COVID Crisis: Xi ‘Lie’ and Trump ‘Exaggerate’

May 03, 2020

Developing a vaccine is a serious job. Post the outbreak of Covid-19, many agencies in the world have started working towards the development of a vaccine to stop the spread of Coronavirus. At present, the usable vaccine is still a few months or a year away. As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), currently around 60 vaccine candidates are in the pre-clinical trial stage. For any vaccine to reach the stage of public distribution, normally takes around 12 to 18 months. It is expected that by January/February 2021, the Covid-19 vaccine could become available. There are some claims that the vaccine could become available even by September 2020.

Under normal circumstances, post-laboratory analysis and development, the sample vaccine first gets tested on animals, followed by humans. The process demands three phases of clinical trials to prove its safety and efficacy. The human trials are done on different individuals from various geographies. In emergencies like the Covid-19, fast-tracking is possible, but the vaccine candidates still have to go through various trials before being introduced in the market. The past experience indicates that in general, one in ten experimental vaccines gets the final approval from the regulators.

The case of Covid-19 vaccine development is much different and there are efforts to fast-track this process. India's Zydus Cadila, Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech are among the global firms working on Covid-19 vaccine. There is a claim by an Israeli scientist that he has finished almost 2/3rd of his work and his vaccine should hit the stands by January 2021. In some cases, testing on humans has also begun. Normally, during the pre-clinical stage, testing on small and large animals happens. There are few reports that the testing on monkeys has shown very encouraging results.

Traditionally, mice have been the favourite species for the scientific community to experiment. Various laboratories use disease models to understand the infection spread and possible cure (medicine and vaccine). The years of experience of bio-scientific community indicate that on various occasions the drugs developed based on mouse models do not give satisfactory results while testing on humans. Hence, it is said that “mice lie”. Monkeys and apes are called as Non-Human Primates (NHP), since their physical craters are very close to the human’s race. They are known to provide essential clues about the origin and nature of human behaviour and are widely used for human disease models. At times, during the testing of a drug or a vaccine, they are known to display extra severe clinical and pathological outcomes. Hence, it is said that “monkeys exaggerate”. In the community of medical professionals and bio-scientists, there is a famous saying called “mice lie and monkeys exaggerate”.

Seemingly, vaccine development is the only field which still has mostly remained uncontroversial with respect to the global fight against Covid-19. During the early phase of the conflict, US President Trump had started calling Coronavirus as a Chinese virus. Subsequently, there was some change in his attitude for a short time. By the end of April 2020, he had again started accusing China of keeping the world in dark about the arrival of this deadly virus. He has also come down heavily on WHO and has also accused this multilateral organisation of their China bias. The withdrawal of the US’ funding for WHO is actually a pitiable act. This clearly demonstrates Trump’s lack of understanding about the nature of the threat; he is failing to understand that the US cannot fight with threat all alone.

By the beginning of May 2020, the US has lost more than 63,000 lives to Coronavirus, while in China there have been more than 4,600 deaths. There is a general perception mainly amongst the politicians of both these states that by now a 'plateau' has reached and in the near future, they would be witnessing decreased cases of infection. Possibly, since the situation looks to be coming back to some normalcy, it appears that the blame game has begun afresh.

President Trump claims that he has strong evidence that Covid-19 originated from a scientific laboratory in Wuhan. He is not making any public evidence to back his claim but alleges that he is confident about his claim. 2020 is the year of the Rat (mice) according to Chinese zodiac; this has not been a good year for China so far.

By now it has almost become an established fact that China hid the reality about virus spread from its own people for almost a week. President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, January 20, 2020. This delay from January 14 - 20 was the initial mistake which resulted in infecting more than 3,000 people. A young ophthalmologist called Dr Li Wenliang who was working at Wuhan Central Hospital was the first person in China to warn his colleagues on December 30, 2019, about a possible outbreak of mysterious viral pneumonia at his hospital. Sadly, he was summoned and admonished by Wuhan police for making false comments on the Internet. He died from Covid-19 infection on February 07, 2020.

China also had to face a Wuhan fiasco. It was evident to the outside world, mainly based on social media information that the significant spread of Coronavirus had taken place in Wuhan. Regrettably, Chinese official figures were not matching with the situation on the ground. Finally, in order to avoid global embarrassment, China revised its Wuhan death toll up by 1,290 to 3,869. This is an increase of 50per cent from its previous count. 

Are both the US and China using Covid-19 as a new battleground to push for their geo-economic and geo-strategic ambitions? Let us hope not. They need to remember that this one pandemic has the potential to completely wipe off their economic and geo-political superpower arrogance. 

It is for sure if President Xi Jinping continues to lie about Wuhan epicentre and the aftermath, and if President Trump continues to exaggerate China’s role to infect the rest of the world with Coronavirus without any evidence, then the history would judge them as shallow leaders who buckled during the crisis.   

Author Note
Dr. Ajey Lele (Ph.D) , Senior Fellow, MP-IDSA, New Delhi. Views are personal.