‘The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the only right and proper end of government’
Thursday, February 6, 2020, was another ordinary day in London. It was full of sunshine, comfortable and more humidity would be better. In China, however, it was another difficult day, not only in the Province of Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic but in every household in the homeland. The coronavirus has been spreading for more than 40 days. The situation, unfortunately, does not seem to get better as experts are still warning of further risk of pandemic expansion. The news on the lack and shortages of medical and personal protective equipment are adding more worries and fears among people, especially when their mobile devices are bombarded with such news in every single second.
Yes, technologies could have unintended consequences, but they have made it possible to communicate with the people who are stuck in their homes at the affected areas despite following a strict ‘self-isolation strategy’. For now, there is not another effective method to reduce the expansion of the pandemic better than ‘self-isolation’. We are glad that people’s livelihood is not fully interrupted by this pandemic, thanks to the modernised technologies and society. We, as students who have interests in disasters, find this pandemic a great opportunity to discuss and study. Our discussion here might be dogmatic and theoretical but at least we try to contribute to this issue based on our humble knowledge, background, and cognitive scope.
During these tough days, I invited current master students and alumni of IRDR who have interests in discussing this pandemic. Further, I have invited some scholars from other institutes and universities who work in DRR and emergency planning field. We discussed a number of ideas. They were all important, but I chose three aspects to illustrate in this blog.
The current situation in some cities
There are two scholars join this forum in distance via Skype. Dr. Barbara, who recently graduated from Coventry University and currently lived in Sichuan, and Miss Huiyan Kang, who possibility would join IRDR in this September as a Ph.D. student and currently located in Peking. There is not so much difference when local authorities propose to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to their report from their place. All of the local authorities are following the strictest measures, which is the ‘isolation policy’. In fact, residents’ committees across the whole country are following this policy to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Accordingly, community securities and guards must close the gate of the community and strictly check every person entering the community. At the same time, people have been strongly advised to stay home and limit contact as much as possible, eliminating or reducing the pathway of the coronavirus infection.
From the report in Hankou, part of Wuhan, the environment is more horrific as the pandemic has covered people living in that city as a gigantic cloud. The alarm of the ambulance has become the symbol of fear, heard continuously from the streets. The hospital in Hankou is fully busy as people face death every single day. In addition, sunlight could not break through the cloud in the sky and a sunny day has become a luxury for the people in the Hankou.
People still believe the situation will be under control and that they will overcome the difficulties like they had already done for SARS. Most people had volunteered to stay home and report any suspicious symptoms of being infected. Although we have heard a lot of news about people being irresponsible and hiding the travel and contact history, the social responsibility and cooperation of the public emerged through this pandemic is fundamentally the larger norm. Every single event happening in our society is reminding us of the SARS nightmare, 17 years back, when people learned that good hygiene habits, isolation, social responsibility, and social solidarity are important factors to overcome this disaster too.
The argument of humanitarian aid
The second important aspect we discussed was the humanitarian logistics and aid. The humanitarian supply chain is challenged in this pandemic. The event is letting the public see how the charity organisations work in reality, rather than observing the armchair strategist and empty talk. Similar to bureaucratic systems, emergency response capacities in the provincial level are also being tested by this pandemic and the result is perceived barely satisfactory. The intervention from the central government was seen as necessary as poor planning and response strategies were found in provincial authorities in the early stage of the pandemic.
It is known that lack of adequate medical equipment has caused suffering among the nurses and doctors who are fighting the virus in the front line. The sudden increased demand for masks has caused a temporary shortage in the market and spiked prices. This has become a perfect time for speculators participating in the market and getting their ‘first bucket of gold’. Masks used to be medical protective equipment and now have become an absolute necessity. Fundraising for medical support has been initiated, the usual case when China and Chinese people are faced with a disaster. Chinese people from overseas give as much as they can to support.
Source: UCL Chinese Students and Scholars Association (UCL CSSA)
But how this kind of generosity has been used in the epidemic area? Do the doctors, nurses and the public really and finally enjoy the contribution from their compatriots？ It seems that more transparency is needed for some specific humanitarian and charity agencies in China. Such rumours about the lack of efficiency, transparency, and supervision are more dreadful than the pandemic itself. Coronavirus breaks the organ of the human body, but rumours kill humanity and kindness in human nature.
Ethic of the donation, brief thinking at the end
At the end of our discussion, there was a brief philosophy thought. The slogan that UCL Chinese Society used for fundraising: ‘20 pounds might be one meal for your daily life, nevertheless, it could protect 4-5 medical workers away from virus infection’. This slogan reminds me of the argument of the drowning child in the pond from Peter Singer. The only cost of saving the drowning child is staining your trousers by dirt, which is morally insignificant compared to saving a life. Similarly, the only cost of saving the medical staff from the risk is only the cost of a daily meal of an overseas student. With the support of modern technology and online banking systems, distance is no longer an obstacle for the realisation of maximum human utility and happiness. Moreover, recipients are psychologically more closed to donors. We do not know how much UCL Chinese Society received yet, how much lives will these funds save and how many will the kids of wealthy people donate instead of spending money on buying luxurious properties or clothing. Perhaps, they are not utilitarian and altruistic, or they have no idea about these ethical ideas. Such donation is volunteered, real saint and charity, but not an obligation or duty.
If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it. The argument from Peter Singer about famine relief for the Bangel tragedy in the 1970s is renewing now. London is far from Wuhan, but we cannot deny the tragedy because we are far from the tragedy. This is a controversial debate, and sometimes it links to the topic of how to distinguish the duty and charity. In the daily life of human beings, the donation is supererogatory, but it is no wrong to do so. In the end, if I could refer a statement from the Decretum Gratiani:
‘The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.’
Jeremy Bentham would be happy to see those words that have been written in the University College London.
Dr. Barbara (Coventry University)
Guangzhao LYU (Ph.D. candidate in CMII)
Huiyan KANG (IRDR alumna)
Lan LI (IRDR Master Student)
Xuanrong WANG (Ph.D. candidate in IRDR)
Xiao HAN (Ph.D. candidate in IRDR)
8/Feb/2019. UCL IRDR