‘I Know Who Caused Covid-19’ Review – The Global Blame Game | Science and nature books

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IIt’s no surprise that Covid-19 has made people angry: their lives have been turned upside down in unimaginable ways. People have lost family members to illness, or have suffered for months from a long Covid. With the restrictions needed to keep health services afloat, small businesses were gone, city centers were closed, and people went months without seeing loved ones. Fundamental freedoms we took for granted have been taken away in order to stop the spread of a dangerous virus. The question of where it came from, and who is responsible for all this devastation and loss, has grown in importance.

Perhaps this is why blame has become the focus of so much discussion, with all the problems that this entails. People want to know who is to blame for Covid-19. Professors Zhou Xun and Sander Gilman explore this territory in their book “I Know Who Caused Covid-19”: Pandemics and Xenophobia. The authors examine experiences and attitudes towards a number of groups that have come into the limelight at various times: Chinese, ultra-Orthodox Jews, blacks and browns, and, finally, white Americans who support Donald Trump. . Some key themes emerge from their analysis.

First, we need to differentiate the responses of governments from those of citizens and scientists. The Chinese government is responsible for its lack of transparency on how Covid-19 first emerged. But neither are its employees, and neither are the virologists who have released data and information on gene sequencing to colleagues around the world, allowing them to make test kits and vaccines.

Second, how we name viruses matters. In early 2020, Sars-CoV-2 was labeled “Wuhan virus” and “China virus”. Next come the “Kent variant” and the “Indian variant”. All of this can lead to whole groups of people being viewed as “unclean” and “sick”. The World Health Organization attempted to rectify the situation by referring to variants using the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, delta, etc.), shifting the emphasis from “who is to blame” to “they are here, how do we manage them ”.

Third, fear and uncertainty are at the root of much of the xenophobia discussed in the book. This echoes the UK vote on Brexit. Lack of familiarity breeds contempt. I remember Brexit and how it was often the regions with the fewest migrants in the EU that voted to leave, while those with the most were happier to have strong ties to our countries. neighbors. It is easier to be suspicious of “all Chinese” than of the Chinese living nearby. Ultimately, the rhetoric of blame doesn’t help solve any of the issues we are currently facing. This becomes clear when one considers the reluctance to vaccinate among some minority communities (often referred to as BAME in the UK). These groups have been more reluctant to take Covid vaccines, but blaming them only further marginalizes them. Instead, engaging, listening, and raising awareness to understand their concerns is more important in scaling up immunization. Many of the concerns of these communities are linked to historical episodes of abuse by the authorities, themselves the product of earlier cycles of blame. The irony of Covid-19 is that while so many people around the world have experienced the same loneliness, isolation and frustration, the pandemic must not have led to greater polarization: it was an opportunity to build solidarity, for people to work collectively to help each other. The last sentence of the book really nails the underlying sentiment: “I know who caused Covid-19. They did it. Our challenge is to learn how, in future crises, to deflect the question of “who caused Covid-19?” To “how are we working together to fix it?” “

Devi Sridhar is Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh. “I Know Who Caused COVID-19”: Pandemics and Xenophobia by Zhou Xun and Sander Gilman is published by Reaktion (£ 16). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy from guardbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.


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