By William J. Furney
World leaders were not jetting to New York this week for the annual spectacle that is the United Nations General Assembly, but instead, thanks to coronavirus, were giving their speeches via videolink. It’s the first time in 75 years that the global platform is being held virtually — and why not? Heads of state should deliver their UN speeches online every year, and save the world tons of carbon emissions in airliner travel.
This year, as the world lies ravaged by the bug that originated in China late last year and some nations, like Israel, are back in national lockdown while others, such as the UK, are considering such stern measures again as cases of novel coronavirus soar, the world body set up to foster peace in the world is keen to point out that’s it’s not all about the pathogen.
“The pandemic is not the only issue the world faces. Racism, intolerance, inequality, climate change, poverty, hunger, armed conflict and other ills remain global challenges,” the UN said. “These challenges call for global action, and the 75th session of the General Assembly is a critical opportunity for all to come together and chart a course for the future.”
What kind of future? Mostly, the tired annual gathering will be a cyber-cauldron of hot air and attacks on nation-foes, like Pakistan’s Imran Khan’s stinging criticism of the Indian government over what he called “state terrorism” and “crimes against humanity” in Jammu and Kashmir.
The question most delegates want answered, and most of the world’s population too, is what’s being done about preventing another catastrophic, and probably zoonotic, disease from erupting and bringing the planet to a halt again. So far, this newly discovered version of the coronavirus family responsible for colds and flus has infected more than 32.5 million people worldwide and killed close to 1 million.
After all, the UN has a direct role to play in people’s health, via its sister agency the World Health Organisation. But the WHO is itself in poor health, suffering from a Trump-ordered cut of a large part of its funding, over blundering chief Tedros’ perceived corona failings and kowtowing to Beijing, to get elected and beyond.
To its credit, the WHO did give the disease caused by novel coronavirus a couple of impressive-looking names. So that’s alright.
Scrappy Australia, never one to shy away from a fight when it knows it’s in the right — in this case with China — wants to know exactly how novel coronavirus managed to leap from one species (presumed to be bats) to humans and cause such devastation.
“This virus has inflicted a calamity on our world and its peoples. We must do all we can to understand what happened, for no other purpose than to prevent it from happening again,” Prime Minister Morrison said via videoconference from Down Under. “There is a clear mandate to identify the zoonotic source of the COVID-19 virus and how it was transmitted to humans,” he said, referring to one of the WHO’s monikers for corona disease.
The last time Morrison made such a global call for the protection of human health, a few months ago, the thin-skinned communist leaders in Beijing were outraged and, absurdly, threatened trade sanctions against Australia.
People around the world were outraged when authorities in corona ground-zero Wuhan started rounding up anyone who dared speak out about a lethal new disease, including a young doctor who had tried to sound the alarm but was silenced and subsequently died.
China doesn’t give its people freedoms and blocks the internet, so why would the closeted mandarins in Beijing let word of a pathogen out? And why would China really want a global probe of a bug that emerged from within its vast borders?
This week, as tensions flared at the UN, ostensibly between the US, China and Russia, the Chinese authorities hit out via their Global Times propaganda paper.
“The novel coronavirus is the common enemy of humankind. It is yet another unknown virus from nature, which can break out among humans anytime anywhere. China is a victim of the virus and a contributor to the global fight against it,” the state-run publication declared.
“China reported the epidemic, identified the pathogen, and shared its genome sequence with the world all at the earliest time possible. When human-to-human transmission was confirmed, China immediately made the resolute decision to shut all exit routes from Wuhan,” the publication said, as it slammed the Trump administration for politicising the pandemic and “reverting to cold war mentality”.
“We urge the US side to reflect on its own problems, change course and do more in the interest of world peace and development, rather than going further down the path of unilateralism and hegemony.”
Et tu, Beijing.
- Title photograph shows Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressing the United Nations General Assembly by videolink, on September 25, in which he called for a probe into the eruption of coronavirus so another pandemic can be averted. (Credit: United Nations)