The British press is notorious for fearmongering about Coronavirus. Even government does not seem to mind its language in this regard liberally using the term “the Indian variant” in the House of Commons and at Press Briefings, regardless of reports from India that cases have come down and 22.4million people have recovered.
London: During the dearth of news in the UK it seems the British and Western media cannot resist the temptation to toxify the UK-India relationship by the ad-nauseam repetition of “the Indian variant”, and the damage it might do to the final release of the UK’s remaining restrictions on 21 June. UK mainstream newspapers are trying to make a story about the number of plane arrivals from India and the comparatively minute number of infections of B.1.617.2 in the UK that could start another wave. The British press is notorious for fearmongering about Coronavirus. Even government does not seem to mind its language in this regard liberally using the term “the Indian variant” in the House of Commons and at Press Briefings, regardless of reports from India that cases have come down and 22.4million people have recovered.
Words matter and by colloquially labelling variants by their country of detection is somehow suggesting a national culpability is attached to the variant and this is promoting a negative response to that country. Variants are organic adaptions of a virus, in this case, SARS-Cov-2 which is the virus that causes the disease of Covid-19, so-called by the WHO; variants occur spontaneously anywhere and the variation depends on the specifics of their biological environment.
Just as UK-India relations are about to reset, the British media are hell-bent on undermining that progress, some have a visceral hatred for Prime Minister Narendra Modi laying the blame in sensational headlines for all India’s problems at his feet, others have ideological and political differences that result in the same genre of headlines. Modi’s and NDA’s opposition have given succour to UK media with the discovery of the “Congress Toolkit” that encourages folks to refer to the prevalent variant as the “Modi strain”, and Akhilesh Yadav’s irresponsible claim that he does not trust “BJP’s vaccine”, thus encouraging vaccine hesitancy amongst his following in UP, the most populated state in India. This personal association which is regrettably endorsed by the Congress party is dramatically upsetting the Indian diaspora in the UK, as it is reported daily that PM Modi is working non-stop to save his country. All India’s policy of humanity first, COVAX vaccine sharing, and goodwill to poorer nations have been forgotten.
Former President Donald Trump called the pandemic the Chinese virus, in an attempt to accurately locate blame as to the virus’ origins but China quickly changed the narrative and labelled this as racist rhetoric, somehow with support from Hillary Clinton et al this offensive succeeded. It is no longer politically correct to call it the Chinese virus or the Wuhan virus because it personifies the ethnicity of the virus, and yet it seems OK to defame other countries by geographically labelling variants. On Wednesday the US Republican House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence published their findings in covid-19_and_the_wuhan_institute_of_virology_19_may_2021.pdf (house.gov) which concludes “There is overwhelming circumstantial evidence, however, to support a lab leak as the origination of COVID-19, while there is no substantive evidence supporting the natural zoonosis hypothesis.”
The World Health Organisation has a code of conduct for naming viruses WHO_HSE_FOS_15.1_eng.pdf that “avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups”, but after the WHO made such a foul-up in alerting the world to the transmissibility of Covid-19 and the failure of the subsequent report into the origins of the SARS2 virus, evidently nobody takes their word seriously anymore. On UK.gov there are 5 Variants of Concern listed and 7 Variants under Investigation Variants: distribution of cases data – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). The website confirms “Currently, there is no agreed international naming system for variants”; the current nomenclatures are letters and numbers which are only memorable to scientists, consequently folks have identified the variants of the disease by the country in which they have been detected: UK variant, Brazilian variant, Indian variant, Philippine variant and South African variant. All of these countries have resented this unhealthy labelling, which has been used as an insidious defamatory weapon by adversaries.
Just as Singapore emphatically rejected Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s suggestion of a Singapore variant, Delhi, Brazilia, Manila, Westminster, Cape Town, could emphatically reject the nomenclature of their country’s detected variants, internally and internationally. The world is fighting a virus that has officially killed nearing 3.5million people, it would be wrong to allow that false narrative to build up geopolitical differences between suffering nations.