Writing on the current pandemic of COVID 19, David Quammen, a commentator, has been trying to look for the reasons of the spread of the virus. He says the reasons can be found in the facts that “We invaded tropical forests and other wild landscapes which harbour so many species of animals and plants – and within those creatures so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees, we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt eco-systems and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often we are it.”
Quammen has very succinctly described the mechanics of the spread of the COVID 19 which he says was not even a novel event that befell us. “It was – it is – part of a pattern of choices that we humans are making”. His findings reveal that only we have invited this not-too-novel a virus to be our malign guest. Our unrestrained greed, our feral quest for new experiences have enabled this virus to treat us as its host and bash and pummel us any which way. Even the ongoing pandemic has not deterred us as reports have appeared in the press indicating that the Chinese wet markets with live and dead animals, the alleged source of the virus, have been reopened after the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan
The novel Corona 19 virus belongs to the same family of viruses as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) viruses that too acquired epidemic proportions in 2002-2003 infecting around seven thousand people killing more than seven hundred – just about 10% of its victims. The virus emanated, scientists believe, from a non-human source, presumably a bat. Years ago they found something like this in a cave in Yunnan, about 1000 miles West of Wuhan, and noted its existence with concern.
One such scientist, Zheng Li Shi of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who gave Covid 19 its name, along with her collaborators showed in 2005 that the SARS pathogen was a bat virus that had spilled over into humans. Shi and her collaborators have been tracing corona viruses in bats since then, WARNING that some of these are uniquely suited to CAUSE HUMAN PANDEMICS.
Quammen has reported that in a 2017 paper researchers had pointed out that they had found corona viruses in multiple individuals of four different species of bats, including a horse-shoe bat. The genome of the virus taken from a horse shoe bat was reported to be 96% identical to the Wuhan virus. And those two constitute a pair distinct from other known corona viruses, including the one that causes SARS. The assessment of the researchers is that COVID 19 is novel and, therefore, possibly more dangerous.
Quammen reports that Peter Deszak, president of a research organization that focuses on connection between human and wildlife health, told him that he and other researchers have been “raising the flag” on these viruses for 15 years. According to Deszak, they had even taken blood samples from Yunannese living near the cave the study of which revealed that 3% of them had developed antibodies against SARS related corona viruses. This only proved that these viruses were making the jump from bats to humans. “In other words this Wuhan emergency is no novel event. “It is part of a sequence of related contingencies that will stretch forward into the future AS LONG AS CURRENT CIRCUMSTANCES PERSIST.
By the “current circumstances” Quammen means “perilous trade in wildlife for food with supply chains stretching from Asia, Africa, the United States and elsewhere. The trade has been outlawed in China on a temporary basis but it was also outlawed during SARS, then allowed to resume – with bats, civets, porcupines, turtles, bamboo rats and many kinds of birds and animals piled together in markets such as the one in Wuhan”.
From what Quammen has indicated it is clear that China was aware of these lethal viruses for around 15 years. Having some knowledge of the Chinese official system gathered during my one month stay in China around 30 years ago, I can say with confidence that they have a very efficient system of ascending channelization of vital information from the district level to the central authority. Hence it will take much more to make me believe that the findings of the researcher Shi were not known to the Chinese Central authorities concerned. Even Peter Rezdak has said that he has been raising the red flag over these viruses for the last 15 years. Looking at all these pieces of evidence it is clear that China, despite having the services of brilliant scientists, failed to take preventive action in time and avoid the pandemic and the Wuhan lockdown for two months. Its failure to warn the world of the pandemic cost various countries thousands of life and, of course, millions of dollars as their economies came to a grinding halt.
After the SARS epidemic the Chinese had closed down its wet markets that sold wild and farmed animals and various species of birds including bats. But these were soon reopened just as these have now been reopened after Wuhan recovered from the Covid 19 pandemic. According to President Trump, the WHO has supported this brazen act of China. That the WHO was slammed for this reason by the US is another matter but the stalling of $40 billion US contribution would surely adversely adversely affect mitigation activities undertaken by WHO in so far Covid 19 pandemic is concerned.
The Times of India of April 16, 2016 reported another lapse of China. “In the six days after top Chinese officials SECRETLY determined they (most) likely were facing a pandemic from corona virus, the city of Wuhan at the epicenter of the disease, hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people That is to say that even after the Chinese authorities were convinced that they were up against a PANDEMIC they did not let it out to the world until their formal functions – “two biggest meetings of the year” – were over. Nothing could be more irresponsible than this and nothing could be a more blatant display of self-centredness.
The pandemic has set the Indian economy back by decades. It has had to briskly ramp up the medical facilities in thousands of hospitals, provide necessary equipment to doctors and para-medics, had to use the national airline to rescue thousands of stranded citizens in corona affected countries including China and above all had to put the country under a lockdown, presently, for as many as 40 days during which all economic activities have come to a full stop. Besides, the government has had to put money in the hands of millions of industrial workers, agricultural workers, labourers, daily wagers etc., who had been stranded in their respective places of work. The growth rate of the economy is going to be severely impacted. Some reputed organisations like IMF have predicted that India’s growth rate in 2020 is going to be only 1%. Quite clearly, the economy of the country is going to be severely depressed pulling millions of people back into poverty.
Since the corona crisis is being considered as one that is worse than created by a war the government is trying to fight it like it would fight a war. It is throwing everything it has to alleviate the sufferings of the people. It is likely to take years to come out of it and it will take blood, sweat and tears of the people to do so.
One does not know how the world community feels about it but one tends to feel that the Republic of China is solely responsible for inflicting this misery on India and other countries. It, therefore, should be made to pay compensation to all the countries for making them needlessly suffer privations. If reparations were paid by Axis Powers for waging an avoidable war after the Second World War there is no reason why China should not pay countries like India for the devastation caused to their economies and inflicting misery on their unwary citizens.