Issues raised by coronavirus in geopolitics, science and economics | Letters

The World Health Organization should not exclude Taiwan from efforts to tackle the outbreak, writes David YL Lin of the Taipei Representative Office. David E Hanke says an anthropomorphic explanation of viruses can be dangerous. And Robert East warns about the potential effect on share prices

Jennifer Rohn is right to warn that we should learn the lessons of Sars (Journal, 5 February) as the world combats the spread of the coronavirus. The issue of Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Organization due to pressure from China, and the loophole it created in global health, should also be brought into the spotlight. Taiwan’s Centre for Disease Control confirmed the first imported case on 21 January and immediately reported it to the WHO. We regret that Taiwan is the only country with a confirmed imported case that was left out of the WHO’s emergency committee meeting, because China is blocking Taiwan’s attendance in the UN health agency.

The situation is a fresh reminder of the catastrophic Sars epidemic in 2002-03, at which time Taiwan suffered tremendous loss, unable to engage with the WHO directly, and was forced to rely on US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials to obtain vital information from the WHO. Let’s hope history does not repeat itself. As the coronavirus outbreak has been declared a global health emergency, we call on the WHO to recognise that Taiwan is not part of China. It is time for the WHO to include Taiwan and its 23 million people, and stop damaging efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak and harming global health.
David YL Lin
Representative, Taipei Representative Office in the United Kingdom

• A virus is a neatly packaged bit of nucleic acid. It does not have a purpose, or “respect”, or “find” or “hope” – either it survives or it doesn’t. Jennifer Rohn’s anthropomorphic explanation of viruses is an analogy to help us understand. An analogy cannot be perfect in every particular, and this analogy is way off target. The danger is that because the analogy doesn’t match up to objective reality, the understanding we gain from it may be flawed and we are misled about the real nature of viruses.
David E Hanke
Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire

• Nils Pratley points out (Business view, 4 February) that the assessment of risk from the coronavirus, as indicated by share prices, seems ill-judged. I agree. An assessment of risk should be based on current evidence about this virus, not the trajectory of previous, less infectious viruses. I hope I am wrong but the current transmission rates and the death rates seem ominous, and I expect a pandemic that will kill a lot of people. We need national advice based on a realistic assessment. If I’m right, smokers should stop now or switch to vaping since their lungs may not cope. Of course, Guardian readers do not have shares but others with shares in cruise lines and like companies that would be affected by a pandemic might be wise to sell them now.
Robert East
Emeritus professor of consumer behaviour, Kingston University

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