Developing countries are about to be hit hard by coronavirus, and this will have devastating mortality rates, as well a disastrous economic effect, with the world economy set to plunge into a recession this year due to the disruption that coronavirus has caused. The developing world will be looking to the countries that have been hit hardest by the virus to find effective strategies to mitigate the impact of covid-19. The US has failed to spearhead a global response to this global crisis. Trump has resisted pressure to declare a nationwide lockdown and his careless dubbing of the virus as a “Chinese virus” angered Beijing who have refused to cooperate with G7 leaders on a global response to the virus. Developing countries are thereby forced to look elsewhere for leadership.
China has attempted to fill the leadership void that the US has left. The country has sent medical supplies to Europe and has been praised for its aggressive containment methods, which have been effective at massively reducing the number of covid-19 cases in China. As a developing country itself, it would make sense for other developing countries in Africa and Latin America to look to China for leadership in dealing with the virus. However, developing countries should be wary of looking to China as a perfect case study for how to contain the virus.
China initially withheld information on its mortality rates from covid-19, which resulted in a missed opportunity to contain the virus. Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor, died from coronavirus in February after he was detained by Chinese police for raising alarm about the virus. He was accused of spreading false rumours and disrupting the social order. One wouldn’t be jumping to an unreasonable conclusion if they thought the Chinese government’s priority was something other than the protection of human life.
China’s influence over the World Health Organisation is worrying as well. Despite the grave threat that covid-19 poses, China has refused to allow Taiwan to participate in World Health Organisation discussions on how to deal with the virus because the Taiwanese government refuses to accept the ‘one China’ principle. Taiwan has had relatively few cases of covid-19 and very few deaths, despite being so close to China. It has made use of technology to fight the virus, so its contribution to World Health Organisation efforts to contain the virus would be valuable. China has chosen to put politics ahead of preserving human life, and this is not a mistake that developing countries can afford to make.
Many developing countries have fewer doctors per head than the European countries that have been hit the hardest by covid-19 so it will be necessary for them to take draconian measures as China did to contain the virus as much as possible, but developing countries must prioritise keeping their mortality rates from the virus as low as possible. They need to act quickly and put their diplomatic spats aside, and China is not the country to look to for leadership on this.
Illustration: Anna Shepherd