OPINION | Origin of COVID-19: Ecological, Historical and Geopolitical Perspective
The novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) that is threatening modern civilization today is a disaster that was bound to happen mainly because of human folly. This is an inevitable consequence of the dominance of a neoliberal, national security state doctrine with a military-industrial complex pushing for perpetual war and corporate globalization. This has devastated entire ecosystems, distorted medical science and disempowered communities.
This power elite doctrine is the root cause of the increasingly serious cases of emerging infectious diseases over the past 40 years or so—coinciding with the destruction of our ecosphere, gross disrespect of the intimate relationship between humans and the environment, and the reductionist thinking about infectious diseases and health.
Despite the fact that scientific evidence clearly shows that viruses and other microbes are largely friends and have been playing a significant role in the evolution and survival of all life forms in our entire ecosystem, 1 2 the power elite institutions and their agents have declared these microbes as mortal enemies that deserve to be eliminated. Microbes and their elements are in fact essential components of the human biological entity and perform critical physiologic functions that maintain homeostasis and a robust immune system. 3 4 Rather than cultivating harmony and co-existence, most humans have declared total war against them. This belligerent attitude is also a result of a largely mistaken understanding of infectious disease and illness propagated by a reductionist medical paradigm which fails to recognize that illness is in fact a disruption of the harmony between humans and their physical, chemical, biological, spiritual and social environment.5 Thus, the distorted, corporate-controlled medical science have pushed for mass vaccinations with the aim of total elimination despite scientific evidence that mass vaccinations do more harm than good.6 7 Furthermore, the military-industrial complex have been, for several decades, converting and harnessing microbes as “weapons of mass destruction” of people perceived to be their enemies.
It is logical to consider that a secret bioweapons program is a major proximal causative driving factor that created this coronavirus pandemic. There were in fact numerous clear warning signals that this was bound to happen but these were ignored and nonchalantly dismissed. As early as 1970, a World Health Organization (WHO) group of consultants in their comprehensive report on chemical and biological weapons noted that “a virulent mutant (microbe)… could spread rapidly to produce an uncontrollable epidemic on a large scale.” In addition, they warned that there was the “ever-present risk of an accidental escape.” 8 Indeed this prediction was prescient. A list of biolab accidents compiled by the Stop the Biolab Movement in Boston, USA showed more than 50 biolab accidents from 1985-2007, occurring mostly in the US, including 7 accidents involving the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).9
Despite the clear dangers to public health, the US Federal government has dramatically increased US research and development activity and infrastructure focused on biological weapons agents. More than two dozen large new high-containment research facilities were funded specifically to work with bioweapons agents, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “When more dangerous research is performed by more people in more locations, there are simply more opportunities for significant biosafety or biosecurity breaches to occur… Worse, if the accident involves an agent such as the 1918 influenza virus, which was reconstructed at the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2005, it could start a global pandemic,” it added.10 USAMRIID itself recorded a total of 128 incidents occurring from 2016 to 2018, with seven incidents of potential biological exposures. Some risk of exposure to infectious agents and/or toxins may have occurred, and has resulted in precautionary medical surveillance of the personnel involved.11
On July 2019, the CDC issued a cease and desist order to USAMRIID after problems were found in its biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories.12 The USAMRIID located at Fort Detrick, Georgia is known to be the highly secretive epicenter of US bioweapons research, with a history of illicit human experiments and research on the production of genetically-modified organisms for deployment as weapons of war.13 14 15 16 17 US military secret biolabs have in fact been most advanced in doing research on pathogenic microorganisms including SARS and other coronaviruses. In 2018, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) began spending millions on such research. Some of those Pentagon-funded studies were conducted at known US military bioweapons laboratories bordering China, and has resulted in the discovery of dozens of new coronavirus strains as recently as last April 2019.18 19 20
At the same time, DARPA also embarked on a secretive research to disperse infectious genetically modified viruses that have been engineered to edit crop chromosomes directly in fields. Ostensibly, the research program aims to allow farmers to adapt to changing climate conditions.21 However, independent scientists warned that DARPA’s program could create uncontrollable and potentially dangerous genetically engineered viruses—using insects as the vehicle for a Horizontal Environmental Genetic Alteration Agents (HEGAAS), or, in other words, using insects to disperse them—in a ‘new class’ of biological warfare.22
Genetic engineering technology facilitates horizontal transfer and unnatural recombination of genetic material across species barriers–precisely the conditions favoring the creation of new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases. Many scientists have warned that increased commercial exploitation of genetic engineering in both agriculture and medicine have actually unleashed the potential for creating viruses and bacteria more virulent than nature’s worst.23
