Unity of purpose now crucial
Stigmatizing China will not help the world put an end to the novel coronavirus epidemic
On March 11, the World Health Organization announced that the novel coronavirus outbreak "can be characterized as a pandemic". As of March 24, the number of confirmed cases of infection has stood at 350,000 globally, and about 15,000 people had died. Many countries are struggling to combat the virus.
US molecular biologist Joshua Lederberg, a 1958 Nobel laureate, said: "The single biggest threat to man's continued dominance on this planet is the virus."
However, despite the seriousness of the threat, there is division instead of unity because of some countries stigmatizing China and the Chinese people. This will not help end the pandemic.
The stigmatization of specific groups of people as a result of a disease outbreak stems from stereotypes and prejudice, and leads to discrimination. The stigmatization that comes with an infectious disease in turn causes patients to stigmatize themselves, and prompts them to hide their conditions, and avoid seeking treatment, thus increasing the risk of spreading the disease and hindering prevention and control efforts.
To find out the source of the virus is the duty of scientists. Identifying the origin of the virus will help develop vaccines and treatments for the disease and contain the spread of the pandemic, but it should not be used to stigmatize a certain country or allow race to be employed as a tool to seek political gains.
Stigmatization of Chinese people outside China and people from Hubei within China will undermine the trust and cooperation among countries and fuel divisions and conflicts in society.
Facing the pandemic, the whole world should work together. Currently, countries are taking different containment strategies and measures against the virus.
The uncoordinated measures may result in a race to the bottom, complicating the task of containing the pandemic.
In the short term, all countries face the prisoner's dilemma. They should realize the lack of cooperation among countries will cause more difficulties in fighting the pandemic. With countries adopting uncoordinated control measures, each country's practices will not achieve desirable effects, and will severely weaken the global public health system and heighten the risk of infection, especially in countries with larger aged populations and under-developed medical services.
In the middle term, uncoordinated containment policies will lead to "immunity gaps" among different countries. Hence the probability of a resurgence of the virus will differ among countries; the risk of infection associated with international travel will persist. The increased and persisted risks in global travel and trade will have a prolonged influence on international exchanges, worsening the global environment for trade and exchanges.
In the long term, the lack of trust and coordination among different countries and regions in the fight against the virus will weaken the confidence of enterprises and the economic sector in global public health governance, which will heighten the expection for the global supply chain risks. As a result, the global industrial chain will be adjusted and transferred, and the process of globalization will encounter setbacks, even reversion. The social and economic benefits from globalization and the international division of labor will be curtailed, casting gloom over the sustainable development of humankind.
Therefore, all countries should take coordinated measures in the fight against the novel coronavirus under the framework of the global public health system led by the WHO. China, the United States and the European Union should play the leading roles in coordinating global efforts to combat the pandemic through bilateral or multilateral talks and cooperation, and enhanced mutual trust.
The WHO should collaborate with other international organizations such as the World Trade Organization to build a unified global governance system and framework, such as a WHO-WTO public health joint committee, for containing infectious diseases as well as facilitating international economic and trade activities.
Countries should work shoulder to shoulder in the fight against the virus, rather than shifting their troubles onto the others. As different countries are at different stages of the pandemic, those in less dangerous circumstances should help those countries hit harder, thus the world will be able to contain the virus as soon as possible and minimize its impact on societies and the global economy.
The sharing of information, treatments and scientific research findings is crucial and should be advocated strongly; and global cooperation in research on vaccines and medications against the disease should be ramped up to contain the pandemic.
The author is a research fellow with the National Academy of Development and Strategy and a distinguished professor at the Renmin University of China. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.