Ncovid 19: Nature’s Revenge
Or A US-China ‘Bio-Weapon’ Freak?

Bibekananda Ray

Although the WHO, the governments and the world’s medical community are advising people a lot, every day, about the phenomenal spread of the NCOVID’19 pandemic, and how to rein it, short of vaccine and therapy, the mystery surrounding its origin and the cause of the outbreak is confined to guess and gossip. Four theories are going round; first, it is a natural virus like millions of others on earth, suddenly come alive; second, it is Nature’s revenge on meat-eaters; third, Nature is axing excess population to balance its resources, (as British economist Thomas Robert Malthus propounded in 1798) and the fourth, it is a biological weapon under development, accidentally leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China The last is now believed by many people after US President, Donald Trump gave vent to it, last month and later corroborated by two Nobel-laureate virologists. No government of any other affected country is making a hue and cry and accusing Beijing, Only a US State has sued China in a country’s court whose judgement cannot be binding on China. No country has demanded a probe by the UN, or the ICJ at The Hague.

Corona virus was identified way back in 2002 by China as cause of SARS in its Guangdong province; the NCOVID’19 is an omnibus name for four strains that are now devastating the world. Beijing admits that its first toll was a woman seafood vendor in the renowned wet market of Wuhan city on 11th January, this year but does not accept President Trump’s charge. It was certainly not a deliberate release, because no country can consciously commit hara-kiri, or develop a boomerang.

Four Theories
A lot has been circulated on the first, that it is a natural virus suddenly come alive but very little on three others. Some scientists believe, it is Nature’s revenge on meat-eating mankind. Chinese scientists first isolated the virus in a species of bats that abound in jungles of Borneo, whose meat is dear to Chinese rural folk. It has been found in two other Indian species of bats too. These scientists say, Nature meant mankind to be vegetarian; that is why man has no canine teeth and sharp claws as dogs, lions and tigers have. By meat-eating man has violated Nature tilted the ecological chain; hence the reprisal. Eating of cattle, pigs and birds has been prevalent in many countries; even ancient and present-day Indian sages revel in it. Why should Nature suddenly wake up to punish meat-eaters? Among the global infected there are vegetarians too. The third theory that Nature gets rid of some people to restore balance with its resources was propounded by a British economist, Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 –1834), who in his 1798 book, An Essay on the Principle of Population argued that populations had a tendency to grow until the lower class suffered hardship, want and greater susceptibility to famine and disease. "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man". His theory that Nature periodically reins a runaway population through pestilence, deluge, earthquake etc. influenced economic, political, social and scientific thinking in his time; it was severely criticized too. The global population has exceeded 7.8 billion, straining its resources and leaving some 821 million people going to bed hungry, every day; one in three suffer from some form of malnutrition. There could be some truth in this Malthusian theory but Nature does not speak.

The fourth theory, being circulated by President Trump and two Nobel laureates, is that Chinese scientists were developing a biological weapon in its prestigious Wuhan Institute of Virology, from where the NCOVID’19 leaked accidentally and infected people in the nearby wet market. Now what is a biological weapon? Also called ‘germ weapon’, bio-weapons can be bacteria, virus , rickettsia, fungi, toxins etc. that can kill humans, animals, or plants en masse. Such direct use of infectious agents and poisons against the enemy is an ancient practice in warfare. Indeed, in many conflicts, lethal viral diseases have killed more people than combat arms did. These weapons along with chemical, radiological and nuclear weapons, are commonly called ‘weapons of mass destruction’; not appropriately though, because biological weapons cannot destroy infrastructure, buildings, arsenal or equipment like conventional weapons. Nevertheless, to prevent their indiscriminate use as well as their potential for starting pandemics, many countries agreed to ban them since 1972.

In 2013, some 180 countries and Taiwan signed the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and a treaty, pledging not to use them in war and to refrain from developing, testing, producing, stockpiling, or deploying them but secretly, however, a number of them developed these weapons, as they were cheaper and easier to forge than conventional and nuclear arms. Bio-weapons differ widely in organism, toxin, lethality, period of incubation, infectiousness, stability and ability to be treated with current vaccines and medicines; there are five different categories, e.g., (a) bacteria (that cause anthrax, brucellosis, tularaemia and plague, (b) rickettsia (that cause typhoid and Q fever), (c) viruses (that cause Venezuelan equine encephalitis, (d) fungi that destroy crops by such diseases as rice blast, cereal rust, wheat smut, and potato blight and (e) toxins (poisons extracted from snakes, insects, spiders etc.). Most lethal germs are delivered as aerosols to infect through breath by targeted personnel. Bio-weapons cannot harm, if targeted persons have been vaccinated against the specific disease-causing agent used in them. Civil defence against such weapons has greatly improved in the USA since the 9th September 2001 aerial attacks on New York but a total defence will depend on progress in sensors, warning systems, vaccines, medicines, training of responders, public education, planning of emergency procedures as well as on the medical system, available to deal with naturally occurring diseases.

Unanwered Questions
The US intelligence, CIA believes, the NCOVID’19 virus, leaked from a Wuhan laboratory infected and killed a woman seafood vendor; from her it merrily replicated fast and embarked on a world tour. Its copies multiplied in millions and first entered Italy which has a large ageing population; from Lombardi province it travelled east and west, crossed the Atlantic to enter the American continent. The virus is said to thrive in cold weather and die in heat. January to March was winter in Europe, Asia and America; if it had broken out in summer, it might not have spread as fast and as much. It seems to have mutated from the stage it first broke out in Wuhan and travelled the world in four strains, only one of which is NCOVID’19.