Despite ostensibly justifiable objectives and avowed compliance to biosafety protocols, unexpected results do happen with potentially disastrous consequences. This was aptly demonstrated in 2001 when Australian scientists trying to make a mouse contraceptive vaccine for pest control instead accidentally created a virus that kills every one of its victims, by wiping out part of their immune system.24 Scientists funded by the US government, however, did a similar thing intentionally in 2003, supposedly to study how to counter a killer virus. Dr. Mark Buller, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and working for the US Biodefense Program under the USAMRIID at Fort Detrick, has created, through genetic engineering technology, a mousepox strain that kills 100 per cent of vaccinated mice, even when they were also treated with the antiviral drugs.25 26
Notably, in 2015, Dr. Ralph Baric and his team at the University of North Carolina created a virus using genetic engineering, with the surface protein of the SHC014 coronavirus found in horseshoe bats in China, and the backbone of one that causes human-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in mice. The study demonstrated the ability of the SHC014 surface protein, in a genetically engineered coronavirus, to bind and infect human cells, validating concerns that this virus—or other coronaviruses found in bat species—may be capable of making the leap to people without first evolving in an intermediate host. Interestingly, scientists from the Key Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety, Wuhan Institute of Virology in China were collaborators in the study.27 28
In the following year, Dr. Baric and his team (this time without the scientists from Wuhan, China), published another study entitled “SARS-like WIV1-CoV poised for human emergence.” The results “indicate a significant threat posed by WIV1-CoV. Both full-length and chimeric WIV1-CoV readily replicated efficiently in human airway cultures and in vivo, suggesting capability of direct transmission to humans. In addition, while monoclonal antibody treatments prove effective, the SARS-based vaccine approach failed to confer protection. Together, the study indicates an ongoing threat posed by WIV1-related viruses and the need for continued study and surveillance.”29 It should be noted that as early as 2012, Dr. Baric had received a $2.4 M grant from the NIAID “to identify key immune regulatory genes and networks that control disease severity, better understand how immune compartments ‘talk’ to one another and determine disease outcomes after infection.30
Several US agencies–particularly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its subsidiary, the NIAID, and USAMRIID have been collaborating on research projects, ostensibly to develop strategies to fight rapidly evolving pathogens that pose a threat to public health.31 32 33 However, other scientists have expressed their worry that human error could lead to the accidental release of a virus that has been enhanced in the lab so that it is more deadly or more contagious than it already is.34 In fact, in 2015, the US government banned such “gain of function” research involving the flu virus, viruses causing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and SARS, following a research study that genetically modified the H5N1 influenza virus so that it could spread between ferrets (a model for studying flu in people), raising fears that the virus could jump to humans, and after US government laboratories working with pathogens had several accidents. The ban was lifted in 2018.35
Given the foregoing context, it is not surprising that a new coronavirus, SARS-CoV2 (which causes the disease COVID-19), has emerged and is now causing a serious pandemic wreaking havoc all over the world. The official narrative of the US Center for Disease Control, WHO, most governments and the mainstream media is that SARS-CoV2 has its origin in bats and is linked to a large seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the pandemic and where it was reportedly first discovered. Even the Chinese Center for Disease Control initially announced that SARS-CoV2 started at the seafood market in Wuhan.
Later, though, a spokesman for China’s ministry of foreign affairs claimed that COVID-19 may have been brought into China by US soldiers who were in Wuhan 14 days before the first case of SARS-CoV2 infection was discovered, and that the origin might be the United States.36 He cited reports that Japanese and Taiwanese epidemiologists and pharmacologists have determined that the new coronavirus could have originated in the US, since that country is the only one known to have all five types – from which all others must have descended. Wuhan in China has only one of those types, rendering it in analogy as a kind of “branch” which cannot exist by itself but must have grown from a “tree.” Part of the proof of this assertion is that the genome varieties of the virus in Iran and Italy have been sequenced and declared to have no part of the variety that infected China and must, by definition, have originated elsewhere.37 It would seem the only possibility for origination would be the US because only that country has the “tree trunk” of all the varieties.38
It may therefore be true that the original source of the COVID-19 virus was the US military biowarfare lab at Fort Detrick. This would not be a surprise, given that the CDC completely shut down Fort Detrick.39 This assertion seems to have been corroborated by the testimony of the CDC director in Congress, admitting that some deaths in the US, which later proved to be positive for SARS-CoV2 virus, have been miscategorised as the flu.40 According to a Taiwanese virologist, the virus outbreak may have began earlier than assumed, saying, “We must look to September of 2019,”37 or months before SARS-CoV2 was discovered.
