SO FAR, there have been hundreds of deaths from the coronavirus outbreak in China, while some 35,000 others may potentially be infected. Even though the exact source of this new strain of virus remains uncertain, it is believed to have spread to humans from an animal. Most recently, researchers have traced a possible link to the endangered pangolin: a shy creature hunted ruthlessly for its meat and scales, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine. At this point, only this much is certain that the coronavirus is spreading around the world at a pace that exceeds our understanding of it. Away from mainland China, there have been other deaths in Hong Kong as well as in the Philippines. At least 25 other countries have reported that some of their citizens are suffering from the virus. Among them are Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, India, and the UAE.
Tragically, the latest list of victims includes the Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who is believed to have contracted the disease from a patient he was treating in Wuhan city, the epicentre of the storm. In December last year, the 34-year-old doctor had taken to social media to break the news of a deadly “SARS-like” new virus — but instead of paying heed to his warning, the Chinese authorities tried to silence him for “rumour-mongering” and began an investigation against him for having “severely disturbed the social order”. Posthumously, the young doctor is now being hailed as a hero, and there is simmering anger towards the way the initial warnings were handled. There is a lesson here: when states do not listen to experts, and instead, persecute them for speaking up, or when they try to control the narrative to such an extent that it glosses over harsh realities, problems do not disappear. They only fester and return in the shape of a bigger monster. Had Li’s warning been heard, perhaps more lives could have been saved — including his own.
Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2020