Virus war of words harms all

Editorial | Mary Ma 18 Mar 2020

I found it really difficult to believe it when I received a message forwarding a tweet purportedly from US President Donald Trump apologizing for labeling the new coronavirus engulfing the world a "Chinese virus."

An apology from Trump? I very soon concluded it was fake.

Nonetheless, the incident epitomized a new political game of tit-for-tat claims about the origin of the virus. It may be more accurate at this point to say, at most, that the virus was first identified in Wuhan given the fact that it was first reported there.

Chinese officials have been pushing the idea that the coronavirus originated in the US - a hypothesis initially shaped by the nation's top infectious disease specilaist Zhong Nanshan. It was then strongly pushed by Zhao Lijian, a new face in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But the back-and-forth spats didn't really become fully blown until Trump stepped in with a Twitter post that called the disease a "Chinese virus" after warning Americans of a probable recession caused by the pandemic.

Apparently, those words from both sides were aimed at their respective audiences at home more than overseas listeners. President Xi Jinping has reportedly come under pressure because of the disease. Trump is also in danger of losing the November presidential election if he cannot handle the crisis satisfactorily.

Allowing spats to escalate helps deflect domestic criticism and direct anger at a conceived common enemy elsewhere.

Regrettably, that is not in the interest of mankind.

As both sides continue to trade criticisms that could not, in my opinion, be more meaningless, the allegations and hypotheses pushed by both parties are far from proven.

Instead of engaging in a senseless war of words, it would be more meaningful to stop spreading disinformation and rumors like the fake tweet I received.

All governments, from the east to west and north to south, should come together to battle this common health emergency.

Leave the debate over the origins of the coronavirus to the academics. I have no doubt that, after the crisis subsides, scientists around the world will start picking up the pieces to recreate an overall picture of what has actually happened.

There will be plenty of virus samples to compare and the truth will emerge eventually.

There have been reports online asserting there is evidence that some Americans who died during the last seasonal flu outbreaks had actually succumbed to the coronavirus.

Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, pointedly claimed the virus was brought to China by a few sick US soldiers who had participated in a Wuhan military game.

Meanwhile, there have also been reports - purportedly backed by previously published research papers - that the virus was artificially created in a Wuhan laboratory.

But all these claims must be treated with skepticism until and unless they are verified.

In this sense, the class action brought by a group in Florida suing Beijing for damages due to the pandemic is unwarranted.

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