Doubts and questions abound. Whether a man-made lethal virus is amenable to vaccine and therapy as a natural one? Are its nature and properties the same as, or similar to, those of millions of microbes in Nature? Why does it seem to spare unprotected children and shelterless poor people? Why is it so defiant and unresponsive to treatment, given in other viral diseases? Can it be recalled or neutralized by the laboratory where it was developed? Who were its intended targets? And for what?

The mystery has been deepened by ambivalence among scientists. Those outside China who studied the SARS-CoV-2 virus say, it does not show signs of having been manufactured, or purposefully manipulated, in a lab. A Chinese virologist, Dr. Shi Zhengli was part of a US team that worked on a coronavirus project, jointly with US doctors in 2014 but it was shut down for being too risky. She then moved to Wuhan Institute of Virology, where she worked on live animals. In November, 2019 the Institute recruited people for an ecological study of bat migration and virus transmission but there’s no proof and Beijing denies that corona virus accidentally escaped from a laboratory. Government researchers isolated more than 2,000 new viruses, including deadly Borneo bat corona viruses and carried out researches on them just three miles from a wild animal market, identified as the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. The corona virus strain mutated from these bats and is believed to have first infected people at the animal market in Wuhan.

Another strange thing about NCOVID’19 is its rather whimsical spread in all directions. Why did it choose Italy after China, its epicentre, instead of a contiguous country like India, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, or a Southeast Asian country? Italy is more than 6500 kilometres away from China. It spread, east and west, to 212 countries and territories, slowly in the beginning but later at break-neck speed. It did not choose more or less populous countries; if it did, it should have travelled to India after China, as she has the world’s second largest population, 1.25 billion. Western European countries and the USA took to lockdown before India but their incidence is much higher. The total of 212 countries on 3rd May 2020 night was 3523355 infected, 246394 deaths and 1101695 recovered. The USA continues to be at the top in both infected and deaths- 1168985 and 67954, respectively. Some 63 countries had total infection below 100; the lowest are in two territories- Comoros and Saint Pierre Miquelon with one each. Since the global graph of incidence is spiralling, every day, it becomes stale every minute.

US-China Collaboration
The lid on the mystery of its origin seems to have been somewhat lifted by revelations of the Trump administration that the US National Institute of Health had funded Wuhan Institute of Virology for researches into Corona Virus (CV) through an US agency, called Eco Health Alliance which collected samples of a species of bat, eaten by rural Chinese folk. The first grant of $3.25 million was released by Obama Administration in 2015; a five-year renewal was approved, last year by the NIH. Only 10% of the total grant, $76000 could be spent annually on collecting samples etc. from horse-shoe bats that abound in jungles of Borneo and sold in Wuhan animal market, with the avowed aim of preventing another global pandemic. The project identified hundreds of CVs that are very similar to the NCOVID’19. US intelligence officials are also finding out, whether the present CV escaped from Wuhan Institute by some sort of contamination accident, although Chinese scientists say, that was “nearly impossible”. On 17th April, President Trump asked officers to check, if any US fund was slated for the Institute and if there was, to terminate it forthwith. Wuhan Institute collected about 15000 samples from bats, identified about 400 wholly new CVs; these viruses can spill over into human population. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of US NIAID (a part of NIH) who recommended the funding seems to be knowing what it was for. He had contradicted statements by President Trump, on Corona outbreak. Since becoming the trusted face of USA’s COVID-19 pandemic, the top immunologist has been barred by the White House from addressing lawmakers on Trump Administration’s response to the crisis, on the ground that it would be "counter-productive". That deepens the mystery.

If Wuhan Institute was really working on a viral bio-weapon, it might have been doing this on somebody’s behalf on order, or for itself. If for its own use, which countries does it perceive as its enemy? They cannot be any other than India, Japan, Vietnam and the United States with all of whom Beijing has enormous trade relations. Chinese Muslims do not jell well with the vast Chinese population among 1.393 billion; they are a minority, representing 0.45% to 2.85% of the total population. Hui Muslims are a majority, concentrating in Xinjiang. They have been a part Chinese society for the last 1,400 years. Most of the traders along the ancient Silk Road were Muslims. Around a million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims have been bundled into ‘de-radicalization camps’ in China; others are living under constant surveillance. The United States has accused China of putting close to 3 million Muslims in concentration camps. The U.S. government has warned of sanctions against senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang which is home to millions of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. China has warned that it would retaliate “in proportion” against any of these.

Which of these four theories of NCOVID’19 origin is correct cannot be determined now, as we are emotionally too close to the pandemic; time will take us to the truth. As of now, world guesses and gossips are veering toward the fourth that it is man-made, accidentally leaked from Wuhan Institute; it might have been intended as a bio-weapon against an enemy of China, or of the USA, or of both. Is there a common enemy of two vastly different nations? The USA and Chins are both troubled by terrorism.

In any case, the galloping Corona stallion has to be reined to save mankind. As a Bengali saying goes, “Kings fight but the reeds trampled by them die”. Let the vaccine developed by the Jenner Institute of Oxford, ChAdOx1, now undergoing human trial, and the medicine by a US pharmaceutical company, Remdesivir by Gilead Sciences succeed; until then let theories of its origin, nature and the properties crystalize so that more lives are not sacrificed at the altar of an unseen enemy.

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May 8, 2020

Bibekananda Ray

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