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Blaming and buying



Nothing in the world is single, as the poet Shelley said, and we have proof of this in the general reaction to COVID-19. Some people have behaved badly and selfishly, but much good is coming out of the situation as well. Most people, I like to believe, have been forced to pause and think about the future of the planet, and surely we have all been encouraged to value life more, while realising how fragile it is.

Illustration Chris Johnston

There has been much generosity demonstrated, both on an individual and mass scale, while a new spirit of unity seems to be abroad: one has only to think of the online Coronavirus Global Response summit, hosted by the European Union, during which leaders of many countries raised nearly seven and a half billion euros for research purposes.

That spirit, however, seems to have its limitations. For some politicians are set on dividing people, rather than on uniting them. While China attended the conference, for example, Russia and America did not. Instead of acknowledging the need for international co-operation, President Trump is using China as a scapegoat, blaming China for the initial coronavirus outbreak and for the way in which it was handled. There is also a debate about the origins of the virus, despite assurances from experts and US Intelligence that there is no evidence to suggest that it was man-made.

Trump has already blamed the WHO at the worst possible time, and has withdrawn funding from it, alleging that it has not been sufficiently critical of China, which country, he claims, wants him to lose the next election. PM Morrison wants an inquiry into the working of the WHO, and also one into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak, stating that such an inquiry is fair and reasonable, and could be helpful in the future.

But what is the point of investigating the origins of the virus? Especially at this particular time, when the speedy development of a vaccine is the prime requirement? Relations between Washington and Beijing, and also between Canberra and Beijing, have worsened. The repercussions are very serious: a friend from Sydney, just to give one example, writes of the spread of anti-Chinese feeling in Australia. Politicians, in appearing to blame China, must know that their actions, albeit misinterpreted, will add fuel to this particular fire.

My mother, a wise woman from whom I still seek advice despite her physical absence, once said, ‘People are always looking for something or someone to blame, but I think some things just happen.’


'Presumably politicians, in their pointing of fingers, are hopeful of buying votes, of investing in political capital; instead of learning from the damaging history of blame, they are engaging in the age-old practice of divide and rule.'


Things of a pestilential nature have ‘just happened’ throughout history. One of the earliest instances of plague, quite possibly typhus, occurred in the Athens of 430BC, then in the second year of the Peloponnesian War against Sparta. An overcrowded Athens lost between 75 and 100,000 people, including the great statesman Pericles and two of his sons. The historian Thucydides contracted the disease, but survived to write an account of it, in which he said he believed the disease originated in Ethiopia, and entered Athens through its port of Piraeus.

The Athenians were naturally demoralised, but were not, apparently, inclined to blame anybody in particular, although they tended to worry about the Delphic Oracle being on the side of Sparta, which did indeed win the protracted conflict in 404BC.

The bubonic plague, the Black Death, tore through Europe at regular intervals: in the mid-14th century it is thought to have killed up to 200 million people. It kept recurring in various places, with England’s last major outbreak occurring in 1665-6. During that long time, most people thought that the plague came from God, and that they were being punished for their sins. But Christian Europe also blamed the Jews, a convenient scapegoat, as so often since.

The old proverb has it that he who blames would buy. Presumably politicians, in their pointing of fingers, are hopeful of buying votes, of investing in political capital; instead of learning from the damaging history of blame, they are engaging in the age-old practice of divide and rule. They would be better served to spare a thought for the planet, which needs united efforts from its inhabitants now more than ever.



Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Illustration Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, COVID-19, auspol, US, China, Scott Morrison, Donald Trump



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Existing comments

Gillian wrote: "But what is the point of investigating the origins of the virus? Especially at this particular time, when the speedy development of a vaccine is the prime requirement" I respectfully disagree: Massive benefits will accrue from determining the source of this virus - we may stop the next one in its tracks, Also the people who are searching for a vaccine require special skills, different to those who will investigate the origins of this one

Peter Bowden | 18 May 2020  

Thanks for your article Gillian. I certainly agree with its theme, that things don’t occur singly. When we blame we have another axe standing buy to be ground. It seems to be the human way! However, I believe it’s essential there is an independent enquiry, to understand what happened. Of course it would be virtuous of nations and people if they had the capacity to withhold the casting of rocks when they find out, but I am sure this will not happen. From what I am hearing so fa,r is that China has already destroyed some of its original virus sample evidence. Time will tell as to just how many rocks will fly, but I suspect there will be a number.

John Whitehead | 18 May 2020  

To date I have heard Wuhan wet markets, I have heard Fort Detrick, Maryland - a CIA run bio-weaponry lab. I have heard a US-involved viral diseases lab. in Wuhan, I have heard a World Military Games held in Wuhan in October - as a possible disseminator - from which country? Who knows - but a major team from the US garnered a single bronze medal - most unlike that biggest and best competitor country the US - which begs the question of what they were doing participating. I am not saying they were responsible - but hang on - if there is to be any investigation - all early sufferer countries are targets - this is not a witch hunt and the WHO must be central to the investigation. And of course we need to know these things - but not in the ugly spirit of finger-pointing. Countries such as Greece, the former Baltic States, Viet-nam, Australia and New Zealand (to date) have all fared well - borders closed - physical distancing, lockdowns. Oh that major European countries and the US, Brazil had had leaders prepared to take advice from un-compromised medical/scientific experts. You are right Gillian on the old divide and rule - its devious intent - and the shifting of blame - to others!!

