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COVID-19 Origins: A Scientific And Political Quagmire

As they deal with the pandemic, people want to know why, how, and where it came from.


The world is dealing with a pandemic.

That is the only statement that almost everyone can agree on. All questions leading up to and arising from it are up for debate and contention.

Questions regarding the origin of the disease, its causes, and methods to deal with it should have primarily remained in the domain of science and scientists. Unfortunately, from the outset, those questions were hijacked by the political sphere and aligned with political affiliations and ideologies.

The SARS-CoV-2 infections or Covid-19 cases were first detected in the Wuhan province, in China. There is much to suggest that Beijing grossly underreported and misinformed the world about the virus's transmissibility and virulence. Already grappling with a trust deficit on the geopolitical stage, China was caught firmly on the back foot.

Theories that Chinese biologists had engineered the virus and unleashed it on the unwitting world population angered Beijing and further undermined China's position and trustworthiness on the world stage. Beijing was compelled to counter the theories with some of their own. They pointed to the wet market as a place of origin and even blamed contaminated frozen food, further muddying the waters.

Many in the scientific community urge governments and global organizations to refrain from a blame game and hasty conclusions. It is possible that the virus has a natural origin and was transmitted from an animal to humans.

But, proponents of the lab-leak theory highlight that no intermediate host animal has been identified, though 80,000 animals have been tested since the pandemic began. While that is a considerable number, biologists understand that the figure represents only a tiny fraction of the animal population in China.

Virologists also caution that it often takes years to complete origin investigations. They point out that "To date, a complete Ebola virus has never been isolated from an animal in the region where the world's largest outbreak occurred between 2013 and 2016."

It is premature to rule out any possibilities.

The fact remains that an infection very similar to Covid-19 was first detected eight years ago in miners working in a bat-infested, abandoned copper mine in the Yunan province. On record, one of the most advanced bio-labs in the country, Wuhan Institute of Virology, was indeed studying viruses from the SARS family. Intelligence reports suggest that three people working in the lab sought medical treatment for symptoms of Covid-19 weeks before news of the first Covid-19 clusters emerged.

Further, it is known that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was conducting "gain of function" research, i.e., the scientists were altering the virus, 'speeding up its evolution,' if you will, in order to study it. This type of research has raised moral and ethical questions in the past. Such research was banned in the U.S. by the Obama administration but resumed under the previous administration. As has come to light, U.S. funds did find their way to the Wuhan lab to further the research. It must also be noted that "gain of function" research is legal in many parts of the world.

Very few subscribe to the theory that the virus was deliberately leaked to the population. A majority believe that if indeed the virus did emerge from a lab, it was an accidental leak. Those familiar with the environs know that it is nearly impossible to ensure airtight lab containment at all times despite safety protocols. The high possibility of accidental leaks and infections is what prompted the moratorium on such research in America.

Again, China's policy of reticence and secrecy, its muffled press, its crackdown on its citizens' freedoms all erode its credibility and reliability. In return, Beijing's mistrust of the West and the various international organizations it considers aligned to the West impede impartial investigations.

Unfortunately, the world at large has paid the price for the politicization of this issue. Instead of uniting to fight a common enemy, largely countries grappled alone with the unknown disease.  Vaccination has become a partisan issue, keeping herd immunity beyond the reach of most societies.

It is imperative that the origin of the disease, never before been seen in humans, be brought to light. Not just to assign blame but primarily to put in place protocols and procedures that will prevent such an event from repeating itself.

Science is based on facts and evidence. All theories must be impartially investigated and proven or disproven. Personal preferences or geopolitical affiliations are not the yardsticks here. People want answers to Why, How and from Where, as they grapple with the consequences of a pandemic.