The assertion that the SARS-CoV2 may have originated from a lab is being disputed by the director of the NIH and some scientists working for the NIAID, who claim that SARS-CoV2 emerged naturally from animals.41 In a statement published in The Lancet, a group of scientists said, “We…strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analysed genomes of the causative agent, SARS-CoV-2, and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.”42 However, one could easily discover that the studies from which their conclusion was based can be traced back to studies done under the US biodefense program, largely through the aforementioned NIAID. The Chinese study done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology cited by the group to support their claims was led by Zheng-Li Shi who actually collaborated earlier in 2015 with Dr. Baric at the University of North Carolina in creating, using genetic-engineering technology, an extremely lethal SARS-like coronavirus that demonstrated the ability to infect human cells.43 28
As what happens in many controversial issues, scientists from different camps often have conflicting viewpoints on the same observable phenomenon. One must dig deeper into the controversy, taking into account other relevant information, including the integrity and credibility of sources of information and potential technical and other biases, in order to come up with a rational judgment of what might be closer to the truth. The emergence of SARS-CoV2 virus must also be viewed in a broad context, taking into account not only the technical-scientific view but more importantly, the ecological, historical, and socio-geopolitical factors involved. At this point, the preponderance of evidence seems to favor the assertion that SARS-CoV2 emerged from biowarfare research activities, most likely a result of genetic engineering manipulation.
There is a very complex set of influences that drives the infinitesimal probabilities of outcomes from mutations, recombinations, and other genetic and epigenetic dynamic phenomena that are unavoidably and unpredictably generated during viral replication. How SARS-CoV2 emerged can be looked at from various perspectives. From a limited biological perspective, it seems reasonable to infer from genome analysis that it may have emerged due to natural processes. Natural processes, however, are usually evolutionary and does not occur in a very short period of time. The observed characteristics of SARS-CoV2 at the genomic and clinical expression levels are not in accordance with the norms of nature. It is more in accordance with reality to expect that intervening factors have operated at different levels that trumped the expected genomic evolutionary pathway. There are ecological, geographical, social, technological (ex. genetic engineering), individual human behaviour (ex. unscrupulous scientists and the power elite) and other factors that come into play. It is quite obvious that human interference have changed natural ecosystems, have created artificial genomic element and microorganisms, and have facilitated unnatural recombinations and mutations. From this wholistic perspective, one can conclude that it is highly unlikely that SARS-CoV2 emerged naturally as a result of simply increased human-animal interaction. While it appears from genomic analysis of the SARS-CoV2 virus points to an evolutionary origin from bat coronaviruses, the preponderance of evidence from a broad context points to anthropogenic origin (a result of human activity) with the use of genetic engineering technology as the most likely proximal cause, not necessarily precluding prior origin from bats or other animals.
Whether the virus emerged due to accidental release from ostensibly well-meaning but dangerous researches on highly pathogenic organisms or due to a secret biowarfare act is not clear. From the available information so far, it is more likely that there was probably an accidental release of the virus from a laboratory engaged in “biodefense” (biowarfare) research. It is also not clear where exactly this laboratory might be.
The experience with “emerging” infectious diseases like SARS, MERS, Ebola and others should have given humanity sufficient lessons to adequately prevent and manage COVID-19. Perhaps official explanations of the origin of these emerging infectious diseases and existing medical guidelines and modalities on how to manage them are fundamentally flawed. If the existing paradigm is mistaken, then the current practices in the management of the pandemic are also flawed and perhaps more importantly, preventive measures to forestall future pandemics will also be flawed. All theories, including the so-called “conspiracy theories,” that might offer rational explanations must be examined and investigated seriously without pre-judgement. The precautionary principle should be the norm in the assessment of risks. A truly independent international investigative group should be organized to do this.
Romeo F. Quijano, M.D. is a retired professor of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of the Philippines-Manila.
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