China moves to muzzle people who wanted to blow the trumpet
On February 3rd this year, Dr James Lyons-Weiler, a molecular biologist who is also senior researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, said this in a particularly insightful interview on the mystery of the coronavirus:
“I’ve analysed the entire genome sequence of this virus and compared it to the entire genome sequences of all the other coronaviruses that we have data for, and turned up this weird element that doesn’t belong there. I’ve found that it actually did match a vector technology that was published in 1998 in the proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
This vector technology is a mechanism by which molecular biologists insert new genes into viruses and bacteria. Now, it’s really unusual to find a vector technology sequence in a virus that’s circulating in humans, and so naturally, one thing we can say, I think for certain, is that this particular virus has a laboratory origin. So we can rule out a natural origin.”
As highlighted in earlier pieces, Luc Montaignier, the discoverer of HIV, said pretty much the same thing, and so did nine specialised Indian researchers. In fact, the Indian scientists attracted so much flak for going against the contrived orthodox – that the coronavirus made a leap from bats into humans using an intermediate animal host palatable to human taste – that two days later, they withdrew the paper altogether.
Yet if the Indian researchers were tarnished, it was all a smear campaign as ample enough evidence, albeit circumstantial, has emerged to the effect that the novel coronavirus was birthed in a Chinese laboratory and it was from there it either leaked or was deliberately propagated into the human population for both experimental (in a diabolical sense) and mercenary motives. The culprit laboratory in the main is the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Strictly speaking though, the laboratory was an accomplice as opposed to a sole respondent.
“THE VIRUS WAS INTRODUCED FROM OUTSIDE THE MARKET”, CHINESE RESEARCHERS ALLEGE
The novel coronavirus outbreak is curious, if not anomalous, in more than one respect. Analysts have wondered, for instance, why it arose in central China when traditionally basically every disease that emerges in China does so through Guangdong, the coastal province that surrounds Hong Kong in the southern part of the country.
This aberration in itself, not to mention the jigsaw that the country’s two major population centres of Shanghai (23.4 million) and Beijing (18.8 million) were only minimally affected, presupposes the fact that there is something fishy about the whole phenomenon, if it can be called that.
A persuasive case can in fact be made that although the coronavirus was according to Chinese authorities detected on December 1, 2019, it had actually been slowly but surely on the loose as early as November (considering that there was certain to be an incubation period between infection and symptoms before the cluster cases of the seafood market began to emerge on December 15, 2019). The Chinese authorities were very much cognisant of this, as well as the fact that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was not the germinal point of the virus.
The January 29, 2020 online edition of The Lancet featured a paper titled Clinical Features of Patients Infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in Wuhan, China. The paper was authored by a team led by Professor Chaolin Huang, the Deputy Director of Jinhintan Hospital, the first Wuhan infirmary to be designated for treatment of the purportedly “mysterious” pneumonia that was triggered by the nascent coronavirus.
The paper said of the 99 Covid-19 cases analysed, 50 percent had never been to the Huanan Seafood Market and that “the origin of 2019nCoV (Covid-19) needs further investigation”. Had the team been matter-of-fact in their declaration, they would have made it categorical that the virus originated elsewhere but they were wary that they did not incense the political powers that be.
On the same day, the New England Journal of Medicine reported, in a paper titled Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia and which was authored by a team of dozens of Chinese doctors from the country’s various centres for disease control and prevention, that of the first 425 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Wuhan, 45 percent had never set foot in the precincts of the seafood market.
In the hard news that was splashed on the front pages of Chinese newspapers but which was totally ignored by the laughably partial Western media, researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, which is a branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research made it plain that the novel coronavirus did not emanate from the Wuhan street market but from a different place which they were discrete enough not to name.
“The crowded street market provided a happy playground for the SARS-CoV-2 circulation and spread it to the whole world from December 2019,” the researchers boldly stated. The vendors and shoppers at Huanan were simply unfortunate enough to be infected by a virus that was introduced from outside the ill-fated and convenient scapegoat market.
Having sequenced the genomic data of 93 Covid-19 samples provided by 12 countries in a bid to track down the source of the infection and understand how it spreads, the Xishuangbanna researchers, who were led by Dr Yu Wenbin, wrote in their institute’s journal on February 28 that the novel coronavirus “was imported from elsewhere. The busy market then boosted its circulation and spread it to the whole city.” More than a dozen scientific blogs published in China would onward relay the same inference.
