Of late, China has had a tremendous amount of the World’s attention focus on it, of a kind it has definitely not wanted.
The latest potential global epidemic from the Corona Virus (officially called COVID-19 by the World Health Organization or the WHO) put China in the spotlight as the virus originated (in humans) in a fish market in Wuhan, the Capital City of Hubei Province, in Central China. This particular strain of ‘The Virus’ is related to the SARS Virus of many years ago, which had also originated in China.
As the infection of the Corona Virus entailed the transmission of the Virus from bats to humans, it caused dual negative publicity for China; one - that another potential epidemic-causing virus was originating from China; and two - it was made possible by the eclectic taste for exotic fare (illicit trade and consumption of live wild animals) of the Chinese people, that has persisted, in spite of the previous transmissions of deadly animal-borne viruses that gave China and the World a scare.
China and its authoritarian government, which is always working overtime to improve the country’s public image abroad, could have done without the negative imaging that this virus and its source caused - and the backlash from the international community that subsequently ensued.
Upon the outbreak of the Corona Virus, everyone became wary of all things, and humans, coming in and out of China. Travel within China and from outside the country has been severely curtailed, and entire cities and regions have become ghost towns - while businesses, public places and factories have been shuttered.
The effects of the Corona Virus has been felt quickly throughout the World as travel to and from China is practically stopped, and factories are shut in supply-chain countries like Japan and many others.
The current tally of people infected with the Corona Virus in China is estimated to be about 70,000 and climbing, while reported deaths from the Virus is over 1,700 internationally.
But because the Corona Virus takes about 11-14 days before the infected person show any symptoms, the danger of it spreading silently before it becoming known is considerable among people who are exposed to anyone that is carrying the Virus, without any obvious signs to give a warning.
The Corona Virus will be stopped eventually, but in the meantime it has caused considerable damage to China by way of its image, and to its economy, and no one is certain what the ultimate cost to human lives, and China’s and the global economies is going to be, as an effective vaccine may be at least months or years away. In the meantime, containment of the Virus is the only way to try and curb its spread in China and the World.
As a number of deadly non-human viral infections (originating in animals and then crossing over to humans) have originated in China in the recent decades, prior to this latest one, there will be considerable pressure on the Chinese government and the Chinese people to stop the illegal trade in, and the consumption of wild animals, which have been the source of these non-human residing viruses.
This change in behavior is not going to be easy to affect in China, as it’s long history of traditional medicines incorporate a wide variety of wild animal parts and organs that are believed to have healing properties; while the more exotic aspects of them promote everything from longevity, and virility, through animal skin, bones, horns and hoofs.
This deep seated belief is entrenched across the entire country, and through some of its neighboring countries and peoples, across parts of Asia and beyond. This entrenched belief in the healing and strength-giving properties of certain animal parts has been responsible for the decimation of animals and species across the globe. As people with these beliefs have grown wealthier, and have the money to fund a growing demand for exotic cures and assists from rapidly declining wild-life sources, many species they seek are facing extinction.
Up to now, the Chinese government has been unwilling to put any real pressure, or take any drastic steps to seriously curb the trade of wild animals and their parts through the country. And once the scare of Corona Virus fades, things are probably going to go back to the way it has always been for centuries. But, the Corona Virus has again rung the alarm bell, as previously SARS had done, and before that the Avian Flu had done (all originated in China). And this time the governments of other countries, and China’s government, need to ensure that steps are taken to change behavior, and therefore the demand for wild animals for consumption, either as exotic fare in restaurants, or as part of the traditional medicines that have no scientific basis in fact, but are an unquestioned part of cultural and historical belief systems that seem to persist in spite of the damage they cause to animals, and the humans that consume them.
And as the World shrinks with the growing ease of travel, a deadly infection finds it ever easier to spread right across the globe in a matter of days. And one day, God-forbid, a truly dangerous virus, or bacteria, may be transmitted that could truly turn into the nightmare of horror movies that humanity so far has only imagined.
Without real collective and co-operative action between global governments and institutions, it’s only a matter of time before we face a true epidemic that we cannot control; at least not till it has wreaked havoc in the global population, and the global economy. The Corona Virus is giving us a glimpse of that probability.