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US spin on virus' name condemned

By CAO DESHENG in Wuhan, ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington and ZHANG ZHIHAO in Beijing | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-03-20 07:33
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People queue to enter a tent erected to test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., March 19, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Some US politicians attempting to politicize the novel coronavirus have come under fire as officials, scientists and experts on international relations warned that such stigmatization would undermine international solidarity in containing the pandemic.

The warning came after some senior US officials connected the virus with China. They include US President Donald Trump, who described the coronavirus as the "Chinese virus" on social media and a White House media briefing, although Director Robert Redfield of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said using the word Chinese as a way to describe the coronavirus is wrong.

On Monday, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Beijing strongly opposes and condemns certain politicians' slanderous stigmatization of China as it fights the novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak.

Yang, who is also director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, said any attempt by the US to discredit China will not succeed and any act that undermines the interests of the country will be resolutely fought by the Chinese side.

A staff worker sprays disinfections on designated zones in the Beijing, where travelers from overseas are put under quarantine to contain the rising risks of imported COVID-19 cases, March 17, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

During telephone conversations with the foreign ministers of Singapore, Russia and the Netherlands as well as Indonesia's coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment on Wednesday, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China strongly opposes labeling the virus with the name of a country as it is disgraceful, immoral and unfair.

Such a move will divide the international community, Wang said, adding that it does not help efforts to unite countries in the battle against the spread of the pandemic, nor will it contribute to the disease prevention and control efforts in the US.

The three foreign ministers also expressed their opposition to the stigmatization of China.

The World Health Organization gave the pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus the generic name COVID-19 on Feb 11 to avoid stigmatizing a country or particular group, choosing a name that doesn't refer to a geographical location, animals, an individual or a group of people.

WHO officials have warned against calling COVID-19 the "Chinese virus", saying that it could lead to racial profiling.

Michael J. Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme and Maria Van Kerkhove, Head a.i. Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis attend a news conference on the coronavirus in this Jan 2020 file photo. [Photo/Agencies]

At a media briefing on COVID-19 at the headquarters of the United Nations body on Wednesday, Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's health emergencies program, said: "It's really important that we be careful in the language we use.

"The pandemic of influenza in 2009 originated in North America, and we didn't call it the 'North American flu'," Ryan said. "So it's important that we have the same approach when it comes to other viruses."

"This is a time for solidarity, this is a time for facts, this is a time to move forward together, to fight this virus together. There is no blame in this," he said."All we need now is to identify the things we need to do to move forward quickly, with speed and to avoid any indication of ethnic or other associations with this virus."

London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco, said references to the virus that causes COVID-19 as a "Chinese virus" are "offensive and counterproductive".

"There is never an excuse for xenophobia. Coronavirus is a global pandemic that is affecting all of us, and it requires all of us to listen to public health experts and respond together," Breed said in a statement.

Zhong Nanshan, the prominent Chinese expert on respiratory diseases, said at a news conference on Wednesday that although Wuhan, the hardest-hit Chinese city, first reported the outbreak, there is no evidence that the city is the source of the virus that caused COVID-19.

Zhong Nanshan, right, pictured in this March 2, 2020 photo. [Xinhua]

A lot more needs to be understood about COVID-19 and international cooperation is important in fields such as drug development, he said.

Scientists have discovered through clinical records and genetic tracing that the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan may not be the source of the virus after all, according to the journal Lancet and other follow-up studies.

The market might just serve as a jumping-off point where the virus emerged and began infecting a wider public, but who or what brought the virus to the market in the first place remained unknown, scientists noted.

The Foreign Ministry has reiterated on many occasions that China believes that the origin of the virus is a matter of science which requires a professional and science-based assessment.

Li Haidong, an international relations professor at China Foreign Affairs University, said that playing the blame game might help politicians divert public attention from their own lackluster response to the outbreak and alleviate social pressure in the short run, but people will eventually catch on.

"Those who are pointing fingers now will soon realize this pandemic is a common challenge that must be addressed through honest and constructive collaboration," Li said.

A recovering pneumonia patient gives a thumbs-up to medical workers at Wuhan University's Zhongnan Hospital. [GAO XIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY]

John Ross, former director of economic and business policy for the mayor of London, said in an article that through the determined fight against the virus, China created a window of opportunity of almost two months for the rest of the world before the coronavirus began to significantly spread outside the nation, but this time was wasted.

Instead of learning the positive lessons of China's ability to control the virus, the US government and the Western media engaged in anti-China propaganda, said Ross, a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies of Renmin University of China.

"The bitter truth is that people in the West now face a medical, human and economic disaster due in significant part to this anti-China propaganda," he added.

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