsuccessful administration during the Covid-19 outbreak and to give him an upper hand in the upcoming US Presidential elections. The race between the Republicans and the Democrats in the US is also based on an anti-China stance. Unfortunately, the world is divided over these discourses and international cooperation against the epidemic is being blocked.
Lies about the virus’ origins
Scientists initially thought the virus might have stemmed from bats and later from pangolins. However, genomic comparisons show that the exact source of the coronavirus is still uncertain.
There is no scientific consensus that the source of the outbreak was an open animal market in Wuhan. There is no connection between the first case detected and this market (15). Yes, Wuhan is the center of the first known cases in the world, but this does not mean that it is the center of the virus.
The first cases of the HIV virus were diagnosed in the US, but the virus was of African origin. Also, Kristian Andersen and his team from the Scripps Research Institute in California explained that Covid-19, whose source is likely to be a bat or a pangolin, may have passed into humans years ago and the source did not have to be in Wuhan (16).
The effort to identify the geographical origin of epidemics is a racist framework. It is a requirement of humanism to stand up against this kind of attitude, which has no significance in the fight against the epidemic and which serves to no purpose other than undermining the solidarity of the peoples of the world by triggering discrimination. Nevertheless, during the process, the propaganda claiming that most of the outbreaks emerge from China has been spread both by the US administrators and through the Western press. When we look at history, we see dozens of epidemics that have occurred all over the world. Europeans, who discovered America, took chickenpox to this new continent. In the early 20th century, Spanish flu killed nearly 100 million people, and it began in the US, whereas HIV and Ebola emerged in Africa, mad-cow disease in the UK, 2009 Swine Flu in Mexico, and 2015 MERS epidemic in Saudi Arabia.
The US National Academy of Sciences: the virus originated in America
On the other hand, the US National Academy of Sciences announced the results of an interesting study on the coronavirus family. In the study, in which the gene map of the coronavirus is published, the virus, which is distinguished by amino acid changes, is divided into variants A, B and C. According to this study, it is emphasized that 160 coronavirus genetic codes are examined worldwide and type A, which is considered to be the ancestor of the virus, is found in the US, while the cases in China are type B, which is mutated. It is stated that type C, another coronavirus mutation, is found in Europe (17).
Racist rhetoric about Chinese cuisine has become commonplace on social media. With a video containing images from the island of Palau in relation with the United States through the Free Unity Convention, South Asian wildlife markets, as if they were in China, fueled discrimination and racism against the Chinese. World-renowned American science journal Nature, in an article published on April 7, called for an end to the irresponsible hate speech of associating the virus and diseases with certain geographical regions and countries (18). Humanity cannot fight against a global epidemic in the presence of smear campaigns and racism. On the contrary, this undermines the international cooperation that China calls for and has actually conducted throughout the epidemic. US-based defamation and rhetoric undermine the fight against the epidemic, first at home and then globally. Today, humanity needs constructive cooperation following China’s successful example.
Chronology of fight against Coronavirus:
December 27, 2019 – Zhang Jixiang, Head of the Hubei Integrated and Western Medical Hospital Respiratory Department, reported three unexplained mysterious pneumonia cases. This was the first case report reported to the official authorities of China.
29 December-Hubei Disease Control and Prevention Center Sent experts to investigate seven patients in the hospital.
December 31-The World Health Organization China Office reported that a new infectious disease was diagnosed in China.
January 3-China started to share regular information about the epidemic to the world public through WHO.
January 8-The Chinese National Health Commission has identified the name of the epidemic virus as a new type of coronavirus.
January 11-In Wuhan, the first death from Covid-19 occurs.
January 12-Chinese scientists presented the genome sequence information of Covid-19 to the WHO and published the full gene sequence of the coronavirus in the Global Influenza Sharing Database.
January 20-Chinese Head of Combating Outbreak Commission Prof. Zhong Nanshan explained that the virus is transmitted from person to person.
January 23-Wuhan is quarantined. Public places and gatherings in China are closed.
January 25- The entire province of Hubei, with a population of around 60 million, is quarantined.
30 January- The WHO declares an “International Public Health Emergency”.
February 10- The WHO Health team comes to China and starts on-site examinations.
2 March- New cases decline in China.
10 March- Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Wuhan.
8 April- Quarantine removed in Wuhan.
26 April-All patients discharged in the city of Wuhan.
THE CASE OF DR. LI WENLIANG
On January 28, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with the WHO President and Xi declared that they would always be transparent to the international public in relation to the epidemic (8). In addition to transparency, they made it clear that erroneous information would be harshly punished. As a matter of fact, police inquiries were made about Li Wenliang, who passed away in February, over allegations he was harming the public good across social communication program WeChat on December 30, writing “SARS is back.” The CPC Central Committee quickly intervened in this mistake of local administrators, the doctor was cleared, and the policemen conducting the investigation received disciplinary action. In the Western media, the “China hid the epidemic” campaign started with the death of Li Wenliang from COVID-19.
Dr. Li was an ophthalmologist. As emphasized in the Western press, he was not the first doctor to diagnose the outbreak, because his specialty was the eye, he was not in a position to identify it. In an interview he gave to the NY Times some time before he died, he made no such claim (9).
The person who first identified the outbreak and reported it to the related institutions is Zhang Jixian (10). Dr. Zhang reported the cases on December 27, three days before Li, and the authorities took action for an epidemiological investigation. Dr. Zhang was a pulmonologist and made the report on December 26, telling the old couple, who will go down in history as the first cases of coronavirus, to come to the hospital for examination and the next day made his report based on the results of lung tomography. Hubei State Health Commission named Zhang ‘the doctor who made the first notification to the units’ and the doctor was awarded a ‘national award’. Dr. Li, on the other hand, was not detained or arrested, as claimed by the Western media. Two police officers who opened an investigation for him were sentenced to discipline, his family was apologized to for the investigation process and the doctor who was a member of the CPC was declared martyred (11).
Orçun Göktürk – Master student at Beijing University of International Business and Economics
(1)David Harvey, New Imperialism, Sel Publishing, p.19, October 2009, Istanbul.
(11) Also see Western Media’s manipulations about Dr. Li wenliang: https://independentmediainstitute.org/growing-xenophobia-against-china-in-the-midst-of-coronashock/?from=singlemessage&isappinstalled=0
(14)Eric Hobsbawm, On History, Agora Publishing, s. X, Istanbul, February 2009