CHINESE AUTHORITIES DUCK AND DIVE
As the coronavirus tore through the ranks of the 11 million-odd Wuhan residents, the Chinese authorities committed two rather rueful and costly mistakes. First, they downplayed the gravity of the problem both to their own people and to the world at large. Second, they threatened serious repercussions to any Chinese who pronounced on the situation in public fora without the sanction of the political bigwigs.
Third, they neglected to institute a headstart clampdown on inessential toing-and-froing both within Wuhan and between Wuhan and other cities. To rub salt into the wound, the WHO played along to the Chinese subterfuge, blindly echoing their reassuring words parrot style.
Before Wuhan, the seventh largest city in China, was put on lockdown on January 23, 2020, its mayor allowed more than 5 million residents to leave the town, and this at a time when 80 people had died of Covid-19, 2760 were infected, and a total of 14 countries had acknowledged the presence of the virus in their midst. It is a miracle that the peregrinations of this sea of humanity did not trigger a Covid-19 apocalypse across the vast country.
If the truth may be told, the exodus was not a spur-of-the-moment one intended to steer clear of the Covid-19 epicentre: it was in relation to the so-called Lunar New Year, during which the Chinese typically make no less than 3 billion trips over the full season, with workers getting a week off work from January 24-30 and returning to their hometowns for extended family reunions. However, with the spectre of Covid-19 bearing down on Wuhan, the authorities should have flexed situation-specific muscles and confined the Wuhanese in particular to within the Wuhan radius by responsible decree.
Meanwhile, the spin mantra on the lips of the Chinese authorities was that “the diseases is preventable and controllable”, that “there is no need to be alarmed” and that the chances that the disease could be spread through human contact was implausible even when emergency wards were filling with invalids who included members of the same family.
“We knew this was not the case,” wrote an anonymous Wuhan-based doctor who had seen a atypically huge surge in chest illnesses since January 12 on the National Health Commission website. About 8 people were investigated for “spreading rumours about the outbreak.”
Doctors and other members of the health cadre who tried to raise red flags were silenced both reactively and pro-actively. Officials forbade the release of data pertaining to data publication of pneumonia related to Wuhan, including social and self-media or technical services companies. The term viral pneumonia was not to be used on the image reports.
When the Shanghai P3 Laboratory team, that first isolated and published the virus genome on February 5, approached the National Health Commission for its guidance on preventative measures, it was ordered to close with the gag instructions that “existing samples must be destroyed. Information about the samples, related samples, and related data, are all prohibited from release.”
The Chinese government only moved to act constructively and be reasonably transparent on January 20, by which time the virus had gained a tenacious hold. China paid dearly, in terms of lives lost, for its inaction and that way put much of the world at serious peril.
REVELRY IN THE MIDST OF FOREBODING
All sorts of probable reasons as to why Beijing initially chose to treat the Covid-19 outbreak so nonchalantly have been bandied about. The most seemly of these had to do with politics by a regime that is so obsessed with self-promotion even where it is not called for.
The emergence of the coronavirus coincided with the country’s political season, when officials gather for the Communist Party’s annual congress, a propaganda indaba where they rhapsodise about their policies, programmes, and the strides they are making economically. At a time such as this, a promulgation of bad news would have tellingly subtracted from the time-honoured euphoria of the occasion.
“Stressing politics is always No. 1,” Wang Xiaodong, the governor of Hubei, told officials on January 17. “Political issues are at any time the most fundamental major issues.” Indeed, in his annual report to the same congress, Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang made not the merest mention of the viral outbreak.
In fact, no other city or provincial leader did so. , Zhou even had the audacity to allow 40,000 families to gather and share their home-cooked food in a Chinese New Year banquet when 291 people were reeling from the effects of the coronavirus and 6 had already succumbed to it.
This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.
The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.
The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.
Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.
We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.
More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.
The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the market.
Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.
We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?
Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?
Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?
They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?
What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?
They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?
We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?
To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?
Batswana must be made aware that the end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.
For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with the arduous imperative of analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.
Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.
Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute in Botswana is overdue.
If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.
Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.
Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.
Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication
Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.
Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.
Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.
Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.
The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.
So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.
The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.
We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.
They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.
As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.
Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme. WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org
The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.
As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.
I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.
I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?
Counting the cost of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.
It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.
Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.
The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.
Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.
By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.
Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org