Though I have been a prophet of doom for decades, the various instruments of our destruction I have postulated (economic growth addiction, resource depletion, nuclear war) did not include a pandemic. Others warned of species extinction from a viral terminator, but I never heeded the warning sufficiently to educate myself on the subject and echo the tragic chorus.
But, as with a killer pandemic, all my threats are transnational in nature, and so—like every commentator intones about our current threat—require an international solution, i.e., demands we surmount our parochial, nationalistic centrism and cooperate at the global level. Cynical by nature, I often muse whether mankind is capable of coming together when faced with a common danger, even in the face of an attack by extraterrestrials. Now we are confronted by a terrestrial threat which might serve as a test case. How are we doing?
With the nations of the world fighting COVID-19 along mainly nationalistic lines and the world’s two superpowers engaging in an increasingly strident argument over where the virus originated, it seems my cynicism is justified. Starting in the nether regions of the internet, factually thin, contending accusations about where the virus originated are now being flung at the highest levels of the two countries’ power pyramids (or whatever the teeter-totter President Trump presides over should be called).
One popular argument for China being the terre natale of the SARS-CofV-2 virus is simply that it was there that the first outbreak of COVID-19 occurred, but a cursory glance back in history shows how simpleminded that assumption is. The initial epicenter of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 was in the trenches of a Europe then engaged in an endless war, but the virus originated at an US army camp in Kansas. In like fashion, the SARS-CoV-2 virus could have started anywhere.
American charges of Chinese paternity for the virus focus on a lab in Wuhan, from which the virus is claimed to have migrated one way or the other. The Chinese counter that the virus was brought to China by the US delegation to the World Military Games held in Wuhan last October, citing the biolab at Ft. Detrick, Maryland as the maternity ward. Some on the American side believe they have fingered the very Chinese lab technician responsible for accidentally spreading the virus, while those on the Chinese side tag an American cyclist as the one who brought the virus to the Games.
Deborah Birx of daily presidential COVID-19 briefing fame has stated there is “never an excuse” not to share information concerning the virus. While Dr. Birx’s barb was aimed at the Chinese*, let’s see how we stack up with regard to transparency by looking at some of the opacities we have yet to clarify:
(1) Closure of the lab at Ft. Detrick by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last August: Why was the lab closed? What did the CDC find in its investigation? (The closure provides an instructive example of how censorship works in our quasi-governmentally, quasi-privately controlled infosphere. Midst all the hullabaloo over a leak at the Wuhan lab (i.e., after January), try to find any mention—in the mainstream or even fringe media—of the closure of our demonstrably leaky lab at Ft. Detrick–remember the post-911 anthrax attack?)
(2) Coronavirus research: Are there samples of coronaviruses in the inventory of pathogens at Ft. Detrick? If so, what research is being performed with them? Will we provide samples to outsiders for genetic analysis, as we have demanded the Chinese provide of their samples? (I suspect our complaint about the World Health Organization (WHO) having a pro-China bias has more to do with what might occur in the future than what has happened in the past. If the Chinese allow the WHO to inspect their lab in Wuhan, it would be unbecoming—and suspicious—if we did not accord the WHO the same access to Ft. Detrick. To the degree we can convince the world of past bias on the WHO’s part, the more legitimate appears our refusal to grant them access.)
(3) US delegation to the World Military Games: Will we provide the medical records of the personnel who attended the games, as the Chinese have requested? This information is readily available and extremely pertinent in determining if the virus originated on our side of the Pacific. If we have nothing to hide, providing the records would serve to debunk the Chinese claim; conversely, not providing the info implies we do have something to hide.
While some hold that the world community should be focusing on defeating the “plague” (Trump’s term), not arguing over who is responsible for it, I believe we can treat and chew gum at the same time. Let the doctors fight the virus while the epidemiologists determine its lineage. In this endeavor may both sides heed Dr. Birx advice and be totally transparent, while the rest of us reserve judgement until the scientists have spoken. (Whether we will be allowed to hear what the scientists have to say is an open question. I suspect the Trump administration’s plan to create a coalition of research labs in this country to study the genotype of the SARS-CofV-2 virus has more to do with bringing such research under government control than good science, similar to the Chinese government’s requirement that their researchers submit any of their findings concerning the origin of the virus for government review prior to publication.)
One thing we don’t have to wait for is the manifestation of nationalistic self-centeredness at a time of global crisis. While our National Academy of Sciences, the magazine Scientific American, and the British journal Nature have boldly published articles challenging the finger-pointing of the politicians, will scientists continue to find the courage to speak up as the pressures to conform to the drumbeats of the jingoists and their lackey journalists mount, threatening perhaps more than just the conscientious researcher’s career (The deaths—some suspicious—of more than a dozen microbiologists in the months following 9/11 might be relevant).
