Former US president Donald Trump
has urged the world to demand $10 trillion as reparation from China
for the Covid-19 pandemic. This demand is built on the hypothesis that the SARS-COV-2 virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) after being enhanced by researchers. That hypothesis is not only being aired extensively across media; it is seen as a serious possibility by many qualified persons, as well as the political establishments of major nations. It is unlikely this could ever be proved or disproved definitively. But the hypothesis itself has had a negative impact on the already stressed geopolitics of 2021. It could also lead, one way or the other, to higher standards imposed by international consensus upon bio-research.
The original assumption was that SAR-COV-2 was a zoonotic virus, which originated in bats and jumped species, mutating to infect humans. Such a zoonosis has occurred many times. Recent examples include the SARS virus of 2003 and the Middle East “Camel flu” of 2012, both caused by coronaviruses from the Covid-19 family. The deadly Ebola
virus is also likely zoonotic. The “conspiracy theorists” claimed the virus was researched for “gain of function” in the WIV, which is close to the market where the first official cases surfaced. The WIV is a leader in bat virus research. Gain of function studies involve altering a virus to increase transmissibility, lethality, the range of hosts it can infect, and so on. Gain of function may be done purely to gain scientific insights, or in order to weaponise a virus. So, this theory assumes the virus leaked after being enhanced. In March 2021, the WHO published a report claiming human origin was unlikely. But the report was disowned immediately by the WHO itself, which claimed the pertinent data had been suppressed and falsified by China.
Subsequently, US President Joe Biden
has commissioned an intelligence report to investigate the possibility of a lab leak.
vehemently denies any leak occurred, or even that the virus was under the microscope. But it has also shut down access to its scientific and medical databases, and barred Chinese scientists from communicating with global counterparts. The censorship has not buried the leak theory. A decentralised team of pro bono researchers (known collectively as DRASTIC) dug deep into China’s scientific establishment and unearthed disturbing facts providing circumstantial evidence of possible research and, hence, of a possible leak. For example, six miners working near caves where bat colonies exist suffered hospitalisation in 2012 (three died) with symptoms closely matching Covid-19. Three workers at the WIV were hospitalised with similar symptoms in November 2019, well before the first official Covid-19 cases.
This doesn’t prove there was research at the WIV, let alone a lab leak. But it is circumstantial evidence that such a thing may have occurred. China’s obfuscation lends grist to the lab-leak mill but it doesn’t prove anything either. Bioscientists claim it is impossible to determine if the genome of the virus has man-made characteristics. The espousal of the lab-leak hypothesis has led to bad blood between China and the rest of the world. This could have resoundingly negative repercussions on trade. The pandemic has also exposed lacunae in health care systems, and in apex bodies like the WHO. Those gaps must be plugged. The silver lining could be a consensus on the adoption of better safety standards for bio-research, and more transparency in sharing data.
Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.
As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.
Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.