Covid-19: the Origin, the Myths, and the World’s Dramatically Different Responses

Scientists the world over agree that this coronavirus too originated in nature. The Trump administration, on the other hand, with presidential elections looming, is fully politicizing the issue to divert attention from its dysfunctional response to the pandemic, only to get pushed back by a new, assertive, confident generation of Chinese.

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While some, for political reasons, say Covid-19 originated in a lab, world scientists have reached a consensus that it comes from nature, in particular bats.

(Version française)

Timeline

July 2019 – at Fort Detrick, MD, a lab handling highly hazardous viruses is closed because of improper procedures and inadequate facilities.

August-September 2019 – beginning of a U.S. epidemic of a new lung disease associated with vaping or e-cigarettes.

October 18, 2019 – in New York, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation organize a tabletop exercise about a coronavirus pandemic.

October 18 to 27, 2019 – the 7th Military World Games take place in Wuhan, China with close to 10,000 athletes from 110 countries, including 172 from the U.S. army.

October 20 to 22, 2019 – the 9th Xiangshan Forum in Beijing on “Maintaining International Order and Promoting Peace in the Asia-Pacific,” attended by more than 1,300 officials, including 23 ministers of defense, in 76 country delegations.

November 2019 – coronavirus COVID-19 cases are identified in Wuhan, China.

November 3 to 9, 2019 – International Workshop on Biosafety Laboratories Management and Techniques in Wuhan, China organized by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.


The Unmentioned Games

Just like the Olympic Games, the Military World Games take place every four years and have now a Winter edition. They are organized by the International Military Sports Council (CISM). The difference is that the participants are members of the military. Ironically, the U.S. Defense Department says they serve to “promote peace by uniting service members from nations around the globe through sports.” If the military really cared about peace, wouldn’t they advocate to simply dissolve themselves?

The last games took place in… Wuhan, China, from Oct. 18 to 27 2019. 9,308 athletes from 110 countries competed in 27 sports, including 172 athletes from the U.S. army (plus over a 100 staff and attendants) and 553 from the Chinese, in 35 venues all over the fateful city.

The team from the U.S. army parades at the inauguration of the 7th Military World Games which took place in Wuhan from October 18 to 27, 2019, right before the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic.

As of late March 2020, a third of all U.S. coronavirus cases were patients under the age of 45, with one in five requiring hospitalization. The CDC added that one in four teens in the United States vapes or smokes e-cigarettes – the FDA even declared it a nationwide epidemic – and warned about a life-threatening vaping illness called EVALI, or “E-cigarette or Vaping-Associated Lung Injury.” In brief, “vaping can increase lung inflammation and may alter other pulmonary defense mechanisms,” said Christy Sadreameli, pediatric pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD. In other words, it “decreases the effectiveness of immune cells responsible for fighting pathogens.”

In reference to vaping, Columbia University pediatrician Dr. Alok Patel, told ABC News: “When people become critically ill from COVID-19, this also involves the deep pockets of their lungs. It’s really scary to think about what could be happening in those that have both of these going on together,” i.e. coronavirus and EVALI. [1]

Back on Sep. 11, 2019, there were 380 cases of lung disease associated with vaping, in 36 states (*), with six deaths in California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, and Oregon. [2]

It would be interesting to see the age, occupation, and whereabouts of the U.S. athletes in Wuhan, China at a time the EVALI cases (still called “mysterious pneumonias” by the CDC) were exploding in the U.S. – (*) up from 149 cases three weeks earlier, in 15 U.S. states – an immuno-suppressing disease. There are indications they stayed at the International Oriental Hotel which is 300 meters away from the Wildlife market, and that five of them were hospitalized for malaria-related fever. [3]

Bridge over the great Yangtze river connecting the old center of Wuhan with the new districts. The city of 11 million people was confined for more than two months and only ambulances were on the move.

At least some athletes came from a small triangle made by three major military facilities in Maryland and Virginia, all around Washington, DC: Fort Meade, Fort Belvoir, whose community hospital was said to be treating vaping cases, and Fort Detrick, where the Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases is located. This is the only U.S. Department of Defense laboratory equipped to study highly hazardous viruses at Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4), the highest in terms of security. As the epicenter of the US Army’s bioweapons research since the beginning of the Cold War, they handle high-level disease-causing organisms such as Ebola, smallpox, and anthrax. Rather, they used to handle them as, last July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – the government’s public health body – stripped, in an “unusual move”, Fort Detrick of its license to handle highly restricted “select agents”, due to unqualified facilities and management system. “This is not the first time the lab has been temporarily shut down due to failures in handling the dangerous pathogens inside. In 2009, research at Fort Detrick was suspended because it was discovered it was storing pathogens which were not listed on its inventory.” Let us mention that Fort Detrick was the center of the U.S. biological weapons program from 1943 to 1969. [4]

On Mar. 11 and 12, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on Coronavirus Preparedness and Response with three high government officials: Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health; Dr. Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; and Dr. Robert R. Redfield, Director, CDC.

it could have been either way: U.S. soldiers unwittingly brought the virus with them to Wuhan, or they got the virus in Wuhan and brought it back to the U.S.

