The outbreak of Coronavirus amounting to a global epidemic seems to have serious repercussion on politics and economy of many countries. The virus has in such a short while drawn world attention. One is simply amazed at the degree of scare caused by the media. Let us remember that quite a few epidemics have been experienced in the recent past– swine flu, mad cow disease, H1N1, HIV/AIDS and so forth. H1N1 alone reportedly killed 2,84,000 people and AIDS killed as many or more.
To be sure, one is not underplaying the seriousness or the tragic consequences of the disease. But the dynamics around the virus are quite fascinating. Look at the paradoxical developments in China and India: In China, small drop in air pollution may save millions of lives; likewise, in India a drop in economic growth may push tens and thousands into suicide.
So what is so different about Coronavirus? Is it because it spreads fast through skin and breath contact unlike the HIV that was transmitted mainly through blood or semen? Or is it because it originated in China which is threatening to occupy the super power space? Also, Corona may be the fuse to trigger a systemic crisis consisting of disruption of supply chains, commodity slumps, market adjustment, oil wars and collapse in consumer demand and so forth.
Interestingly, it is being predicted that the epidemic could weaken both Chinese President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Donald Trump, feed conspiracy theories and lead to closed borders. Although Italy is the 2nd worst affected country after China, the fight, as usual, is between the US and China to fix accountability on the origin and spread of the deadly virus. How should India react to it as she is often caught in the ‘cross-fire’ between China and the US?
New Delhi should study the politics around the virus and take positions. Remember, international epidemics are a centuries-old phenomenon which often changed the course of history. This deadly virus might do the same to world economy and politics.
On the origin of virus, there is no certainty about its exact starting point. One theory suggests than COVID–19 was predicted in a novel in 1981. A character called Dombey narrates the account of a virus called Wuhan – 400 which was developed at the RDNA lab outside Wuhan. The second theory points out that it could be a bio-weapon. It was prepared for the CIA initially, but a Chinese scientist based in the US transferred the technology to China which was mishandled.
Yet, the third one talks about the virus stemming from a sea-food market where experimental animals were sold. It came from the animals to sea-food and then infected the humans. One more theory strongly suggests that the virus could have originated from Wuhan Institute of Virology, which houses China’s bio-safety laboratory. American Senator Tom Cotton formulated this theory on Fox news. This was somewhat supported by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The other aspect of this epidemic is that it is highly contagious, but less deadly than SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory System, which out broke in 2003. Scientists argue that more contagious the virus, lesser is the mortality rate, which, in other words, means that the virus which are highly contagious are less deadly.
The mortality rate for COVID–19 appears to be around 2.0 per cent while in SARS it was a whopping 9.6 per cent. So what is the hullabaloo about? Is the media unnecessarily hyping up the pandemic or the 2 two per cent mortality argument is unsubstantiated?
Whatever may be the origin of the virus, the death toll in China is frightening and there is certainly a great health scare gripping the entire world. The disease cannot be dismissed as a political concoction. At the same time, the reactions and repercussions cannot be lost on India.
India can embark on two strategies vis-a-vis the disease and its reported consequences. One, New Delhi can shore up its own public health standards, and simultaneously, demand concerted international action to combat it.
Admittedly, there are certain international issues and challenges which cannot be tackled by inter-governmentalism. Influential sociologist Anthony Giddens in his famous book, The Politics of Climate Change, exposed the limitations of international bodies in dealing with it. Similarly, even the pandemics require supranational authority to be controlled. New Delhi should advocate the institutions of such authorities to address pandemics, climate change and terrorism etc.
The second strategy is to read between the lines, and react to the politics underlying the outbreak of the virus. The virus is not from nature, it is engineered by humans. One could know if the US is involved in manufacturing the bio-weapon, as the media in the US is free and both facts and fictions could come out. But, to get any accurate information from China is next to impossible.
At any rate, if China was responsible for making this bio-weapon, and things went wrong, it must pay for it. Already China is bleeding, its exports have dipped, the movement of its people is restricted and investment is depleting. Without being cynical, New Delhi should step in to fill the gap. One is not suggesting to ‘fish in troubled waters’, but is urging pragmatism in taking the right steps.
We have been strongly advocating for containing and countering China, make it a reference point of India’s growth and development strategies. New Delhi keeps falling back to its Pakistan obsession, as it pays electorally. It is again the time for New Delhi to recalibrate its China strategy, improve its own health and safety standards to seduce more investment. Beijing has received a jolt and New Delhi should learn from it and move on. This should be the political message from this stupid virus.
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