The Political Reasons it’s Suddenly a Chinese Virus

Photo by Yuri Samoilov

Since many of us find ourselves indoors more often these days, maybe you’ve started wondering how this pandemic got its name. The current outbreak was named the Coronavirus or Covid19 because in 2015 the WHO set guidelines to avoid unfair practices in the naming of pandemics. And there have been a few cultural slip-ups that affect how a disease is viewed by the general public.

Perhaps the one we all remember first hearing about was AIDS, the silent killer that tore through the gay community. Was it God’s judgment on an immoral lifestyle as some religious conservatives said, sharing knowing looks? Or was it a blood born virus transmitted by bodily fluids? The early days of public opinion were difficult to shift and held up AIDS treatment for decades.

“Hong Kong residents in 2003 hated the name SARS because they saw in the initialism a specific reference to their city’s status as a Special Administrative Region in China. Even though the name stood for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (incidentally also in the coronavirus group) the similarities were too eye-catching.

Leaders of Saudi Arabia didn’t much like it when Dutch researchers called a coronavirus HCoV-KSA1 ten years later—that stands for Human Coronavirus, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Its eventual standardized name, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, still ended up sounding like it was blaming the entire region.”

Adam Rogers, “Coronovirus Has a Name”

You might have heard the current US administration more recently refer to the Covid19 outbreak as a Chinese virus. The sudden switch from Coronavirus, as recently as March 8th, made many media outlets, celebrities and regular people sit up and take notice. As people began pointing out the racist underpinnings of such a label, the administration dug its heels in. Even when specifically asked to reassure the Asian American community, many of whom are worried about or had already receiving tangential hate speech/attacks, none was forthcoming.

Ramping up rhetoric around a Chinese virus serves several purposes. None of which are in the interests of the global community or the type of international collaboration urgently needed to halt the spread of new cases. We don’t need division right now. The people and governments of the world need more collaboration.

But that’s only if you are looking after the greater good. The Chinese virus label is important if there are other items on your agenda. Let’s hope we can start talking about them as well as social distancing precautions. Here are a few that come to mind.

A Common Enemy

The scale of the medical crisis that is building in the US has been previewed in Italy and now Spain. Harsh realities are being forecast: these include running out of hospital beds for patients (along with ventilators and other necessary equipment) plus protective gear for medical staff (from masks to sanitize). And all of that fear and misery need a common enemy. That is outside America and this administration.

Enter: China.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

A country long on the worry list because of their communist government. Who then crossed over to envy because of their way to produce cheap goods for unforeseen profit and market dominance. And might always stay on the xenophobia list because of distinctive eating habits.

Make no mistake: I am not a fan of either rampant capitalism nor totalitarian governments. The most exotic thing I’ve eaten is chicken feet (which people seem to forget are also a specialty in some Southern states). That being said, I can also spy a scapegoat when one is being dangled in front of my unmasked face. These are not mutually exclusive thoughts. Or they shouldn’t be.

Worrying Head of Facsim

Because nor am I a fan of the fascist playbook. It worked in Germany in World War II and the chief gear: scapegoating, is poised to churn again. And for an embattled president who already has a lot to answer for, renaming this disease is the perfect segue to deflect attention from the glaring ineptitude of the administration’s response to warnings of a looming crisis.

Calling this a Chinese virus plays up on many of the existing stereotypes for a specific advantage. And the main conspiracy theories point to the bigger picture: undermining the global Chinese position politically, economically, and socially. Who stands to benefit Iran-style embargoes against China? Iran, a country whose government the US has also returned to finding objectionable under this administration, and who is loosing hundreds of people by the day to this illness due to ongoing sanctions. The same senators (and their cronies) who dumped stock right after an intelligence briefing that the stock market was going to tumble.

The long and short of it is laying blame for a pandemic has far-reaching advantages. Getting to assign blame may be the most white privilege move yet.

Interestingly, guess who didn’t get blame during in 1918 for spreading the flu around the world? The United States of America or Great Britain or yes, China. Why do we call it that then? Because the media declared it so when the virus jumped from France to Spain.

Can you think of other reasons why a Chinese virus is a catchy title?

Advice on How to Do Everything from Home

As the reality of how contagious Covid19 actually is sets in around the world, more and more countries are advising people to stay at home as much as possible. Introverts around the world probably rejoiced. Of all we mammals, they might be the best suited for comfort wear and indoor life. What about the rest of us? We find ourselves enmeshed in a growing list of contradictions in this strange new digital world. And if you aren’t indoors yet, global infection rates show that you soon will be.


The lure of working from home has been a key piece of the modern economy. We know people, the favored ones, who have been able to do this for some time. While we toil away in physical offices we think of them: Messy hair, snacks at the ready, music or television playing in the background. What’s not to like? Right? Well, the reality, as millions of people are finding out, is actually much more complicated.

Single and Singled Out

Photo by Ivan Radic

For singles, working from home might be the best thing that has happened since Netflix and chill – until a few days, a week or month has passed, and you haven’t seen or spoken to anyone face to face. That tenuous, blurry boundary between work and personal time might now become non-existent. A call at 7pm/7am? Sure why not. You’re not doing much else. Maintaining a routine is going to be a challenge and also incredibly important for the days to avoid sliding into each other. We are social creatures and isolation can leave us feeling alone. Check in on your extroverted friends and see if they need a Facetime (chances are they might have already reached out already – you know extroverts!).

All across Italy there are examples of how to socialize during self-isolation. A Spanish fitness instructor held a workout in a quad for quarantined residents. Let’s keep in touch and get creative.