At one point, Representative Harley Rouda (D-CA) asked Robert Redfield whether “without test kits is it possible that those who had been susceptible to influenza might have been miscategorized […] [and is it] quite possible that they actually had covid-19?” Receiving an affirmative answer, he continued: “and if somebody dies from influenza, are we doing postmortem testing to see whether it was influenza or whether it was Covid-19?” After a negative answer, the representative fired off a provocative question: “So we could have people in the United States dying of what appears to be influenza when in fact it could be the coronavirus or Covid-19.” The CDC director replied: “Some cases have actually been diagnosed that way in the United States today.” [5]

In conclusion, back in October it could have been either way: U.S. soldiers unwittingly brought the virus with them to Wuhan, or they got the virus in Wuhan and brought it back to the U.S., although in the latter case it does not square well with the two to 14-day incubation period as the first U.S. case was reported on Jan. 21 in Washington state (which doesn’t prove it wasn’t in the U.S. earlier, as exemplified in the Redfield testimony), while the outbreak started a couple of weeks later in Wuhan.

The point is not to blame any nationality but to track the origin and evolution of the pandemic, and to counter the heavy U.S. government campaign to call it a “Chinese or Wuhan virus” (how about then calling HIV a U.S. virus as it was first discovered in the U.S.?), to the point that the G7 and the UN Security Council refused to issue a statement on the pandemic.

It’s worth also mentioning the mainstream media’s permanent bias against China. For instance, it calls it “mask diplomacy” when China sends coronavirus help (equipment, masks, physicians, etc.) to Italy, Serbia, and several other EU countries, saying they are using their soft power, or eyeing lucrative commercial contracts. The very conservative National Review had this title on Apr. 3: China Wants to Use the Coronavirus to Take Over the World.”

Sgt. 1st Class Maatje Benassi, a security officer at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital and a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Cycling Team, pulls out in front during the women’s road race event of the 2019 CISM Military World Games in Wuhan, China, Oct. 20. The bicycle race was one of 27 sports played.

The situation should instead be called “mask war”, as the U.S. government and private sector are outbidding the other countries – and sometimes even diverting shipments in what the Guardian described as “modern piracy” – to get badly needed medical supplies from China. [6]

However, if the U.S. sends help, it is presented as generosity. When the U.S. announced in early February that it would send up to $100 million to assist China and other countries impacted by the coronavirus, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “This commitment – along with the hundreds of millions generously donated by the American private sector – demonstrates strong U.S. leadership in response to the outbreak.” Maybe Europe’s poorest, and small, Albania recently sending 30 physicians to Italy to fight the coronavirus is also a geopolitical move! [7]

(Italy is Europe’s worst hit country, while Albania has so far few cases – 197 at that time, Mar. 28, with 10 deaths – and can afford to help, also remembering the aid they got from neighboring Italy when they risked famine in the early 1990s and anarchy in 1997. Plus about 400,000 Albanians live and work in Italy.)

In the case of the World Military games, the Chinese have asked the U.S. to test their athletes, a simple solution to end the controversy, but they have had no response. I wonder why there is so little of these military games in the mainstream media. At the very most, few of them perfunctorily mention it, and only in response to accusations against the U.S.. A typical example from the Associated Press, Mar. 30, 2020: “A [Chinese] foreign ministry spokesman said the virus might have been brought by visiting American military officials, a claim that prompted an angry response from Washington.” Period. No mention about the circumstances.

Pudong airport, Shanghai, China. A cargo megaplane is loaded with 100 tons of medical supplies; gowns, face shields & masks for Warsaw, Poland. The Polish NATO delegation did not mention it was coming from China not to upset the US. Nor the irony that a Soviet-era plane (built in the 1980s), AN225 Mriya, was supplying Chinese goods to help a EU and NATO country…

The mainstream media are very quick in labeling as a conspiracy theory any accusation against the U.S.. When an investigative reporter, George Webb, started talking mid-March about the U.S. using diplomatic couriers (i.e. no border/security checks) to carry biological samples across countries to 29 places doing weapons development through the Cooperative Biological Enhancement Program, he was dismissed as a conspiracy theorist. Yet, a few days later, on Mar. 30, Yahoo News prominently displayed a 1.5-year-old story (from November 2018) about a Chinese biologist who was stopped while entering the U.S. with three vials possibly containing viable Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) materials. It was intended for a researcher at a U.S. research lab who happened to be Chinese.

