Sunday, April 19, 2020

Will world be the same again?

GII. 1 April 2020


          The world will never be the same again. After a successful victory of the mankind against the Corona Virus the global economy might come back on the track again after few years, but, I am sure, the ugly war of blame game between United States of America and China will leave such permanent marks on the social fabric of the globe that it would be almost impossible to repair them for decades. More dangerous than the Corona Virus is the fast expending impulse to denounce China, Chinese and Chinese-looking people. We are witnessing some very grisly scenes in different parts of the world including in India.

          No one is sure of the origin of Corona Virus, but a perception has been created that it was a coldblooded handiwork of a biosafety research laboratory in China’s Wuhan. Social sites and digital communication groups are packed with hate videos and audios after that. Chinese are being abused in very harsh words with uncontrollable anger in the minds of those who have no method to check the facts about the birth of a virus which has practically locked-down the entire Earth, at least for the time being.

This is a make-or-break moment for the whole world. But, on Fox News and American social media, a dangerous conspiracy theory about the origin of the health crisis won’t die. There are two main versions of the rumour, and they have one common thread: that the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, originated in a level 4—the highest biosafety level—research laboratory in Wuhan. In one version of the rumour, the virus was engineered in the lab by humans as a bioweapon. In another version, the virus was being studied in the lab, after being isolated from animals, and then it “escaped” or “leaked” because of poor safety protocol.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is a real place. It is China’s only level-4 biosafety lab. But there is no evidence that the mysterious virus originated there. Virologists who’ve parsed the genome and infectious disease experts who study coronaviruses say they have enough evidence the virus is brand new and came from nature. A large group of them, citing genome analyses from multiple countries, recently affirmed in The Lancet that the virus originated in wildlife.

          It is unfortunate that in these times of tragic crisis several prominent US conservative pundits and politicians have been politicizing the bioweapon rumour for weeks. Right-wing radio host and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh said on February 24 that “It probably is a ChiCom laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized,” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has repeatedly suggested before Congress and on Fox News that the virus could have come from the lab. The Arkansas senator furthered “infodemic” by pushing debunked claim that the novel coronavirus may have been created in a Wuhan laboratory.

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon also went on Fox News to defend Cotton and imply that the Chinese Communist Party was still hiding something about the origin of Covid-19. In the New York Post, Steven Mosher, a regular critic of China’s population control measures, has stoked the leakage rumour, using an array of circumstantial clues that Chinese labs’ handling of deadly pathogens can’t be trusted.

Similar rumours have also been running rampant in online forums in China. The South China Morning Post on February 20 debunked yet another rumour of the virus escaping from the lab in China. More rumours swirled online which say that Wuhan Institute of Virology researcher Chen Quanjiao had reported the head of the institute, Wang Yanyi, claiming she had “sold experimental animals” to the live animal and seafood market and “leaked the virus” from the lab. Chen was angry that her name had been used to fabricate information and denied it.

Conspiracy theories about manmade viruses are not new. We saw this with HIV — the rumour that the US made it and introduced it into Africa. But it had no basis. Soon after the Chinese government acknowledged there was an outbreak of a mysterious new virus in late December in Wuhan, scientists raced to sequence its genome. By mid-January, they had it and shared it with the World Health Organization. Scientists saw that the virus closely resembled viruses that circulate in bats. “If you look at the genetic sequence of the virus, it’s closely related to a bat virus, about 96 percent the same,” Jim LeDuc, head of the Galveston National Laboratory, a level 4 biosafety lab in Texas, told Vox. “There’s been talk about a pangolin intermediate host; that’s probably not true.”

Chinese officials also reported that several of the first cluster of cases had ties to a live animal market where both seafood and other wildlife were sold as food. (The market has since been closed.) The market soon became the leading hypothesis for how the virus made the leap into humans, where it’s been able to spread efficiently ever since.

The genetic evidence and epidemiological information, according to three esteemed infectious disease researchers writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, “implicates a bat-origin virus infecting unidentified animal species sold in China’s live-animal markets.” There’s a long history of these “spillover” events, where an emerging disease jumps from wildlife to humans, turning into a pandemic. And scientists say we should expect them with more travel, trade, connectivity, urbanization, climate change, and ecological destruction, if we don’t stop the drivers.

What researchers have to figure out now is how exactly the coronavirus jumped to humans: perhaps through a human eating an infected animal, or through humans being exposed to infected feces or urine. Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia and host of the This Week in Virology podcast said, “All we know is its likely distant source was bats, but we don’t know who was between bats and people. It could be a direct infection between bats and humans as well.”

A preliminary scientific paper shows this is a genuinely new virus, and there’s no way it could have been engineered by humans. In a recent podcast episode, Racaniello discussed with two other researchers a fascinating preprint paper (that’s currently under peer review, according to the authors) about the virus origin. The key finding: that SARS-CoV-2 is “not a laboratory construct nor a purposefully manipulated virus.” The paper, which was uploaded onto in February, is written by several leading microbiologists who closely examined the SARS-CoV-2 genome.

Racaniello put it on his podcast: “Humans could never have dreamed this up.” He said, “No known lab anywhere in the world was working on a coronavirus like this one, and its closest relative is a bat virus found in a cave in 2013 in Yunnan, China, 1,000 miles from Wuhan. Presumably there’s a common ancestor, most likely from a bat or an intermediary animal that was contaminated by that bat.”

Fact remains that the origin of Corona Virus is in China. But fact also remains that it was not engineered. Because if you wanted to release a bioweapon to kill a lot of people, there are much deadlier pathogens you could use. Ebola and the West African Lassa virus are deadly threats that can only be studied in biosafety level 4 labs, like Wuhan. Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is a tick-borne disease that has a death rate of 30 to 50 percent. The global death rate for Covid-19, meanwhile, is around 3 percent at the moment.

          This is the time when the whole humanity must fight against the pandemic. By ridiculing China or its President Xi Jinping, US President Donald Trump is not doing any service to the mankind. Xi also must come forward in much more transparent manner. Knowingly divide the global society into Non-Chinese and Chinese will ensure the extinction of basic human values. Social distancing should not convert into an everlasting social divide.


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