Covid-19 Origin-shrouded in Mystery
March 11, 2023 | Expert Insights
The Covid-19 pandemic crossed borders easily, and it did not discriminate between developed and developing countries. Millions across the world died as a result. So, the world deserves to know how this virus originated.
Now the WHO is beginning an international inquiry into the source of the COVID-19 virus, with enquires being directed to both China and the U.S. and other countries also being requested to share information.
When the pandemic began, the explanation offered for its origins was quite simple.
It was said that it began in an animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The animal in question was the bat. The virus jumped from this animal to humans, and it all began as a simple zoonotic virus.
Of course, there was no controversy attached to this story. It followed the common origin stories of many other pandemic viruses where some animal species were first infected and then passed on to humans. So, the virus and the resultant pandemic were seen as a medical, health and scientific challenge. There seemed to be nothing political about it.
It is well known that many governments have carried out research on biological weapons, including the People's Republic of China. But the connection was not drawn that there was even the possibility of the Covid-19 virus being a biological weapon originating in China. At the start of the pandemic, an unbiased investigation could not be carried out on the ground in China to determine the virus's origin. Chinese scientists could not reveal secrets about the virus even if they wanted to. Many tried and faced immediate harsh persecution from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This discouraged others from coming forward.
At the start of the pandemic, the evolution of the virus was not at the top of the priority list for most people; the pressing need was how to push back the pandemic and stop its further spread. Then the focus shifted to finding the best regime to fight the infection and developing the right vaccines.
However, in late 2020 there were speculations, especially in Australia and the West, that the origin of the COVID-19 virus was not as innocent or an act of nature as was being presented by China and supported by WHO. However, with no evidence leaking out of a tightly controlled system in China, no specific conclusions could be reached.
The circumstantial evidence points towards an inadvertent lab incident which could have led to a biological leak. For one, the highly secretive Wuhan Institute of Virology is located close to the first virus outbreak. This same institute has been conducting research on SARS-like bat coronaviruses since 2005.
Laboratory leak incidents have occurred before. In 1979 a Soviet research facility leaked the deadly anthrax virus, and a number of people died as a result. In 2007 the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the UK was also caused by a leaky pipe at a high-security laboratory. In both these cases, viruses were released from facilities with the highest biosafety levels (BS level 4). Human error was behind the leakages, and scientists had not warned governments about the dangers of these viruses before the leakages. This led to the governments in question also being unprepared.
The current declaration by the WHO is significant in a number of respects. First, this underlines the fact that this international institution finally recognises that how this virus came into being is a serious question, and this was not the case before.
The WHO had previously stuck to the Chinese government’s official version of events. At that time, it was seen to be in a position where it could not antagonise the Chinese government. Chinese investment in WHO was considered to be too important to be jeopardised. But the lack of transparency from China on the virus's origins was hurting the reputation of WHO itself.
The organisation had to show that it was mouthing more than mere platitudes. It had to show that it was taking concrete actions on the ground in spite of Chinese objections.
The West was putting some pressure on WHO. Other countries affected by the pandemic also want some clear answers. China’s diplomatic way of avoiding this issue has not succeeded globally.
The lab leak theory has moved from a fringe idea to a more acceptable one. The medical establishment in the United States, which led the campaign against Covid-19, sought to downplay this issue. They thought this was too politically sensitive and non-scientific to deserve any serious attention. Some individuals within the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) attempted to speak up, but their voices were suppressed.
The U.S. political establishment was also wary of directly challenging China on this issue. Some right-wing American politicians and commentators did not stop talking about this. But other than this, the majority remained silent. The geopolitical risks coming out of any investigation into the lab leak theory were considered to be too high to be worth the cost. It was also feared that somehow American involvement might come out.
This fear has turned out to be largely true. It has been established that the U.S. National Institute was involved in funding research in the controversial Wuhan Institute of Virology. This took place in two phases. The first phase took place from 2014 to 2019. The second phase took place soon after this. The research project was on collecting and analysing bat coronaviruses. This shows that the U.S. cannot play the blame game with China on this issue any more and instead must take its responsibility in this regard.
- Any future revelation that comes out of the lab leak theory will significantly impact US-China relations. Already much has been revealed to point out that the story is not as simple and straightforward as it was once thought to be. However, the truth will take some time to come out.
- The Chinese are lobbying hard internationally to see to it that the real story behind the origins of covid-19 never sees the light of day.