First, a majority of laboratory researchers in the U.S. are of Chinese origin given it is a painstaking task with low pay. Second, collaboration and exchanges between labs from different countries is standard. “There have been several incidents when this has occurred with researchers of a variety of nationalities,” admitted Elsa Kania, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. However this incident was presented by the media as real and relevant information. In this case, there was also a bias by the FBI. “I am concerned that the current trend in national security is toward profiling against people of Chinese descent,” said Nicholas Evans, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, who specializes in medical ethics. “That’s not only racist, it’s bad practice. FBI and other intelligence and law enforcement attempts at profiling have very often been harmful without making us any safer.” [8]

A Bioweapon?

There is a lot of junk in the internet jungle, and there are indeed lots of conspiracy theories, including talks about SARS-CoV-2 being a bioweapon. Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law and the drafter of the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, under George H.W. Bush, is adamant: the SARS-CoV-2 (accidentally) leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology where they were researching SARS in order to weaponize it. This is the only BSL-4 lab in China, i.e. who can handle very dangerous viruses such as Ebola and Marburg, and it is located 14 km from the famous animal market. And it collaborated with a U.S. lab. In the U.S., the number and most locations of these BSL-4 high security labs are not known, but back in 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) had identified 15 of them, while it is said there are several thousands of the BSL-3 type. “All these military laboratories are used to develop offensive biological warfare weapons with DNA genetic engineering, and all  leak.” Incidentally, Boyle says we cannot trust the World Health Organization (WHO), 50% of whose funding comes from pharmaceutical companies, nor, of course, the CDC.

Bi-colored leaf-nose bat, Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India. The bats are the only mammals that fly and inhabit every part of the world, except the two poles. It is the horseshoe species of the rhinolophes family which is the reservoir of coronavirus that they transmit to humans via an intermediate animal. They are found in South China, South and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by Alexandra Panaguli.

Here is one example of the hollowness of conspiracy theories. A team of researchers from India’s National Centre for Biological Sciences and from Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School did a 2017 field study in Nagaland, in North-East India where the Bomrr tribe hunts bats in caves. They found that “a type of virus called filoviruses, which includes the Ebola and Marburg viruses, could have jumped from bats to humans in the South Asia region” and published their results in October 2019 in the reputed open-access journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. That study was authored by 12 scientists including two from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Added to the fact that the study was partially funded by India’s Department of Atomic Energy and that Duke-National University of Singapore had received funds from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the official Combat Support Agency for countering weapons of mass destruction, and some media – including The Hindu and the Great Game India prolific website – came up with a theory linking bat hunters in Nagaland, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and this SARS-CoV-2 virus as a bioweapon. However, the Wuhan scientists did not participate in the study, but simply supplied reagents and were cited in a “standard practice for scientific authorship”, and the study does not concern the SARS-CoV-2 virus in any way. [9][10]

SARS-CoV-2 is “not a laboratory construct nor a purposefully manipulated virus. Humans could never have dreamed this up.”

Scientists are equally categorical that this coronavirus is not a weapon: it comes from an animal, like its predecessor, the SARS, which “probably moved from bats to civets—sold as a delicacy in many markets—to humans”, says evolutionary biologist Kristian Andersen of Scripps Research. This was confirmed by Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University: “There’s no basis to suspect it’s a laboratory construct. It has none of the expected signatures that would be present for deliberate construction.” [11]

Want more scientific input? Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons discussed a new paper in which the key finding is that SARS-CoV-2 is “not a laboratory construct nor a purposefully manipulated virus. Humans could never have dreamed this up.” [12]

Indeed, “Someone manufacturing a virus targeting people would have started with one that attacked humans,” wrote National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins in March in the journal Nature Medicine.  SARS-CoV-2 isn’t all that deadly or transmissible, compared to other potential pathogens out there. “To make it as a bioweapon, if that’s what you wanted to do, there are scarier and more virulent pathogens to work with,” said Gerald Keusch, a professor of medicine and international health and associate director of Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories. For example, the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, a tick-borne disease has a death rate of 30 to 50%… compared to (much) less than 3% for Covid-19. And each patient spreads it to an average of only 2.2 people. [13]

An Accident?

While excluding malevolent intent, above-mentioned Richard Ebright from Rutgers University, notes: “it’s also a possibility that this virus entered the human population through accidental infection of a lab worker carrying out field collection, or an accident by a lab worker characterizing the sample in a laboratory.” This lone sentence was enough to unleash a barrage of accusations against the Wuhan Institute of Virology – along with the fact it is the only BSL-4 lab in China and is located very near (14 km) the Huanan Seafood Market.