While many a gasping chauvinist will still be waving his country’s flag even as his ventilator is being unplugged, is there no more global response the rest of us might pursue? It seems no less than a Second Coming could inspire mankind to unite in fighting a common enemy, whether this pandemic or one of the threats inspiring my own doomsday prophecies. Is divine intervention needed to save ourselves? Perhaps, but I take heart in the fact most people would be hesitant to respond to a call to defend their faith with their lives but willingly volunteer to die for their country. Most people today–proud of their country as they may be–do not believe their country is divinely ordained (with one notable exception). If we are willing to sacrifice for something created by the hand of man as is the nation-state, perhaps human reason and human compassion can lead us to rise to a higher consciousness to confront the next species-wide, possibly existential threat. (I expound on one idea for redemption in my posting “Sapienism”) ___________________________________________________________________________
- Incidentally, the chart Dr. Brix shows in the linked video so she could badmouth China’s claim of an extremely low death count from COVID-19 (.3 deaths per 100,000 population) is deceptive. Other countries of East Asia (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea) have similarly low counts. Does she doubt their numbers?
UPDATE (5/6/20): Has the silencing of microbiologists commenced: a medical researcher at the University of Pittsburgh who is said to have been on the verge of an important discovery concerning the coronavirus was found shot to death last weekend.
UPDATE (5/8/20): A dramatic turn in the COVID-19 tragicomedy occurred this week. A French doctor discovered blood samples he drew from a patient he treated at the end of December for the flu contained the coronavirus, pushing back the earliest known case of COVID-19 in France by a month. In consequence, the WHO has encouraged other countries to look backward to see if patients diagnosed with the flu actually had COVID-19. In response, Cook County (Chicago) in Illinois is testing such cases back as far as November.
As with the case of a possible leak from a Chinese biolab in Wuhan, where FOX rants about the claim while CNN downplays it (fearing talk of a leak in China might lead to attention beyond drawn to our own leak-prone biolab at Ft. Detrick), China-bashers, braindead to the possibility of the virus having originated any other place than China, assume the further back the first case anywhere is found to be, the more guilty the Chinese are of having engaged in a covered-up, while the more astute realize the further back Patient Zero is found to be in places far from the Celestial Commune, the less likely SARS-CofV-2 originated there.
If it is proven the deadly, over gregarious virus did not originate in China, then the world owes an enormous debt to the Chinese for having been the first to recognize people weren’t just dying of the flu. If not for the Chinese ,we–clueless–would still be lamenting our especially virulent flu season.
UPDATE (5/10/20): Belated news: In early February, Frank Plummer, a world-renowned Canadian microbiologist, died in Kenya, supposedly of a heart attack. Sounds reasonable, as he was 67, but if deaths of prominent virologists mount, one is entitled to wonder. What lends intrigue to Plummer’s case is that he once was the scientific director of the Canadian lab in which a Chinese medical researcher was summarily dismissed last July, midst rumors she was a spy who transported coronavirus samples to China. Also of interest, Francis Boyle, a law professor who drafted the Biological Weapons Convention for the US Congress in 1989 and claims the US has spent more on bioweapons development than was spent on the development of the atomic bomb, has reportedly disappeared (Not sure about the reliability of the source linked to as he refers to Boyle as a microbiologist, which he is not. I emailed Prof. Boyle as to whether his disappearance was exaggerated but got no response).
UPDATE (5/19/20): A number of French athletes who participated in the World Military Games in Wuhan last October believe they were infected there with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and brought it back with them to France. If so, the COVID-19 Zero Patient in that country would be pushed back another month from the current recordholder, thought to be infected in early December. None of the athletes, of course, were diagnosed as suffering from anything other than a cold or the flu.
If the athletes did contract the virus at the Games, it raises the possibility that either the virus was present in China before the Games (the Chinese currently maintain Patient Zero in their country goes back to mid-November) or the virus was introduced to China by the US delegation to the Games (as the Chinese claim).
UPDATE (5/20/20): Here’s an intriguing tidbit: last July a mysterious respiratory illness swept through the Greenspring Senior Living Community in Springfield, VA with 63 of the 263 residents falling ill and 12 dying. Nineteen employees of the facility also fell ill. Symptoms resembled a cold or pneumonia (fever, cough). According to the Fairfax County Health Department, respiratory outbreaks at such facilities occur 5-10 times per year, but this outbreak was uncommon in that it occurred in July whereas most outbreaks are in the winter/flu season. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) investigated but were unable to determine any specific pathogen that caused the outbreak. A couple of weeks later, the CDC closed down the biolab at Ft. Detrick for safety violations.
An intriguing sidelight: The senior living home is located almost across the street from Ft. Belvoir where the cyclist tagged by the Chinese as the carrier of the coronavirus to the World Military Games, Maatje Benassi, is stationed. Benassi said she was unable to catch her breath after falling in a race. She and four other American athletes went to a Chinese hospital in Wuhan for treatment during the games (symptoms: fever, shortness of breath). The team doctor thought they had malaria and requested a drug from the hospital, perhaps the now famous hydroxychloroquine.
UPDATE (6/28/20): Another bioweapon-related researcher bit the dust shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic commenced: https://toresays.com/2020/03/13/where-is-timothy-cunninghams-whistleblower-report-on-coronavirus/.