AnalysisOpinion

America’s “lab leak” theory adds to Covid-19 infodemic

Last year, the World Health Organisation decried the proliferation of disinformation and misinformation around the Covid-19 pandemic. 

He said this situation complicated the fight against the disease, as false information peddled in various platforms for different causes had a negative effect on audiences. 

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said Tedros 

Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) at a gathering of foreign policy and security experts in Germany.

He said disinformation “spreads faster and more easily than this virus.”

WHO explains that infodemics are an excessive amount of information about a problem, which makes it difficult to identify a solution. They can spread misinformation, disinformation and rumours during a health emergency. Infodemics can hamper an effective public health response and create confusion and distrust among people.

The world continues to grapple with disinformation and misinformation. 

However, the most troubling infodemic that the globe should be gravely isworried about is emanating from the United States of America.

At the end of this month, the US is set to release a report by its scientists on the so-called origins tracing of the Covid-19 virus. 

The US has been desperately seeking to blame China for originating the virus and causing its spread because of an accidental “leak” from its laboratories. 

This claim is not new. 

However, what is significant now is that the US will seek to use a pseudo-scientific report to launch a propaganda war against China that will divert the attention of the world from current efforts towards fighting the disease. 

The US knows that it has lost authority on matters concerning fighting the disease globally because of its own embarrassingly poor handling of the pandemic at home and its failure to lead containment efforts.

Despite many promises, the US has failed poorer nations in delivering vaccines to protect people from the disease. 

In view of its floundering position, the US is now seeking to win a propaganda war by poisoning the minds of people over the so-called origins tracing. 

What is more sinister is that the US has previously used this contrived agenda to discredit the World Health Organisation.

However, there is something particularly troubling and flawed about the US’ cavalier attitude. 

It masks some deeply troubling questions about the US’ sincerity about finding the cause or origins of the disease, if the world were to indulge on that. 

While the US has been quick to point a finger at China, it has some skeletons in the cupboard which to all intents and purposes could be used as indicating possible origins of the disease in America itself. 

Unbelievable, right?

There is credible information that the United States has over 200 laboratories, including military facilities at Fort Derrick, Maryland that have dabbled and experimented with coronaviruses and could as well have been the source of a “leak”.

The US has not opened up on possibilities to have these investigated as well.

It is important to track this line of inquiry to understand the enormity and gravity of this case, which in other times could point to serious culpability of America.

This writer recently studied various literature on this subject and came across shocking revelations from sources. 

First there is the case of the so-called “The Coronavirus Hunter”, Professor Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina famed for his coronavirus modification technique and revealed in an interview last year that the virus could be engineered.

According to a report from the school-run media of the University of North Carolina, where Baric works, “Baric has been tracking coronaviruses for decades” and working on medications and vaccines for coronavirus-caused infections.

According to the MIT Technology Review, Baric has acquired a technique called “reverse genetics” with which he could modify coronaviruses or make them more potent. With the support of this technique, Baric can not only cultivate a living virus based on the gene fragments of the coronaviruses, but also modify the genes of the coronaviruses and create new ones.

In 2003, a published paper of which Baric was a co-author showcased the power of this technique. In the research, scientists successfully resurrected a SARS virus. Later Baric and others applied for a patent for this achievement, which was approved in 2007, with the patent code US7279327B2.

According to literature, this unique technique made Baric the top expert on coronaviruses in the US. He then began collecting samples of various coronaviruses around the world for research. 

In 2013, when the team of Shi Zhengli, a Chinese scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, detected the genome of a new coronavirus from a bat cave in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, Baric approached her, hoping to obtain the genetic data for research. Shi generously shared her findings with Baric. With his virus modification technique, Baric and his team created in his laboratory in the US a new coronavirus that can infect humans.

In this research, the modification and the mice infection experiment were both conducted in the University of North Carolina. The constructed chimeric virus was not provided to Shi Zhengli’s team. The research result was published in the “Nature Medicine” journal in 2015.

On the other hand, the US has two institutes that engage in research involving high-risk viruses and coronaviruses at Fort Detrick, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), and the Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick (IRF-Frederick), a research facility of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases within the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

It is said both have close ties with Baric and collaborated with him in researches.

Fort Detrick is important because there were reports in recent years where residents of a retirement home near the facility reportedly contracted a pneumonic disease similar to Covid-19.

USAMRIID and IRF-Frederick have poor laboratory safety records. Open material from Frederick News-Post in 2014 showed that multiple security incidents happened at IRF-Frederick in 2014 alone, and many of them involve such high-risk coronaviruses as MERS. In the meantime, lab security issues have also been reported in labs of lower security levels of this facility.

There are a number of other credible claims that implicate the US.

Predictably, the US has chosen to cover these up and divert attention elsewhere.

Focus on origins tracing is likely to be a costly exercise, if done transparently and in good faith. 

Unfortunately, the US is trying to stampede the world into a narrow agenda to blame China. 

This is unfortunate because half-baked claims are a dangerous mix to the problem of infodemics that the world is grappling with.

The focus should be on ramping up equitable  vaccination and using science to advance the good health of humanity.

(Written by By Mercy Matapatira)

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