Monkeypox Photo: VCG

As monkeypox spreads, has the West learned any lessons from COVID-19?

Monkeypox Photo: VCG

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday declared the unprecedented monkeypox outbreak that has spread around the world a public health emergency. The classification is the highest alert that the WHO can issue. 

More than 16,000 monkeypox cases have now been reported from 75 countries so far. Most of them are in Europe, which means Europe is the epicenter of the outbreak. Nearly 3,000 have been reported in the US. Although monkeypox does not transmit as fast as the still ravaging novel coronavirus strain, if it is not effectively controlled, a combination of coronavirus and monkeypox may become a sort of new normal in the West. Worse still, the way the West has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic hardly makes one feel optimistic.

More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the US and Europe, which have laid flat and decided to co-exist with the virus, are seeing the number of positive cases continue to surge. Western countries have adopted various ways of lying flat, but the reason is the same – they couldn’t find effective ways to fight the pandemic, so they went for a sour grape mentality toward China’s dynamic zero-COVID strategy. What we have seen is absurd: a group of deserters slandering their companions who are still struggling in the fight. This leaves the health and life of the Western public in danger.

Since the West is the epicenter of the monkeypox outbreak, it has attached relative importance to it. Earlier, the UK, Belgium and Germany, all showing increasing monkeypox numbers, issued 21-day quarantine recommendations for people diagnosed with the disease. However, such quarantines are thought to be inefficient for preventing its spread due to the virus’ long incubation period. As for the US, the Biden administration is considering a public health emergency response to the monkeypox outbreak. But what prevention and control measures will the US take? Will it do epidemiological surveys on those infected? Will it impose quarantines to reduce the risk of infection? Biden once said quarantines for monkeypox aren’t needed in his country. 

Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University, told the Global Times that the WHO’s declaration of the monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency demonstrates that the West’s prevention and control measures were insufficient and ineffective. 

“If we consider that the West’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has been somewhat disturbed by ideology, it is possible to assume that how it will fight a monkeypox that has spread from its own soil will also prove that its pandemic prevention and control ability is indeed inadequate,” said Shen.

Song Luzheng, a Paris-based scholar, believes the main reason for the West’s inadequate response to monkeypox to be politics.

“Leaders in the West are like passers-by. They leave after one or two terms, just like an employee. Their minds are focused only on self-interests. As a result, they are unwilling to make decisions that would cost them votes,” Song noted. 

Unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no China factor involved in the monkeypox outbreak. Therefore, there is little room for the West to exploit the issue and to pass the buck to others. Xu Liang, an associate professor at the School of International Relations of Beijing International Studies University, told the Global Times that if the monkeypox becomes uncontrollable in the West, it may change the power structure in certain European countries.

A month ago, the poliovirus was detected in a number of London sewage samples. Just last week, the first US case of polio in nearly a decade was confirmed in the US. From monkeypox to polio, a number of dangerous and once-conquered diseases have made their way into the West. When a public health emergency strikes, it tests the moral bottom line of a country’s ruling elite. Evidently the West has not learned any lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, instead it is repeating the same mistakes. The nature of the virus proves that the West is not immune to repetitive life-and-death tragedies. 

Shen, from Fudan University, said that it is only a matter of time before the West is defeated by monkeypox – the West is unable to mobilize its public prevention and control ability because it would rather let its people die instead of giving up their votes.

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