Thursday, March 19, 2020

First country of a pandemic: guilty or not guilty

As of this writing, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection is almost a quarter million in the world, and there are almost 10,000 deaths. While WHO has long established the convention to not name an epidemic or pandemic after the name of the country where the outbreak started, there's no cease of debate about whether that country is guilty if it had initial cover-up, denial, or do-nothing complacency. A simple answer to the titled question is definitely positive, for the reason that if the country promptly acted to notify the public, prohibit group gathering, and isolate the first few infected, there wouldn't be an outbreak beyond the limited area at all. In terms of deaths that could have been avoided, and the simple fact that death cannot be converted to life, the guilt is inexcusable.

However, there is another side to the argument. If a regular human ordinarily acts in a way that unintentionally leads to damage, the fault becomes excusable and the act is not considered guilt. If it had not been China where the coronavirus was first found and spread, if it had been Italy or Iran or the US, judging by the actions these governments took in the last two months, we may safely conclude that these countries would have made the same mistake as China, i.e. initial denial if not outright cover-up, and lack of preparedness for the spread of the virus (in spite of the extremely applaudable effort in the later stage of virus control). The ethical argument is that if every country or government, regardless its political classification, behaves the same in the initial wrongdoing, this wrongdoing can be attributed to human nature or the nature of a governing body. Even if this is a fault, it's a fault inherent in universal human nature. Just as to err is human, so to err is of the nature of a group made up of humans.

Is the country where a pandemic originates guilty if the country fails to control its spread due to negligence or misfeasance at the early stage? I say it is guilty, but does not warrant blame, because as of year 2020, human civilization has not progressed to the point where initial denial of a virus outbreak is a rare and universally condemned behavior, except when viewed in hindsight. That day will come, and a new epic in human history will begin, hopefully soon, at the end of this coronavirus pandemic. To err is, in general, human and of the nature of a congregation of humans. But to err on a specific type of event is not always so. In the case of initial denial before an epidemic outbreak, now is the time to change this error from being human to being inhuman.


A reader: Naming a disease after a region is not inherently racist or stigmatizing. The idea that a country should be considered guilty for an outbreak resulting from negligence is completely unjustified. Authorities responsible for harmful cover-ups should be condemned.#2cents# ? I say, no.
Me: You have a good point. If I understand you correctly, we should treat the country and its authorities or government separately. The former is not guilty but the latter is. Correct?
The reader: I'm not going to blame a five-year-old Chinese kid because a fifty-year-old Chinese official lied. The debate is interesting, though. Hitler rose to power in a democracy (the Weimar Republic). Does this fact make the "Germans" collectively culpable? I say, no.

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