Fri | Jun 5, 2020

Daniel Thwaites | Jamaica’s bruk foot from China

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2020 | 12:31 AM

There’s a way in football that a man can foul another player, even kick him to the ground, and then if the play of the ball isn’t to his advantage, turn around and offer the prostrate victim a hand up. Depending upon temperament, the victimised baller might take the hand and say “thanks”, understanding that it’s all part of the grand game.

Another sort of man may spurn the offer and be like “Move up! ‘Bout yuh a help mi aftah yuh bruk mi foot!” This second baller, I’m imagining, is not so sanguine about de big lick weh him just get, and even if he accepts the hand from the offender, he will still “mark him face”.

Now, I’m personally more inclined to be like the second baller, especially if the kick-dung is recent, but I know it’s a self-defeating strategy in the long run. Although the Buddha wisely teaches that holding on to anger is like picking up a hot coal intending to throw it at someone else, I’m very early on the path to Nirvana and liable to fall off track.

And whereas we might rightly carefully count the kicks delivered to our personal shins, are we allowed to do that as a nation? Probably not. Because if man to man is so unjust, and we know that it is, what of nation to nation?

It’s not even clear that the issue of justice even arises. For if justice is to give every man his due, in what sense is one nation truly due anything from another? That’s no easy thing to say.

One thing we are not due is patent nonsense. But I opened up The Gleaner weh day and saw a piece penned by China’s ambassador to Jamaica, Mr Tian Qi, that fits the bill.

I realise China doesn’t particularly owe Jamaica anything materially, and so the donations meticulously recorded and itemised by Mr Qi, of medical supplies, isolation gowns, medical boot covers, protective glasses, medical gloves, and forehead thermometers, are things we ought to also record and itemise our gratitude for. After the kick-dung? Obviously, we should accept it. However, there were parts of the missive I choked on.

“Since the onset of the epidemic, China, with the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind and a responsible attitude towards global public health security and people’s well-being, has been sharing information on COVID-19 in an open, transparent and responsible manner with WHO and other countries.”

Really now. “Since the onset”?

Then there was a barely concealed advertorial for what I’m not sure. China’s early response system? Authoritarian government? What else is meant by “China’s system”?

“After the outbreak of COVID-19, China has been fighting it with all-out efforts. The speed, scale, and efficiency of China’s response is rare in the world, and demonstrate the strengths of China’s system.”

Well luckily for me we don’t have China’s system, so the parts of Mr Qi’s epistle that is bunkum and pabulum needn’t go completely unanswered.

Let’s be clear: viruses don’t have responsibility, certainly not in the way a people do. Other great infections have started elsewhere and, barring responsibility through carelessness, that’s no fault of those who first suffered.

So it’s not the Chinese so much as the Chinese Communist Party CCP) that needs to answer for mishandling the virus.

Right now it’s hard to even conceptualise the scope and scale of the disaster that began in Wuhan. As of today, the WHO advises there have been over a million infections and 57,000 dead.

In the United States, unemployment is set to soar over 30 per cent, surpassing Depression Era figures. In Jamaica, it will likely be worse, perhaps far worse. Tourism hit a Great Wall, remittances are drying up, BPOs are having respiratory failure, and every service industry is gasping. Trillions of dollars have been lost. The health and well-being of humankind is swirling in the toilet.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Consider these “wet markets” where exotic animals are traded, slaughtered and eaten. A government willing and able to weld human beings into buildings could shut them down. These are known sites of zoonotic transmission and it is recklessness that they still exist.

Worse is the initial denial of the outbreak and suppression of those who said it had appeared. Here we see the fruits of communist authoritarianism in all its glory, when those with inconvenient ideas and information are silenced and punished by petty officialdom.

TIMELINE MATTERS

So when Ambassador Tian Qi blathers about responsible attitudes to global public health “since the onset” he must surely be blushing? The timeline matters. Days matter! Bigly!

Dr Shengjie Lai of the University of Southampton, studying the outbreak in China, “found that if interventions … could have been conducted one week, two weeks or three weeks earlier, cases could have been reduced by 66 per cent, 86 per cent and 95 per cent, respectively – significantly limiting the geographical spread of the disease”.

According to the South China Morning Post, the first patient with COVID-19 dates back to November 17. “From that date onwards, one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27… and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.”

By the end of December when the world should have already been scrambling to deal with this threat, doctors like Ai Fen and Li Wenliang were being questioned and harassed because they were issuing warnings. Even after December 31, when China told the WHO about the unknown illness, the Wuhan Public Security Bureau pulled eight doctors in for questioning because they had posted information about the virus on social media.

Caixin Global reports that “as early as December 27, a Guangzhou-based genomics company had sequenced most of the virus … days before China notified the WHO on December 31 about the emergence of an unidentified infectious disease, two weeks before it shared the virus’ genome sequence with the world, and crucially, more than three weeks before Chinese authorities confirmed publicly that the virus was spreading between people”.

Still, on January 14 the Chinese had the WHO announcing that there’s no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

On January 18 they go ahead with a massive Lunar New Year banquet in Wuhan, and proceeded with nationwide celebrations between January 24 and 30. All the while, people are leaking out of Wuhan and carrying the virus to the four corners of the Earth.

The Summons and Complaint before the court of international public opinion will include initially covering up the outbreak, silencing whistle-blowers, rejecting help, influencing the WHO, allowing infected people to travel, spreading falsehoods about the virus’ origins, and till now probably still covering up the actual numbers.

I don’t want to paint a completely negative picture of the Chinese government’s response, because when they kicked into gear, Mr Qi is correct that the communists have a capacity for command and control that is unequalled.

But let’s not kid ourselves: this was no model of how such an outbreak should be handled in the future, and it’s hardly an advertising point for “China’s system” which, after all, delivered the disaster for which there is as yet no cure, and that it also has delivered the most efficient mitigation.

Can we at least agree that it’s better when there’s no large-scale disaster to mitigate, so the “strength of China’s system” needn’t be on show for the rest of us who don’t like it? And, seriously, thanks for the supplies, even when we’re still nursing the bruk foot from when yuh kick wi dung!

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com