US and China: Conflicting COVID origin theories

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

| Photo by Lauren and Michael Evans on Unsplash

Even before the release of a report by the US intelligence community on the origin of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that has caused this global pandemic – China had already gone on the offensive, accusing the US of “scapegoating” and decrying what it says is the “politicization” of efforts to discover the truth behind COVID-19.

Last May 26, US President Joe Biden ordered the US intelligence community to redouble efforts to investigate the origin of the coronavirus in 90 days and produce a preliminary report that could “bring us closer to a definitive conclusion” regarding the issue.

The report was not conclusive enough partly because of the lack of data coming from China, with officials of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs launching an online “signature campaign” to call for the investigation of a laboratory in Fort Detrick, saying the coronavirus may have escaped from the research facility in Maryland. Observers say this pre-emptive strike by the Chinese aims to counter the theory that the virus originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.

We can recall that when reports started coming out about a mysterious respiratory illness that was spreading in Wuhan City in China in December 2019, a wet market was initially suspected as the source of the virus that had yet to be identified at the time. Photos of various animals sold at the wet market circulated, with the bat later blamed as the culprit. Then came the pangolin, which was pinpointed as the animal that passed the virus to other animals that triggered the transmission to humans.

“Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist working at a hospital in Wuhan, who issued a warning in a WeChat group message that “a new coronavirus infection has been confirmed.” Dr. Li was told to “stop making false comments” and detained the police for “spreading rumors.”

However, suspicions that the virus may have come from a laboratory in Wuhan – namely the Wuhan Institute of Virology – also started to float, spawning the “lab leak” theory, especially when reports came out that three researchers at the lab were hospitalized in November 2019 after they became sick with a flu-like illness.

It became even more suspicious when Chinese authorities leaned hard on Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist working at a hospital in Wuhan, who issued a warning in a WeChat group message that “a new coronavirus infection has been confirmed.” Dr. Li was told to “stop making false comments” and detained the police for “spreading rumors.”

Reports say Dr. Li was forced to retract his statements and was made to sign a document akin to a public confession. At the same time, others in his chat group were also arrested for “seriously disturbing the social order.” Hailed by many for sounding the alarm about the deadly virus, the doctor – nicknamed the “Wuhan whistleblower” – became infected by a patient and eventually succumbed to COVID-19. His death caused a firestorm among the Chinese, with the government eventually honoring him as a hero.

In March 2020, a Chinese diplomat dubbed as a “lone warrior” posted on Twitter that the US military may have brought the new coronavirus to Wuhan, showing a clip of the US CDC director Robert Redfield telling a congressional committee that some US deaths thought to be caused by influenza were later identified as COVID-19 cases.”

In March 2020, a Chinese diplomat dubbed as a “lone warrior” posted on Twitter that the US military may have brought the new coronavirus to Wuhan, showing a clip of the US CDC director Robert Redfield telling a congressional committee that some US deaths thought to be caused by influenza were later identified as COVID-19 cases. To support this theory, a video showing US troops drinking cobra blood and eating all sorts of creatures during a survival training in Thailand began circulating, with captions claiming that these same soldiers went to Wuhan for the Military World Games in October 2019 – and hence were presumably the source of COVID-19.

Calls for an investigation into the “real” origin of COVID-19 gained traction in April 2020, the most notable of which was from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. This eventually led to a joint study between an international team from the World Health Organization and Chinese scientists. However, there were concerns about the report’s credibility because China made it difficult for the international team to access the Wuhan lab facilities. Crucial data from patients were also withheld from the international team, supposedly because disclosure would violate patients’ privacy.

When the WHO report was finally released in March after numerous delays, it said that evidence pointed to “zoonotic” transmission of the virus (meaning it came from an animal and was transmitted to humans) and that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus came from a laboratory accident. Yet WHO executive director of Health Emergencies Program Michael Ryan admitted at a press conference earlier this week that the laboratory leak theory was still possible.

“This “battle of narratives” between the US and China is hindering progress in fighting this virus that “will not disappear – at least not in the near future,”

A recent documentary aired by a Danish TV network featuring food security and zoonotic diseases expert Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, who was part of the WHO team that went to China, also fueled doubts regarding the results of the joint study. Dr. Embarek virtually dropped a bomb when he said the lab leak theory was a “probable hypothesis” – a reversal of the WHO study’s conclusion. He also confirmed that Chinese authorities withheld information, denying the team access to documents and compelling them to disregard the lab leak theory.

This “battle of narratives” between the US and China is hindering progress in fighting this virus that “will not disappear – at least not in the near future,” according to a WHO official.

The whole world is hoping that, at the very least, these two economic giants would cooperate in putting a handle on this pandemic and set aside differences for now until this virus is placed under control. With the Delta variant spreading infections quickly, there is little doubt “immunity” from this pandemic will soon come. There is no question; countries have to work together to ensure this devastating pandemic is placed under control.
Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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