Jim KABLE | 18 May 2020  

It seems investigation of the source based on supposition that it is from China has resulted in having the shutters closed and even potential trade sanctions imposed on the accusing nations; not unlike any investigation it should be outlined objectively... it will be difficult for China to block calls for an independent investigation to the origins if China aren't nominated as the prime suspect. The origin may have further implications for adaptations of Human Rights as well; wet markets are much maligned as a potential cause... these are places which enable continuity of both traditional cultural and religious beliefs to be practiced (not only in China, either). While most would be reluctant to see wet markets open in their own suburban area it impinges Rights of freedom to practice culture or religious ceremonies if they are restricted. We shall see how "multicultural" and tolerant the community has truly become... already Queensland's newly adopted Bill of Rights has been contravened for biosecurity purposes by limiting travel, associations and religious gatherings - it will be challenging for the legal fraternity that a State which espouses such intrinsic Rights can impose fines for breaches of conflicting laws. These are troubled times...

ray | 18 May 2020  

Perhaps this article reminds us that Politics and Science often don't mix well. An honest scientific enquiry into the origins of the virus would be a good thing but I can't help but think that what the European, Australian and U.S. politicians have in mind is much more about apportioning blame. I agree with Gillian this is a time for co-operation, working together and helping each other.

Stephen | 18 May 2020  

The elephant in the room that is not addressed is the avarice of the oligarchs of the world both in government and corporations that are stripping the Earth of its resources for profit. The avarice that abounds destroying ecological systems disturbing habitats of organisms and animal life that inhabit our planet mean nothing. Profit is the name of the game, subjugation and control is all that matters. Destroy one world and move on to another. Mother Earth is screaming out in pain, and humanity is deaf to her cries.

Joseph Weber | 19 May 2020  

Gillian , Regardless of who is to blame for this Pandemic, it is one of many that have plagued humankind over the millennia, except this one may will be a final warning from Mother Earth that we are killing her with our greed. Joseph, your comment rings so true with me.

Gavin O'Brien | 19 May 2020  

Thank you Gillian for another insightful article. There has been much comment on the very welcome change in personal attitudes, a softer, more caring society. Sadly, this is not so in international affairs where in the past few days there has been a serious deterioration in relationships. I was most interested in your mention of the plague in 430 BC. There have been plagues throughout history but surely not one on the international scale of the present one.

Meriel Wilmot-Wright | 19 May 2020  

I think it will only be possible to assess the whole scenario once the outbreak is over and it is inevitable that mistakes will have been made and inadequacies shown up As our first minister said it is true that it could have been handled differently but we are all doing our best. It is a time when politics should take second place but this is clearly not always the case. I wonder if the fact that Boris Johnston had the virus has changed his focus and let us hope that President Trump does not have a brush with death to show him the error of his ways. One thing is for sure ; we will face a very different world once this outbreak is over regardless of how it started.

Maggie | 20 May 2020  

As usual, a thought provoking and insightful article. Among the many examples of cooperation and charity, the divisive an opportunistic acts stand out. Australia’s wicked decisions on who is or is not worthy of financial support and the attempt to push through Parliament a Bill that attacks the fundamental human rights of anyone the security system wants to interrogate, including children as young as 14, are cases in point. We can only hope the bigots and xenophobes don’t win!

Juliet | 22 May 2020  

Many Politicians instead of stepping up simply hid not knowing what to do. Another well thought out piece

Stathis T | 22 May 2020  

Pontificating against witchhunts is all well and good, unless there is a witch at the other end of the hunt. It’s possible that one might only be found in a gingerbread cottage in a dark Bavarian woods, but it’s more likely, given that murderous, authoritarian regimes are very good at producing pools of opacity within their fiefdoms, that there are many other philosophically dank and un-disinfected places in which such a creature may lurk.

roy chen yee | 26 May 2020  

The recent second outbreak of Coronavirus in Beijing at an outdoor food market makes it all the more important we understand the disease, how it originated, travels and mutates so that we can look at containment, protection from another worldwide pandemic and a cure. Our open Western way of expressing this may well offend traditional Chinese cultural sensitivities as well as threaten the vested interests of the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese government has already reacted adversely to our pressing for an open inquiry. We need to continue dialogue with them but not succumb to intimidatory tactics. We also need to ensure Australians of Chinese origin, many of whom work in the health care field, are not gratuitously racially abused on this matter. I would say all this is a test of our maturity as individuals and a nation.

Edward Fido | 15 June 2020