Coronavirus: a cultural escape goat or the next Big Five

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Guilherme Wandall, currently in the fourth semester of medicine at FURB in Brazil. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Along humankind history, there were five major events relating to major extinctions: The Big Five, as known in the academic vernacular, were moments in which life on earth was on the brink of closure, evident by the loss of fossil record of the majority of living species (1). Although, the last big purges are associated with environmental changes, the next one may be related to a lack of proper health habits from large populations.

Reports of the outbreak of coronavirus started in the beginning of 2020, when the Chinese population of Wuhan started suffering the affects of the circulation of the virus by transmission of the pathogenic agent by the air (2). Soon enough, Wuhan had eyes from all around the globe from day to night, questioning about the health of its population.

At the start, the main goal was to contain the spread of the virus: flights were cancelled, masks were distributed, China had become the most dangerous place on earth in 2020. Naturally, the thought of an imminent extinction, the next Big Five, was enough motivation to kickstart the development of vaccines and treatment. But others didn’t find enough resolution in that, because they felt that China needed to be responsible for this outbreak.

Similar to the Ebola crisis by the end of 2013 (3), the consumption of animals -manly bats- is focused to be a possible benchmark for the disaster (4). Whoever, solid proof of including certain animals as a part of someone’s diet being the cause of these viruses doesn’t come to daylight. In this context, the circulation of intel accusing the cultural meal plan as the source of the potential Big Sixth is just an excuse for defamation of the culture in Wuhan.

Making another parallel to Africa’s Ebola situation, while the public awareness raises capital for the management of a cure, there’s collateral damage being done to the way the world perceives the host of these diseases. As an example, Canada and the US have a clear a dichotomy when handling this scenario: while Canada doesn’t impose travel restrictions, the US creates a state of fear on its population by closing flights (5).

The fear of the next big extinction being used as an excuse to create mythos about the culture of China is fully encapsulated on the viral video of a Chinese woman eating bat soup (6). There’s close to zero information validating the video, with backlash from the people of Wuhan clamming the lack of correlation between the virus and bat soup (7).

In conclusion, the coronavirus needs constant vigilance from the world in order to have a proper closure, vaccines and cures may seem farfetched, but the mutual interest worldwide is reassuring to at least some progress to be made. Nonetheless, the use of fear as a means to cause hostility toward the culture of the virus host, and even creating myths about it, is a complete antithesis to the previous point.

References

  1. Murca JAIME. The big five mass extinctions [Internet]. Cosmos; 2018 Feb 15 [cited 2020 Feb 9]. Available from: https://cosmosmagazine.com/palaeontology/big-five-extinctions
  2. Wetsman Nicole. Everything you need to know about the coronavirus from China [Internet]. THE VERGE; 2020 Jan 30 [cited 2020 Feb 9]. Available from: https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/23/21078457/coronavirus-outbreak-china-wuhan-quarantine-who-sars-cdc-symptoms-risk
  3. Coltart, C. E., Lindsey, B., Ghinai, I., Johnson, A. M., & Heymann, D. L. (2017). The Ebola outbreak, 2013-2016: old lessons for new epidemics. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences372(1721), 20160297. doi:10.1098/rstb.2016.0297
  4. De Nys, H. M., Kingebeni, P., Keita, A. K., Butel, C., Thaurignac, G., Villabona-Arenas, C….Peeters, M. (2018). Survey of Ebola Viruses in Frugivorous and Insectivorous Bats in Guinea, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2015–2017. Emerging Infectious Diseases24(12), 2228-2240. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2412.180740.
  5. Coronavirus: China says U.S. action ‘spreading fear’ as mainland death toll hits 361 [Internet]. Politico; 2020 Mar 02 [cited 2020 Feb 9]. Available from: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/03/coronavirus-china-says-us-action-spreading-fear-as-mainland-death-toll-hits-361-110456
  6. Is bat soup a delicacy in China? We debunk a rumour on the origin of the coronavirus [Internet]. The Observers; 2020 Mar 02 [cited 2020 Feb 9]. Available from: https://observers.france24.com/en/20200203-china-coronavirus-bat-soup-debunk-videos-viral-palau-indonesia
  7. Palmer James. Don’t Blame Bat Soup for the Wuhan Virus [Internet]. Foreign Policy; 2020 Jan 27 [cited 2020 Feb 9]. Available from: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/01/27/dont-blame-bat-soup-f

About the author

Guilherme Wandall is currently in the fourth semester of medicine at FURB in Brazil. He
discovered IFMSA in a symposium, and since then, he’s decided to partake in the projects available to extend his curriculum and for their well spirited nature. Being a college student in the first year of medicine make him feel disconnected from the rest of the world, since most of the work revolves around theory and understanding the basics. A chance to discuss contemporary events is a necessary breath of fresh air.

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