As the coronavirus (officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization [WHO] on February 11 and declared a pandemic on March 11) spreads rapidly across the globe, the question of where and how it originated has also been doing the rounds. There are different theories. They range from infected bats’ droppings being sniffed by pangolins that were then consumed by humans in Wuhan, China, to the virus escaping from a lab in the city.
The lab escape theory that was being discussed by lay persons on social media platforms got a boost when Steven Mosher published an article in the New York Post on February 22. Social scientist and president of the Population Research Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, Mosher speculated that the coronavirus may have been accidentally spread by China’s National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers have studied bat coronaviruses.
He offered no evidence for his theory except that the lab is less than 10 miles away from the seafood market where the cases were first discovered. For Mosher that was enough evidence to prove China’s culpability. In a country fed on a steady diet of anti-China propaganda, Mosher’s article confirmed the Americans’ worst suspicions. It also helped Trump regime propagandists to paint China as the villain in an attempt to deflect attention from their own misdemeanor.
Angered by such allegations, the Chinese hit back. A respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan stated at a February 27 press conference that “though the COVID-19 was first discovered in China, it does not mean that it originated from China.” He hinted that its origins may lie elsewhere. A month earlier (January 24, 2020), leading Chinese researchers and doctors had published their findings in the British medical journal, The Lancet, after studying 41 patients in Wuhan, the overwhelming majority of them men, suffering from acute respiratory problems. They wrote: “Major gaps in our knowledge of the origin, epidemiology, duration of human transmission, and clinical spectrum of disease need fulfilment by future studies.” (emphasis added).
Other Chinese officials were more direct; they alleged that the virus was spread in China when 300 US military personnel arrived in the Wuhan region for the Military World Games in mid-October and infected the local population. On February 23, Chinese researchers stated categorically that their findings prove the virus did not originate in Wuhan; it was brought from outside.
Amid these series of allegations, American officials responded by hurling their own allegations against China, Mike Pompeo calling it the “Wuhan virus” while Donald Trump insists on calling it the “Chinese virus” despite being reminded that it was racist and leading to attacks against Asian Americans. Unlike Trump who blatantly lies and then flatly denies it, Pompeo has publicly confessed to lying. Yet, he has accused China of being the source of the virus and Iran as an ‘accomplice’ in spreading it without offering any evidence.
Meanwhile, both China and Iran have called for investigation into the US role in spreading the virus. Iran has also launched its own investigation into whether the virus is America’s biowarfare against the Islamic Republic. This suspicion is reinforced by the fact that a very large number of senior Iranian officials and members of parliament have been infected or have died due to the coronavirus.
While testifying before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee on March 11, Dr Robert Redfield, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, admitted that some earlier deaths in the US assumed to have been caused by the common flu were actually COVID-19. The following day (March 12), Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took to Twitter to ask some pointed questions. “When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”
George Webb, an American investigative journalist named an American soldier, Maatje Benassi who was part of the US military team that went to Wuhan games, of being America’s ‘patient zero’ of the coronavirus. He speculates that Benassi may have spread it in China, lending credence to Chinese allegations against the US.
Another Chinese foreign ministry official, Geng Shuang, took US officials to task for their “immoral and irresponsible” comments that blamed China’s response to the coronavirus. The Americans have accused China for the worsening global impact of the pandemic despite the World Health Organization praising its efforts. Geng insists China’s measures had helped the world to prepare for the pandemic.
Several other analysts, and not just Chinese, have raised questions about the role of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick in Maryland. After inspection by a team of CDC investigators in July 2019 that found the ‘deadly germ facility’ in breach of biosafety protocols, the facility was shut down in August. What was the facility producing and why?
There are other troubling questions relating to US role in the production of germs and viruses. As early as November 2015, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill “engineered a virus with the surface protein of the SHC014 coronavirus, found in horseshoe bats in China.” Titled ‘Lab-Made Coronavirus Triggers Debate’, other scientists raised questions about the risks of gain-of-function research (we reproduce the article in full in this edition for readers’ easy access—Editorial Staff).
And then there was the Event201, hosted by John Hopkins Center for Health Security in cooperation with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum in New York on October 18, 2019. The meeting was called to consider the outbreak of an epidemic that they named the “novel coronavirus”. It coincided with the day the Military Games in Wuhan started. Was it a coincidence? The ‘Event 201’ statement said in part:
“In recent years, the world has seen a growing number of epidemic events, amounting to approximately 200 events annually. These events are increasing, and they are disruptive to health, economies, and society. Managing these events already strains global capacity, even absent a pandemic threat. Experts agree that it is only a matter of time before one of these epidemics becomes global—a pandemic with potentially catastrophic consequences. A severe pandemic, which becomes ‘Event 201’, would require reliable cooperation among several industries, national governments, and key international institutions.”
In addition to its horrific record of killing millions of people in the last 20 years—estimates range from 5 million to as high as 25 million—the US has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world to have used atomic weapons (against Japan in August 1945). It used biological weapons against North Korea and China in the Korean War and Agent Orange in Vietnam to destroy its forests. The US also used depleted uranium shells in Iraq in January 1991 that resulted in poisoning its soil and led to the birth of horribly deformed babies. In more recent times, the US has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. These have not only inflicted much economic suffering on the targeted people but also prevented desperately needed medicines for such diseases as leukemia and other cancer-related illnesses reaching them.
With such a gory record, it is natural to ask whether the US has deliberately created and spread the coronavirus in countries it considers as enemies. China and Iran are two of the hardest hit countries affected by the coronavirus. Instead of peddling nonsensical propaganda about ‘conspiracy theories’ (and here), US officials and media outlets should come clean and honestly answer the questions that have been asked.
(Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought and author of several books)