[NB: This article was first written in June 2020. There is a Chinese version on my Chinanotes.org website]
Why did Western Countries Fail to Prevent the Spread of Covid-19?
The Covid-19 pandemic is a once in a century grave health crisis. From the time when the first cases were first diagnosed in Wuhan in December 2019, the virus quickly spread around the world. To date at least 400,000 people have died. [Note: this article was written in June 2020].
In my opinion the most interesting aspect of the pandemic is that, with very few exceptions, no country and no national leaders outside China anticipated that the virus would spread to their countries as it has done. European and western hemisphere countries in particular failed to heed the lessons learned by China and other Asian countries in the early stages of fighting the virus.
All the news coming out of China, and in particular Wuhan and Hubei Province, in January and February of this year clearly showed the virus was highly contagious, causing serious illness and a high death rate for many of the people who contracted it. However, in Europe and North and South America, with the exception of Germany, we all failed to do enough to prepare for it. Since then, we have all experienced a much more serious and prolonged pandemic than China, Taiwan and South Korea. Why is this?
I believe the key reasons for this are as follows:
First, when the Chinese government decided to lock down Wuhan and Hubei Province on 21st January, they undoubtedly realised the virus had spread to the rest of China and other parts of the world. That is why they immediately took forcible measures to prevent the virus spreading to other parts of China. Up to 800 million Chinese people were forced to remain at home. In western countries our television channels and newspapers were filled with reports of Chinese people’s bitter experiences. The Chinese government also issued daily reports about the number of confirmed infections and deaths on the previous day. In western countries, however, even though we knew there had been frequent flights between Wuhan airport and our own airports, we still did not acknowledge the possibility the virus might have already spread to our own countries. We therefore wasted valuable time in making our own preparations and did not promptly adopt lockdown measures. We also failed to order enough protective medical equipment.
Secondly, a major reason western countries failed to realise the virus would spread through their own populations was the fact that the vast majority of western people mistakenly believe this type of pandemic crisis only happens in China and simply cannot occur in advanced western countries. We also believed during the early stage of the pandemic that our medical systems were robust enough to cope with the pandemic if it did reach us. By the time many Italian people had died from the virus, it was too late for the United Kingdom, France, the United States and other countries to prepare for it.
Thirdly, I ask myself whether the Chinese government, when they took the decision to lock down Wuhan on 21st January, realised that the virus had already spread to many other countries? If they did realise that, why did they not immediately stop all flights in and out of China? Why did they not warn countries outside of Asia that the virus had already spread to other parts of the world? Based on their experience of the SARS epidemic in 2003, the possibility that the Covid-19 virus would spread to Europe and the western hemisphere must have been foreseeable. However, the Chinese government refused to cancel all flights and indeed criticised Australia for its decision to stop flights. They also urged the World Health Organisation to delay the declaration of a global pandemic. Did the Chinese government (including General Secretary Xi Jinping) realise at that point that western countries would soon face a grave public health crisis that they would be unable to control? I believe that if the Chinese government had warned western governments at an early stage that they needed to make urgent preparations to combat the virus, such a warning would have had no effect. Nonetheless the fact that a warning appears not to have been issued may well result in western countries criticising China and pursuing claims against it in the future.
Michael Ingle – firstname.lastname@example.org