By Herman Tiu Laurel

Covid-19 should unify the world

AS the Covid-19 virus jumps vast distances and oceans to other continents, we see how other countries are adopting lessons from China’s responses, including mass “lockdowns” and other preemptive moves. The effectiveness of China’s response has resulted in a reduction of the Covid-19 crisis after just three short months, unlike past epidemics that took almost a year before subsiding.

In the midst of fears that Covid-19 is jumping across continents to the Middle East and Europe, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyessus has said, that, “... it’s impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take” but added, “the steps China has taken to contain the outbreak at its source appears to have bought the world time.”

Paraphrasing John Donne, the lesson that has been engraved into the minds of all peoples and governments' minds, is “No one among us, no country in the world, is an island entire of itself, every man and country is ... part of the main... We are involved in mankind, ... ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for us all.”

Philippines all the wiser

As the Covid-19 scare slowly lifts away from China to other countries with whom the Philippines has extensive travel and trade ties, such as, South Korea and Japan, the country faces the same question on whether to ban travel to these destinations.

We are glad to see that overreactions are beginning to be corrected and more measured responses being made. WHO praised the Philippines alongside China. After an initial blanket travel ban on South Korea, the Bureau of Immigration now says: “... the scenario is different from when the Philippines implemented restrictions on travel to and from China, Hong Kong, and Macau. This time, the ban is imposed only on selected parts of South Korea.” Now we are seeing a much more intelligent and wiser reaction from Filipinos to the epidemic scare.

America’s in fright and profit

Previous months of Covid-19 information splurge notwithstanding, America simply was neither listening nor preparing. When the first “community infection” arrived, in early February “the Center for Disease Control (CDC) sent testing kits to labs across the US, but a glitch in the kits made it unusable... There’s so much backlog now...”

House Nancy Pelosi lashed out at President Donald Trump for his delayed response and criticized Trump’s anti-Covid-19 emergency budget requests of $ 2.5-billion as “inadequate” and “anemic.” The CDC expressed the same sentiment, fearing the “Community Spread of Covid-19 in the US and warned that disruptions could be “severe.” Despite these warnings, however, political infighting prevails.

When asked about vaccines in a House hearing, Health Secretary Alez Azar said, “We can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest...”  One news report commented, “... the new coronavirus doesn’t care about profit margins... that attitude doesn’t just put the poor at risk... it puts everyone at risk.”

In America profit is first, before public welfare. Thank goodness that was and is not the case in China. Will America learn from China?

China to help neighbors in Covid-19 fight

China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijiang announced that China is ready to “boost cooperation with Japan and the Republic of Korea in fighting the novel coronavirus disease (COVID 19) and willing to provide support and aid to the two countries...” In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, China-Japan relations have been described as a “honeymoon” period.

The same may also be said for Philippines and Chinese relations. A Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, which was held on February 20, 2020, and co-chaired by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, has issued a communique on cooperation on cross-border health security.

What is significant is Wang Yi’s statement that “China and ASEAN are like members of a family with a shared future” (and) hence must work together. The global COVID 19 challenge highlights this call of the “Community of Shared Future for Mankind,” a constant message of China’s government.

America and virus of another form

While China’s continued positive and constructive approach in cooperating with the World in dealing with the Covid-19 challenge is praised repeatedly by all members of the WHO, the American and the West’s war virus continued to sow intrigue and demonization of China to undermine its international reputation and credibility.

Steve Bannon –once President Trump chief White House strategist and peddler of the new Cold War with the twist, “Committee on the Present Danger: China”- continues to tout that “Covid-19 is out of control in China” – despite WHO’s announcement that the COVID 19 new infections in China are already in decline.

Even the Wall Street Journal was forced to retract its published article “Sick Man of Asia” on China when 53 of its own reporters and editors demanded that the Journal make an apology to China and change the title of the article. (See NYT, Feb. 22, 2020).

A Lancet medical journal letter that described horrible conditions in Wuhan hospitals, which was allegedly informed by two Chinese nurses,  was also retracted failing to prove authenticity.

In the Philippines we see that same virus taking constant potshots at President Duterte for distancing the Philippines from the warmongering West and taking the non-aligned path with ASEAN. There remains constant sniping at long-dead issues of territorial rivalries despite the presence of ongoing dialogues to shore up the seas and resources that are plain for all to see.

World unified in efforts to develop vaccine

In a paradigm of global effort to solve a common problem, scientists of many nations are both collaborating and competing to find the vaccine for the Covid-19 disease in the fastest way possible.

Within hours of COVID 19 discovery, China was able to release the virus’ genetic code for sharing with the global scientific community. Unlike previous outbreaks where vaccines took years to develop, we have now reports of COVID 19 vaccines that will be offered for human trials within months.

Such a mode of openness and cooperation conforms to China’s “Community of Shared Future for Mankind.” This openness is focusing global energies against existential threats, such as pandemics, other very real universal dangers of asteroids crashing into Earth, and tectonic, volcanic and tsunami extinction events. These do not exist only in the movies; they are very real.

Going with the 'Community of Shared Future'

Our World’s experience with the Covid-19 reminds us of John Donne’s poem which I paraphrase here, “No man or country is an island entire of itself; every man and country is a piece of the continent, a part of the main... and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for us.”

Covid-19 may be a mutation of the H1N1 virus that spread in the US in 2009. After all, as reported by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases of the National University of Singapore, “Covid-19: transmission more similar to H1N1”.  Given the outbreaks elsewhere, China’s “hero” epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan also thinks the virus could have originated outside of China.

The World is truly getting smaller today: no person and no country can escape this connectedness anymore. It is not just epidemiology: We have seen how the global economy now teeters on the brink as the Chinese economy slowed to a crawl and the U.S. stock market suffered its biggest one-day fall ever.

These are all signs that as one song says, “We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day... There's a choice we're making... We're saving our own lives ... let us realize that change can only come when we stand together as one."




About the Columnist

Image of Herman Tiu Laurel

Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.