Even as accusations and allegations continue to swirl that coronavirus originated in a laboratory in China, it may be time to pause the PR war and seriously investigate the issue, if only to inform future generations how not to handle a global pandemic, writes India Inc. Founder and CEO Manoj Ladwa.
Let me try and get this right. It was wrong to dub Covid-19 virus a Chinese virus just because (emphasis mine) it was first detected in China’s Wuhan province. When former US President Donald Trump used this term, he was rightly excoriated for being racist. The world accepted this argument, and this prefix is no longer used, at least by officials and most serious media.
Then, how is it correct to call some mutant variants by names such as the “South African variant” or “Kent variant” or “Brazil variant” or “Indian variant”? This approach to branding the virus is as counter-productive as Trump’s insistence of calling it the China virus. Simple parity of reasoning suggests it is. Yet, many sections of the media, including my friends at the BBC, are guilty of perpetuating this branding which, frankly, could be interpreted as having racist undertones. I have even tweeted on this because I strongly feel the need to call out the double standards on display here.
But regardless of the nomenclature, the debate over its origins is refusing to die down. Even as I was writing this piece, my attention was drawn to a Washington Post report dated 14 May in which a group of 18 scientists from leading global institutions have called for “proper investigations” into the origins of the virus. They seemed to contend that it was possible for a laboratory incident to have been the cause of the worldwide medical and economic mayhem the virus has caused.
Now, such allegations and related conspiracy theories have been doing the rounds of the world ever since the coronavirus pandemic first hit the world a little more than a year ago. But what caught my attention was the fact that this letter was carried by Science, the highly respected peer reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the world’s leading academic journals.
The short report did not disclose the names of the letter writers but the fact that Science journal has chosen to publish it gives it a ring of credibility. In it, the scientists say the report on the joint investigation by the World Health Organization and China is not really conclusive. The possibility of the virus escaping from a laboratory must be taken seriously, they added.
Then, there have also been reports in the general media that Chinese military scientists studied the possibility of weaponising coronavirus five years before the outbreak of the pandemic. China, expectedly, has denied these reports calling them outright lies orchestrated by the US.
Obviously, alongside the pandemic, there is also a not-so-secret public relations and trade battle also raging between the US and China.
This, however, is not the time for a blame game. Countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand and others have called for an independent investigation into the matter. And this must happen with full transparency and without fear. China will continue to block this.
Yet, though China has a lot to answer for, especially for its not so secret expansionist ambitions, but let us not mix up the two issues. Considering the gravity of the situation, this is not the time to get into a PR war on the virus.
What’s most important is that we need to know the facts, so that we and future generations can learn from this.