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The Potential Non-Natural Origins of the Coronavirus

May 26, 2021 6:33 AM 6 min read

On November 17th 2019, the world reported its first case of a disease caused by the novel coronavirus in China. In the one-and-a-half-year period since, over 168 million cases and more than three million deaths have been attributed to this pandemic worldwide which managed to stop humanity dead in its tracks. 

Even though many believe that the worst is behind us, the losses and tragedies that have unfolded over the past year still remain fresh and drive a growing demand for answers. Answers to what started the pandemic in the first place. 

All hands point towards China. Even if not everyone believes in the Chinese state's complicity in starting the pandemic, there is no denying the fact that China is where the pandemic started. Lately, a great many theories have surfaced which claim a possible "lab leak" to be the agent of the coronavirus' spread. 

But the truth remains at large. 

There is still no conclusive evidence to show the true origins of the pandemic. However, circumstantial evidence and accounts are piling up fast along with a greater call from countries and world bodies to conduct an independent investigation into the origins. And here's what they tell us about the role played by humans in the creation of this deadly virus. 

Exploration Into the "Bat Cave"

The US Department of State said in January 2021 that some workers in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the ground-zero of the virus, were taken ill all at once in the autumn of 2019, with symptoms akin to COVID-19. Last Sunday, the Wall Street Journal corroborated this statement with extra intel suggesting that the workers were sick enough to seek hospital care, making it all too serious to be dismissed as a "coincidence". 

But where did it all start? 

In 2012, six men were tasked with shoveling and clearing out bat guano (excrement) from a mine in Mojiang, southern China. Three of them were heavily infected with a mysterious lung disease and eventually succumbed to death. 

This caught the attention of the Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, known in China as the "bat lady". She spent years trapping bats in caves all over China, sampling and studying the "bat virus" that she had discovered there. 

Fast forward to December 2019 when news of a deadly disease outbreak in Wuhan surfaced. Strangely, its symptoms were similar to Zhengli's "bat disease" which was noticed five years ago in a province 2,000 km away. 

How did it get there? Was there a chance it leaked from her laboratory? 

Even if it did leak from Zhengli's lab, there's no evidence to show (YET!) that it leaked from the labs inside the WIV which were merely a 100 yards away from the seafood market that is widely considered as the site of "first public emergence" of the virus. 

Again, HOW does a virus leave clinically and hermetically sealed chambers? Some have blamed it on the possibly lax safety standards. Wuhan represents China's only Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) facility which are the most advanced containment units for pathogens. So is it a coincidence that the outbreak happened in the one city in China with a BSL-4 lab?


What Do We Know Outside China? 

Academicians, scientists and journalists have tried to probe into the origins on their own with whatever resources they could gather outside China, which suffice to say, were very scant and unreliable. However, opinions differ. 

Some like Luc Montagnier, the French Nobel Laureate who was acclaimed for the discovery of HIV, have alleged that the coronavirus was "manufactured" in a lab in China while attempting to create a vaccine against HIV. 

On the other hand, a group of 27 virologists on Lancet, dismissed the "conspiracy theories" suggesting that COVID-19 doesn't have a natural origin. To be fair, this was published in February 2020, way before the world rose to the fullest calamity of the pandemic (more on this later). 

The most credible research published so far is the one by Nature which traces the "proximal origin" of SARS-CoV-2. It says that if genetic manipulation had indeed been performed, then it would leave traces of some kind of reverse engineering done from existing coronavirus samples. But the genetic data shows no such "tampering" which suggests that the virus probably went through multiple recombinations in nature itself (the famous bat-to-pangolin-to-human hypothesis).

Clash of Corona Doctrines

The latest turnaround in opinion has come from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the famous White House chief medical adviser. Within a span of 20 days, Dr. Fauci went from "strongly disbelieving" the Wuhan lab as the source of coronavirus to "not convinced" that COVID-19 developed naturally. He is now advocating a full-scale investigation into the origins. 

Question is, why did it take so long for the top brass of the US government to bring up their reasonable doubt? And this is excluding the anti-China outbursts from the Trump administration last year which we are discounting due to their lack of qualified assessment, unlike now. 

Hold on to that thought. Let's bring in some more context. 

A UK-based researcher called Nicholas Wade who has extensively published on the virus' origins, says that scientists often conduct "gain-of-function'' research (constructive experiments) on microbes. But it's a high risk-high reward process because the chances of leakage are very high. 

One such experiment was being done by Ms. Zhengli or the "bat lady" who collected a lot of samples from her cave retreats. Turns out, Ms. Zhengli's research was partly funded by the US Department of Defense through a New York-based non-profit called EcoHealth Alliance

Hold on further! There's more. 

EcoHealth Alliance is run by a zoologist named Peter Daszak, whose interest in coronavirus research is old. He played an active role in organising the Lancet condemnation from the scientific community that we mentioned earlier. 

Not only that, he was among the team of researchers that was sent by the WHO to probe the origins of coronavirus in Wuhan. A probe that has been widely criticised for exonerating China's hand in the origins despite the Chinese authorities' continued uncooperation with their assessment. The team spent less than three hours inside WIV and was provided with no raw data from China. 

Mr. Daszak's close and preexisting association with coronavirus research was also a point that many people used to cite the compromised nature and lack of transparency of the probe.


The Chinese Coronisation of Information

There are broadly four ways as a result of which the virus may have originated: 


a) inevitable and unavoidable natural causes, 

b) inevitable accidents which arose out of human error, 

c) preventable accidents that occured due to negligence, or 

d) premeditated action by state or non-state actors. 


These categories are arranged in an ascending order of fault and accountability. Considering the catastrophic effects unleashed by the pandemic worldwide, if this fault was somehow established, the sentence for the same would justifiably exceed any known punishment given before by law. 

And then there are political blame-games and grandstanding, which have been employed by China as covetous tools in its diplomacy time and again. The level of information blockade and targeted propaganda that China engages in even puts the Iron Curtain to shame. All databases of viral genomes in China have been shut since last year and any papers tracing the origins of the coronavirus are banned from publication.

It will be immensely difficult for the world to get to the bottom of the virus' origin without Chinese cooperation. And without getting to the bottom, there's no way of preparing against similar outbreaks in the future. Now may be a good time for the People's Republic to heed to its ancient Confucian belief system and commit to the truth, "which like the sun and moon, can't be hidden". 


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