Foreign governments' response to COVID-19 puts China's in perspective
Updated 11:01, 19-Mar-2020
First Voice

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The past few days have witnessed dramatic changes in some Western governments' assessment of and response to the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 9, the Italian Prime Minster made the surprising announcement that the entire country would be put under lockdown, a move underlining the dire situation the country is in and marking a new level of seriousness in the government's response to the epidemic.

On March 14, as the number of infections spiraled to over 6,000 within days in Spain, the western European country followed suit and locked down its 46 million population as well.

In the UK, although the government dropped quite a bombshell on March 12 by announcing its "unconventional" strategy based on "herd immunity," days later, this method was effectively dropped and a sense of urgency and nervousness over the situation set in.

What happened in these and some other countries so far are reminiscent of the series of events that took place in China two months ago when the whole country was taken somewhat off guard by the seriousness of the novel coronavirus outbreak on January 20.

What's different in China, though, was when the virus first emerged, the country was dealing with a nasty surprise that needs to be studied and understood. Countries outside China however, have the advantage of taking note of what happened in China, assessing the threat of the virus to their own countries and taking action accordingly.

This contrast should put China's response in perspective. Despite its robust measures to cope with the outbreak, many Western critics have turned a blind eye to its success of bringing the situation under control within two months. (On March 18, there was no new cases of infection in the entire country except 34 people who traveled to China and were found to be infected.) For many of these critics, the only thing that defines China's response is what happened in the early stage of the crisis.

"Silencing dissent", "extremely secretive", "manipulation of information" and "muzzling criticisms" are the "lesson" they've taken away and decided to warn the world against about China. With this pick-and-choose attitude, some of them were even peddling the doom and gloom facing the Chinese government – saying COVID-19 marks China and Chinese leadership's Chernobyl moment.

Now, the response of some Western governments should shed a new light on how China's dealing should be evaluated. These Western critics have opportunistically portrayed any problem during this episode as uniquely China's own and attributed it to the fundamental flaws in China's political system even though their own governments' reactions have been marred by complacency, slowness, inadequacy, confusion or even chaos, as people in their own countries would criticize.

An interior view of a "temporary hospital" for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms at Wuhan Sports Center in Wuhan City, central China's Hubei Province, February 12, 2020. /Xinhua Photo

An interior view of a "temporary hospital" for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms at Wuhan Sports Center in Wuhan City, central China's Hubei Province, February 12, 2020. /Xinhua Photo

For example, the U.S. government has been on notice about the virus for months but has been reacting to it surprisingly slow and recently caught absolutely flat-footed. Most notably, the testing fiasco that played out in the U.S. has in particular plagued the government's response. While testing has been key to containing the coronavirus outbreak, the administration has been sluggish in carrying out tests. Vox reported that only 23 people per million as of March 11 had been tested while in China as of February 28, the number stood at 2,820.

Moreover, in an attempt to protect the economy and not hurt his chance of re-election, the President was also reluctant to see businesses closed in the early stage even though doing so would help contain the spread of the virus in the country. The perils of the administration's inaction exhibited themselves last week when a national emergency was suddenly declared.

Slow and reactive responses like these in many Western countries could prove damaging in the coming months but Western analysts who slam China over its initial dealing with the COVID-19 and describe its approach to the outbreak as "secretive" will not see "mishandling" of this sort by their own governments as something worth fussing over, not to mention to be their Chernobyl moments.

For example, Madeline Osburn, a staff writer at The Federalist has characterized China's handling of the outbreaks as using "vile tactics" and "causing countless innocent lives" in an article (which was later retweeted by the president) but has in the past defended the administration's response and blasted liberal media for "weaponizing the coronavirus outbreak to attack Trump."

This is revealing of some Western critics' double standards as whenever such a matter is linked with China, it would be automatically associated with something nefarious and fundamentally wrong.

This is not to say that every step the Chinese government has taken to cope with the outbreak is perfect or that there should be excuses for its mistakes. Far from that, if there is room for improvement for the government in terms of safeguarding the country and its people, Chinese public should be (and they have been) outspoken about it. This is also not an attempt to shame all foreign governments for their responses as a fair assessment requires a closer study and a better understanding of their individual circumstances.

But the main point here is that the prejudice some Western critics have held against China has prevented them from treating China as an equal or judging what transpired in the country with the same yardstick they would use with their own governments. There has been a tendency to exaggerate whatever seems to resemble a problem in China and blow it out of proportion. Prejudice of this kind has also caused them to leave out of the picture the swift and decisive actions the Chinese government has taken to control the epidemic, which have proved very effective and something unseen and unparalleled in other parts of the world.

Script writer: Xu Sicong

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