This is not a xenophobic China bashing blog. After all the human race has been affected by different virus pandemics since 3000 BC (https://www.cdc.gov/sars/about/faq.html#global). In recent times, after each pandemic, scientists have aimed to develop vaccines to protect the human race. But this is only half of the equation. In many instances governments have supplemented scientists’ efforts by certain policy changes and people have modified their behavior. The HIV virus is a typical example of this point. Protected sex became the norm between casual sex partners after the rapid spread of the HIV virus in 1991.
The objective of this blog is to argue that SARS (or severe acute respiratory syndrome) should have served as a warning signal to the Chinese government to change their policies on the availability of non-farmed animals in certain markets (‘wet markets’). It should have also served as a warning to many Chinese people to change their dietary habits. However, the Chinese government did not act and some Chinese people still consumed non-farmed animals subsequent to the SARS epidemic. These failures are affecting the whole world dearly both in terms of loss of human lives and economic costs.
2.From SARS to Covid-19 all roads lead to China
SARS started in 2002 in the Chinese province of Guangdong. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that this virus is most likely the virus carried by bats which than may have jumped to other animals like cats(https://www.who.int/ith/diseases/sars/en/). The global impact of this virus has not been devastating relative to other pandemics such as the Spanish flu, which killed millions of people. SARS ‘only’ affected 8098 people in 26 countries causing 774 deaths(https://www.cdc.gov/sars/about/faq.html#global.
After the SARS out break the Chinese government policy with respect to selling non-farmed animals in wet markets did not change. Many years after SARS, I myself witnessed all sorts of non-farm animals like snakes, pangolins, cats, dogs and bats, tightly and cruelly packed into rusty cages at the wet markets. There is no need for Chinese people to eat non-farmed animals. Part of the economic success of the Chinese Government policy is that food shortage has been eliminated in China. Nevertheless, the Chinese Government ignored this early warning signal of SARS and did not ban the trading of non-farm animals.
The Covid-19 virus outbreak started in December 2019 in Wuhan, a city in Eastern China with a population of 11 million people. At the time of writing this blog, there have been 939,436 Covid-19 infections confirmed in over 170 countries, and sadly 42,365 death have been reported(https://www.wired.co.uk/article/china-coronavirus). There does not seem to be an easing of the infections globally with the exceptions of China, South Korea and Singapore. In all other countries, the population is in some form of lock-down leading to an economic crisis beyond the health crisis. Nobody is able to predict when the health crisis will end and for life to return to normal. The expectations are that it will take at least another six months before social and economic life returns to normal in most countries. The economic cost of this crisis in terms of government subsidies and support is already running into the trillions of US dollars, which will have to be paid back by the next generation.
The Covid-19 virus again most likely originated from bats according to scientific evidence which suggests that; ‘SARS-CoV-2 backbone differed substantially from those of already known corona viruses and mostly resembled related viruses found in bats and pangolins’ (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200317175442.htm).
Sadly, the Chinese Government is still ignoring the source of this killer virus as the wet markets are continuing the trade of non-farm animals(https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8163761/Chinese-markets-selling-bats.html).
3. Where to go for China from here
There are a number of actions which the Chinese government must undertake as part of its global obligation to humanity.
First and most importantly, it must ban the sales and consumption of all non-farmed animals in markets and restaurants, and introduce heavy fines for anyone trading in these animals. The scientific evidence of how animal viruses can mutate and infect humans must not be ignored any longer.
Second, the Chinese government must start a huge campaign promoting hygiene both in public and private places. Hong Kong and Singapore have proved how effective these campaigns can be. It is amazing how these two cities have been transformed and became some of the cleanest cities in the world over a relative short period of time.
Third, the Chinese government must pay reparation to all countries and families affected by this virus. If it is good enough for Germany to do so after the two world wars in the 20th Century, it should be good enough for China to do so. After WW1, Germany signed the Versailles Treaty (1919) and the London Schedule of Payment (1921), which required Germany to pay 132 billion gold mark, or U$ 33 billion dollars (you can do the math to figure out today’s value of this payment). The last payment for this debt was made by Germany in 2010. After WW2, Germany paid over 65 billion dollars to Jewish families alone, whose members perished in concentration camps. Greece and Poland are still pursuing Germany for 1.2 trillion dollars of reparation(https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-06-05/world-war-ii-reparations-how-germany-should-respond).
SARS was an ‘early warning’ to China how non-farmed animals, like bats and pangolins carry viruses that can affect humans when consumed.
Covid-19 is also a ‘Chinese’ virus, again most likely due to the consumption of bats.
China needs to ban the consumption of non-farmed animals.
China must increase hygiene levels both at the societal and individual level.
China must pay reparation costs for the loss of human lives and the economic losses all around the world.