Working on My Last Nerve

Photo by Boston Public Library

For families, working from home opens up a whole can of worms. Any sense of work/life balance may go out the window, particularly for those who are in leadership positions of organizations, medical staff, or teachers. No matter where you are in the Covid Quarantine, consider setting some ground rules as early as possible.

Where is the work space? How flexible are the work hours? What’s the strategy with children during conference calls or videos that need taping? These are all seemingly tiny decisions that will make a big impact on everyday life in close quarters. Make time to discuss and evaluate them on a weekly basis, keeping in mind that your particular situation might change as rapidly as the national or global one.

For partners who used to both work outside the home, you are now back to back in what increasingly feels like a foxhole. This is particularly true of people who live in big cities where the outer world made up for less square footage indoors. Recognizing that you are now in a roommate like situation can help prevent fights from breaking out over piles of dishes or laundry. Divide and conquer or you might be dividing when this whole things lifts.

Mix in additional childcare duties – that include navigating virtual schooling – and you have a recipe for volatility. Talk, talk, talk to each other about who needs help with what or you might, like many couples in China, be heading to file for divorce the second life goes back normal.

Stop Me from Snacking!

One way to stop the endless urge to snack (either for kids or adults)

For all of us there will be the same universal truth: snacking will be our collective downfall. You will not be able to resist the compulsion to eat -whether you are working or resting or teaching children at home. You will not be able to convince your stomach you just ate. It won’t matter when you had your last meal. Boredom is a hungry bedfellow.

When/where possible, try to get outside, maintain social distance, and walk, run, swim. If you are in an at risk group because of age or immune related issue the Youtube is a treasure trove of at-home workouts.

Share Your Notes from the Home Front

The Collective Covid19 Pscyhodrama

From China to Spain, the ups and downs of the Covid19 pandemic have been brewing since the early part of the year. Like France, who recently closed all restaurants, or Disneyworld and Disneyland, the rest of us are starting to sit up and take notice.

What comes along with governmental efforts to take hold of the crisis is the collateral damage of our personal and public lives.

Children are out of school, many parents are now working from home, and that puts us out of the germs of strangers but into one another’s proximity.  Mix in the cancellation of concerts, theater performances, birthday parties and even casual get togethers and you have a cauldron of emotion that we are unlikely to have been monitoring.

Everyone, as my friend put it, is pretending that it is business as usual. When in fact nothing is as normal. (There are definitely bits that are working and we should celebrate/cherish/nurture those).

Disruption is Coming

What we could do is come together to freely admit that daily life as we know it has changed (if you’re reading this and the movie theaters, schools and flights are operational in your city, brace yourself). The ripples of this will go far beyond anything we have seen in the last seventy years.

So how do we grapple with borders closed to tourists (26 countries in the usually borderless Schegen part of Europe) or increasing closure to incoming flights in international airports (Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan)?

People can’t bury their deceased relatives, from Covid19 or other causes, and depending on timing, students might not be able to take career defining exams for university.

Amidst all this roiling emotion are the basics: sleep, mindfulness, gratitude, and grounding exercises.

I heard while driving to work something that struck me as a useful paradigm on the BCC Worldservice podcast. Our emotions (and those of our families, colleagues, and friends) are going to cycle throughout the duration of this seismic moment in contemporary history. British writer Tim Parks, who is currently in the lockdown taking place in Milan, summed up the roiling bubble of thoughts into three major categories or stages. These resonated with me because of the way they mimic the waves associated with culture shock: Elation into  frustration then despondency back to elation. Repeat.

PS if you don’t already listen, I highly recommend this concise 30 minute daily download of all things world news, not just Trump’s America.

Strap In, This is Going to Get Bumpier

Here are 3 stages I’ve adapted from Tim’s overview of what we are all likely to experience (or are already experiencing).

Irritation: Don’t be surprised by a kneejerk petulance as your independence is curbed. The cancellation of highly anticipated events is surely a letdown (ask anyone in Italy, France, Spain, Qatar, China, or South Korea). But so is the suspension of swim lessons and school, outings with friends, or gym closure. In fact, the smaller but more routine a task you can no longer complete, say stopping by the gym on the way home, the higher your irritation might run.

Irritation can mutate to frustration and aggression at interruptions to daily routine. When we involuntarily lose access to the things we’re attached to, the aftermath is not pretty. Particularly if the pressure is to pretend that everything is okay.

Anxiety mounts with the repetition of phrases like closed “until further notice” or “the foreseeable future.” How can such phrases be so final sounding at yet so generic at the same time? So remember to digital breaks and go analog. Think of what you’d do dry and safe after a hurricane or earthquake. Sit tight, let professionals do their job and break out board games, books, even movies. And yes, if you’ve had enough of learning about it tell your friends/family/colleagues no more Covid19 chatter.

Resignation: We accept the closures after a certain critical mass of incidents in immediate proximity. In the worst case scenario, we surrender to extreme measures when there are a large number of deaths due to the epidemic. There’s a lot of relief to be had in this stage as I can attest to. After a decade of hard work I wrote a one woman show and was accepted to a comedy festival. In January, being super organized, I began applying to venues at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Now the show is postponed indefinitely, my flight to the comedy festival cancelled, and the Fringe (as it’s known) seems safe in August (but then again, maybe not). Cancelling the tickets and giving up scheduling the show brought a sense of relief because I knew what the outcomes are. There’s no maybe hanging over my head.


Unlikely as it sounds, there might even be a bubble of excitement as we begin sharing with friends and family our own part of a major crisis that is now evolving into a worldwide drama. Or better yet, when you’re the informed one and realization begins to dawn on friends/family/colleagues in another location of what is coming.

What’s it like where you are?