[Column] Mistakes from the past

Instead of blaming China for the Covid-19 pandemic, we should be thanking healthcare professionals. Columnist Vishal Onkhar has seen some good examples around the globe.

Vishal Onkhar: “Rembrandt’s forays into Indian drawing techniques might have guided his hand in The Jewish Bride, a copy of which hangs in the hallways of 3mE.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

As the coronavirus abates in some parts of the world and surges in others, glimpses of a dystopian new normal are visible among the ashes and rubble. One need look no further than the city of Wuhan – once a metropolis with bustling thoroughfares, now a lifeless relic of times gone by. Despite the easing of restrictions, life as people know it has proved elusive, with mounting fears of a renewed outbreak lurking around every corner. Is this a grim-faced harbinger of days to come, whose furrowed brow speaks of a fundamental change in the nature of human society, even as hope of returning to the ‘good old days’ is near at hand? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the diabolical game of pointing fingers and laying blame is already upon us. Unsurprisingly, there is talk among politicians of making China face consequences and pay reparations for the ‘monster’ they have unleased upon the globe. More disturbingly, public anger towards China is boiling over across the world and will most likely not be sated until punishment has been meted out and a reckoning has been made. The sharp increase in racist encounters experienced by persons of East Asian descent since the advent of the coronavirus is proof enough.

So eager are we to repeat the mistakes from the past. So easily do we forget that our history as a species is marked with scars from pandemics that originated in every corner of the Earth. The last time a country was compelled to pay hefty reparations was the year 1919 and the Treaty of Versailles was being signed. We all know how that turned out. The last time a superpower refused to be intimidated, was the year 1947 and the Cold War was just beginning. That didn’t end well either. Perhaps it is time we did things differently.

It is unwarranted to single out a race or a community to blame

We tend to gloss over the fact that we are presently in the midst of an AIDS pandemic as well, one that began in Congo in the late 20th century. We also fail to recall that we were only recently besieged by a swine flu pandemic that had its roots in Mexico in the early 21st century. The Spanish flu pandemic of the early 20th century that originated in Europe also often goes unmentioned, as does the Russian flu pandemic of the late 19th century. This is not to say that Covid-19 should be treated lightly, but it shows that diseases arise every now and then on all continents to spread across the planet. We simply happen to be living in a time when the epicentre is located in China. Thus, it is unwarranted to single out a race or a community to blame and to seek revenge against those whom we imagine are the perpetrators. This is exactly the sort of twisted logic that led to the scapegoating of Jews for the bubonic plague, gay men for AIDS, and people of African descent for Ebola.

Instead, what we should be doing is bringing communities together and thanking healthcare professionals who are putting their own lives on the line to see us through these difficult times. I’m sure we’ll all agree that they deserve much more than just a few rounds of applause. In Sweden, doctors and nurses treating corona patients in ICUs are being paid 220% of their usual salary. In Canada, health workers have been given a substantial raise. In France, hospital workers have been awarded a bonus of up to EUR 1,500. In parts of India, doctors, nurses and sanitation staff working in corona isolation wards have been offered an extra month’s wages. The ball is now in your court, the Netherlands.

Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD in Vehicle Engineering at TU Delft. He is an avid player of chess and video games, but he also harbours a special interest for reading and writing fantasy fiction. He doesn’t drink coffee but good music and film have the same effect on him.

Columnist Vishal Onkhar

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