BY FRANK HAVILAND
It was once a feature of adulthood that we labelled things correctly, something even the millennials’ Bible (Harry Potter) acknowledges: ‘Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself’. The Wuhan Virus however, has shown how staunchly opposed to facts our societies have become. On February 11th, the World Health Organisation declared it had ‘chosen a name for the disease that makes no reference to places, animals or people to avoid stigma.’
I’d like to make it clear that this has nothing whatsoever to do with money changing hands, nor with the WHO being in China’s pocket. But even assuming the WHO’s motives are entirely honourable, the euphemism is a break from tradition. The same courtesy was not extended to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Japanese encephalitis, Spanish Flu, or the Zika virus to name but a few.
Our porcine friends received no clemency throughout the swine flu epidemic; social justice warriors did not flock to the aid of the avian community when bird flu struck, and as for the body shaming my hands, feet and mouth endured during the hand, foot and mouth outbreak – don’t get me started!
Whatever your thoughts on accountability, you can bet your last roll of Andrex, had the virus originated from a St. George-flying household in Rochester, we’d now be on lockdown thanks to ‘white van man fever’.
Denying the truth of the virus’s origin is a questionable move. For a start, it takes people a while to get up to speed with your lie. The media apoplexy over President Trump’s use of the term ‘Chinese virus’ was conspicuously absent, when the self-same people were employing the monikers ‘Wuhan coronavirus’ and ‘China’s coronavirus’ just a few days prior. Mysteriously, no Chinese genocide took place.
Euphemisms may find gainful employment during peacetime, but they appear remarkably ineffectual up against the overwhelming realpolitik that genuine crises engender. Borders are being closed, Pakistan refused to evacuate its own citizens from Wuhan, and the Chinese government took the stigma-free step of welding Wuhan citizens into their own apartments. Thank Christ they didn’t have to say ‘Wuhan virus’ though!
The bromide industry as a whole has taken a pasting during this pandemic. For all the column inches they’re getting, you’d be forgiven for thinking there were only two genders, and that climate alarmism had been benched for good. Poor old Greta Thunberg must be kicking herself for backing the wrong horse, and is currently trying to unite the two causes (in self-isolation naturally).
The comparative bonhomie of pronoun misuse and climate strike is in shocking short supply when it comes to the Wuhan virus. Despite the intervention of the WHO, international anger with China is running high. The Chinese government certainly has questions to answer re its response to the virus, though I suspect this has been exacerbated by the foreign ministry’s claim that the virus originated from American soldiers; not to mention its latest repositioning of itself as a global saviour.
Far from eradicating problems, denying obvious truths is likely to cause them. Lack of transparency leads inevitably to a loss of trust, and susceptibility to conspiracy theories. After its less than candid handling of the crisis, why would you believe the Chinese official line on anything? Claims that there are no new domestic cases of the virus appear at odds with other countries’ figures. Claims that China’s military is virus-free (an army roughly the size of Albania or Lithuania) are borderline lunatic. What’s more, these claims do not sit with reports of truckloads of funeral urns being delivered to Wuhan’s funeral homes, or the 21 million mobile phone users who appear to have suddenly gone walkabout.
The cabal of yesterday’s men attempting to hijack the virus for political ends are the usual suspects. Tony Blair claims the pandemic offer lessons on global planning. Gordon Brown warns of the fight against populist nationalism. But it is Sadiq Khan of course who made the injunction that the coronavirus ‘is not Chinese’:
Covid-19 is Covid-19; it is not a Chinese virus.
And to use words like that is disgraceful, and is the sort of language that leads to incitement, and hatred towards people of Chinese origin.
This is moronic, but at least you can’t accuse him of inconsistency. First off, it would mean you literally cannot say anything, because of what someone might do – it makes you responsible for other people’s stupidity. Moreover, it is factually untrue.
As an example, take the long-hypothesised link between rap music and violence. The evidence suggests there is no causal pathway between the two. Which means, however much you hate the music itself, or dislike artists like Stormzy who profit from it, the responsibility for knife crime lies with those doing the stabbing, not those doing the singing.
Covid-19 is the Wuhan virus, and we dishonour the innocent lives lost by ignoring that fact. If it is now truly a feature of adulthood that we submit to euphemisms, then He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named only knows where we’re headed.