Controlling Covid-19 and its Origin: A Tale of Two cities.

By Allawi Ssemanda and Shemei Ndawula


“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” a phrase from the Victorian dystopian novels ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens. This phrase can also be seen to apply to the two largest economies in the world in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. For the past two years the world has been ravaged by the pandemic bringing global economies to their knees. Arguably, in context of containing covid-19 pandemic, the People’s Republic of China is among countries that have largely emerged as the world leaders in fighting this pandemic; first with its rigorous domestic campaign to neutralize the virus within its borders setting benchmarks for the world with its massive treatment center projects and citizen relief during the lockdown.

Meanwhile, the United States of America (U.S) first responded to the pandemic through what many analysts described as denial, then dismissal, panic, disputing science logic and now they are looking for a scapegoat to cover own inadequacies. A deeper analysis of this; one can argue that China has proven a timely ally of many; first with the timely aid – providing aid to various governments with equipments necessary for containing the virus as well as restructuring loans to various economies. Needless to say, China is currently at the forefront of the Covid-19 vaccination not only in Africa but the wider Global north donating several million vaccine doses on top of pledging support to the COVAX initiative aimed at providing vaccines to developing countries.

In contrast, the U.S first chose to hoard most of its domestic vaccines whilst critiquing Beijing for the so-called vaccine diplomacy. Consequently, Washington which often branded Beijing’s diplomats of practicing the so-called “wolf diplomacy” because of their assertiveness, it has now adopted what seems to be “blackmail diplomacy” as a major element amplifying the theories around Coronavirus origins with some people in Biden administration going against the position of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and scientists who support world health organization’s (WHO) first results contending a natural origin to the virus. Indeed, president Biden gave U.S’ CIA 90 days to ‘look into the possibility’ of the virus having originated from a lab in Wuhan, which rises several questions;

Why America? First, we are aware there’s’ an earlier comprehensive investigation into the origins of the Coronavirus headed by the WHO which concluded that; the possibility of the virus having originated from a lab is “highly unlikely”. Considering the fact that in WHO report, a follow up research was indicated to look into the possibility of there being an intermediary species in the transfer of Coronavirus from bats to humans, isn’t it redundant carrying out both investigations parallel to each other?

Why the lab theory? Most of the evidence quoted by believers of the lab theory is quite circumstantial due to the presence of the viral research institute in Wuhan. In addition, there’s been proven research into natural transfer in the previous SARs viruses that have broken out so it would be incredulous to abandon such precedent for an unproven theory especially if was rendered highly improbable by the world mandated body (WHO).

As Carl Sagan, a renown American scientist taught us; “the suppression of uncomfortable ideas maybe common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge and there is no place for it in the endeavor of science.” In the wake of Covid-19, American leadership ignored health experts and scientists’ advice in favor of politics. As China aggressively adhered to health experts’ and scientist’s advice such as wearing masks and tight lockdown which temporarily made several Chinese cities empty for several weeks, Washington opted to playdown efforts China employed branding them draconian despite scientific proof that these methods like lockdown and wearing mask were very effective.  An argument can therefore be made that after ignoring science and health experts’ logic and embracing political game(s) in containing Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S which is recovering from covid-19 wreckage must find someone to blame for the death of over 600,000 Americans who would have probably survived had Washington swallowed pride and followed science and “draconian measures” China employed in containing the virus.

Since Covid-19 hit the U.S, politicians in Washington have always tried to find who to blame. As the world raced to develop coronavirus vaccines, some politicians in the U.S were busy blaming China for what they called stealing of their knowledge in vaccine development despite showing zero proof. It was actually partly this issue that saw Trump administration closing China’s Consulate in Houston, Texas. When China produced their Covid-19 vaccines, because Beijing had already contained local transmission at home, and in what could be Xi Jinping’s cherished ideology of a shared prosperity for mankind, China decided to distribute vaccines to almost all countries especially in developing countries. This happened as the U.S and some other developed countries embraced vaccine nationalism by buying and booking all future productions for their citizens, leaving all developing countries to survive arguably on China’s mercy as Beijing supplied them with several tens of thousands of their vaccines. Surprisingly, Washington branded this gesture political, so-called China’s vaccines diplomacy.

Put differently, the U.S has always been ready to discredit China’s efforts not just in containing the spread of coronavirus but from measures of containing virus spreading, vaccine development, vaccine distribution and now after failing, they are trying to change the narrative by taking over WHO’s ongoing duty of investigating coronavirus origins. Such confusion reveals a disconnect with one country seemingly having so much to say about the virus and another (China) having so much to do about the virus, hence, a tale of two cities.

To sum it up, president Biden’s ordered inquiry in origins of covid-19 is nothing but political and blaming China, president Biden is reading Donald Trump’s old playbook – blame China for all your failures, your support back home will rise. What’s clear is that Americans are more divided than ever along political lines. Last year, Republican Party polling consistently indicated that “China-bashing” was very popular among Trump supporters that at one time, top republican officials indicated that “blame-China” theme could help Trump get re-elected since it was one of major tricks that could help offsetting some of the disdain several Americans had for his poor handling of the country’s COVID-19 crisis. It can be argued that president Biden knows that Trump had over 74 million supporters who voted him in 2020 elections. To please them and probably bring them to his side, it is possible that Biden believes doing what they like to hear (bashing China) will see them switch allegiance to him which would be a political score. Therefore, no matter diplomatic words Biden administration put behind his ordered CIA inquiry on origins of Coronavirus, the move is nothing but a cobweb of politics.

Allawi Ssemanda and Shemei Ndawula are Research Fellows at Development Watch Centre, a Foreign Policy think tank.


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