The outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in China has dominated western media for the past week, sensationalist reporting leading many to believe that the end is nigh. Be afraid citizens. Prep your shelters and grab your hazmat suits, the insidiously Chinese coronavirus is about to kill your children! The mass panic level of coverage amongst the press, however, does not fit the facts and largely stems from well established anti-Chinese threads in the way the nation is presented in the media.
Despite the smug assertions of the west, it’s highly unlikely that either the United States or Great Britain would have fared any better when faced with the homegrown outbreak of a major contagion. Indeed, Britain grinds to a halt every year when faced with a little extra snow. Both countries are severely limited in their potential to defend against disease on a major scale, with stockpiles of drugs low and frequently made to order. Brexit will only further stifle attempts to secure necessary and needed medical supplies in the event of such a panic.
Global supply chains of essential pharmaceuticals and medical equipment depend on long international supply chains, often including China and India, that are hugely open to simple disruption. In the United States, for example, essential intravenous bags are primarily manufactured in Puerto Rico, supplies becoming increasingly in demand following Hurricane Maria which devastated the island in 2017. The fallout of the disaster meant that U.S. hospitals were often forced to inject saline with syringes, causing the knock-on effect of syringes also becoming in short supply during 2018.
The state of public health in Britain and America is a source of joint national shame, with widespread opposition to Medicare for all and severe underfunding of public health programs in the U.S. is equally matched with Conservative opposition to an underfunded NHS in Great Britain. Public hospitals and other essential services are stretched beyond breaking point and 16,000 people have died from the regular flu in the United States during this current flu season alone. A statistic that the media seem unwilling to utilise as a comparison.
In 2009, it took the United States four entire months to roll out the new H1N1 flu vaccine, the disaster already nearly having reached its peak with 12,500 Americans dead. The vaccine prevented a mere 500 extra deaths. Flu vaccines are low-margin products meaning that only around 45% of U.S. citizens receive them in any given year. Any increase in demand means the system begins to quickly fail.
U.S. hospitals were equally unable to cope with the then outbreak, with many close to capacity and beginning to run out of essential life support systems when faced with patients suffering heart and lung failure. For an image of the scale with which systems are unable to cope with a major pandemic, the H1N1 strain of 2009 killed a mere 0.03% of the patients it infected. The fatality rate of the coronavirus is currently 4%.
Despite the fatality rate of the virus being higher than the 2009 H1N1 strain, it is still not alarmingly high, however.
Whooping cough has a 4% mortality rate, SARs 9-16%, ebola 25-90%, smallpox 30% and the MERs coronavirus 30%-40%. The western alarm and hysteria are certainly not proportional to the facts of the outbreak. While we understand the tabloid press to believe a sneeze denotes the end of the world, the added hysteria from the “respected” mainstream media and the delusion that China is unable to cope with the coronavirus in comparison to our own “better” systems in the west has the strong odour of sinophobia, as does the frequent culturally superior references to “Chinese meat markets” and accusations of a Chernobyl-style cover-up.
The accusations of a “cover-up” fall into the long-established sinophobic trope of the “inscrutable Chinese”, the devious and untrustworthy “yellow peril” who cannot be believed and certainly can’t be trusted. The west, however, has no high ground when it comes to political transparency, after all, it was just weeks ago that the U.S. claimed nobody had been injured during Iran’s attack on the al-Asad airbase in Iraq, despite 34 servicemen now having been revealed as suffering significant brain injuries.
A poll by the Pew Research Center from 2019 revealed that an astounding 60 percent of Americans had negative opinions about China following a spike in anti-Chinese rhetoric from the Trump administration and the ongoing trade war between the two nations. The data shows that anti-Chinese feeling in the U.S, encouraged by their government, is reaching the level last seen during the Victorian era and early half of the last century, an era of Fu Manchu and the so-called “yellow peril”, a “practice rooted within a European Enlightenment and European colonialist worldview”.
“Since early 2018, the American immigration and justice system has appeared to target Chinese students, and ethnically Chinese researchers, with paranoid rhetoric, visa restrictions, and targeted policing and politicisation of China-connected research. Together, these three trends comprise the primary — but not only — components of the current atmosphere of suspicion and distrust in America of not just Beijing, but Chinese people as a whole. In other words, sinophobia.”SupChina
Western belligerence toward China has been increasing for a long time as the country ascends toward being the world’s number one superpower and while the outbreak of any pandemic is alarming, the coverage of the coronavirus is entirely disproportionate to the facts. Instead of acting responsibly in reassuring the public of these facts, both western governments and media alike have instead decided to cynically use the coronavirus outbreak to advance U.S. and British foreign policy, advance the politics of fear and play into long-standing tropes of cultural superiority, stirring age-old tropes of a “yellow peril”. This irresponsible stirring may, in the long-run, be far more deadly than any virus.