With respect to Ebright, he has always been a vocal critic of lab safety, especially high security ones, anywhere in the world, as far back as 2004 when the Bush administration earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars to erect BSL-4 laboratories such as Fort Detrick, “increasing eightfold the overall space devoted to the high-technology.” The excuse for such policy was for scientists to “explore the threats posed not only by deadly natural germs, but also by designer pathogens – genetically modified superbugs that could outdo natural viruses and bacteria in their killing power.” But Ebright said these new labs were “costly, unnecessary, and dangerous,” and he cited a 2001 study that found that “of 21 known germ attacks over the decades, most were conducted not by terrorists, but by professional researchers who had gained access to human pathogens.” [14]

Since then there was a rapid rise of lab accidents in the U.S. “involving microbes that can cause severe illnesses,” from 16 in 2004 to 128 in 2008 and 269 in 2010, according to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control article. Ten years later, in July 2014, the U.S. Congress held hearings after major cases: a) “at least 62 CDC employees may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria after potentially infectious samples were sent to laboratories unequipped to handle them”, b) a “CDC lab accidentally contaminated a relatively benign flu sample with a dangerous H5N1 bird flu strain that has killed 386 people since 2003″, and c) “two of six vials of smallpox recently found stored in a National Institutes of Health laboratory since 1954 contained live virus capable of infecting people.”  According to federal reports, these accidents were just “a tiny fraction of the hundreds that have occurred in recent years across a sprawling web of academic, commercial, and government labs that operate without clear national standards or oversight” in the United States. [15]

Six months later, Christmas 2014, in spite of fresh safety measures, the Atlanta-based CDC mixed two samples which risked exposing a technician to the deadly Ebola virus… The CDC’s then-director, Thomas Frieden, joined Ebright – as both were testifying before Congress in July of 2014 – arguing that “the world needs to reduce to absolute minimums the number of labs handling dangerous agents.”

“You can have all the safety procedures in the world, but you can’t provide for human error,” concluded Peter Hale, founder of the Foundation for Vaccine Research, which lobbies for more funding for vaccines but opposes “gain of function” research, i.e. research which aims to increase the transmissibility and/or virulence of pathogens. [16]

In spite of this deplorable U.S. record, the Western media keep hammering a couple of instances when SARS escaped from BSL-4 and BSL-3 labs in Taiwan, Singapore, and Beijing setting off minor epidemics back in 2004. “Deadly viruses have a history of escaping from Chinese laboratories!” exclaimed a self-described “investigative reporter” for a rightist publication, Andrew Kerr, who quoted that one sentence from Ebright. Regarding the present SARS-CoV-2 case, CIA sources pointed to a new “theory.”:  “That a poorly paid worker at Wuhan’s bio-chem facility, looking to make some extra cash, took a dead animal from an experiment and sold it at the local food market, instead of incinerating it, as per proper protocol.” The source of this accusation is Steven W. Mosher, a notorious anti-abortionist, founding member of the Committee on the Present Danger: China, and the author of “Bully of Asia: Why China’s ‘Dream’ Is the New Threat to World Order,” whose article was published in the conservative tabloid The New York Post. And when the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology issued on Feb. 15 “Guidelines Strengthening the Biosafety Management of the New Coronavirus High-grade Viral Microbiology Laboratory,” he took it as a proof  that the coronavirus had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Another hawk, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, went as far as saying the United States should go to war with China on the possibility of the coronavirus being a “conscious and overt act on the part of the Chinese military” to release, “intentionally or not”, a “biological weapon.” [17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

Shi Zhengli, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology – also called the Bat Woman for her multiyear studies – could not sleep until she was able to determine that the virus in patients with Covid-19 did not match those they are studying , and therefore that it could not have escaped from her laboratory.

Let us move to the scientific aspect of these accusations. The Director of the Center of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Shi Zhengli, herself wondered when she first heard about the coronavirus cases on Dec. 30: “could they have come from our lab?” A fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology with a PhD from the university of Montpellier, France, Europe’s oldest medical school celebrating next August its 800th anniversary, Shi is called the “bat woman” because she has been looking for viruses in bat caves since 2004, and she is the one who discovered back then that the SARS virus originated in bats.

After multiple tests – in and out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology – of the samples of the new patients, including checking “for any mishandling of experimental materials, especially during disposal”, she found that none of the sequences “matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves. ‘That really took a load off my mind,’ she says. ‘I had not slept a wink for days.’”

The same had happened during the 2014 lab accidents to CDC director Thomas Frieden who had said “I’ve lost sleep over this,” and concluded: “We have a high degree of confidence that no one was exposed.” Back then too there had been significant delays: the H5N1 bird flu contamination was discovered on May 23, but senior CDC officials were not informed until Jul. 7, and it took them 48 additional hours to tell their boss, and the news finally reached the public with a Jul. 11 New York Times article, seven weeks later.

Chinese researchers released the genomic sequence incredibly rapidly online

Yet, in the SARS-CoV-2 case, the Chinese reacted swiftly both to limit the outbreak by quarantining millions of people, including Wuhan’s 11 million inhabitants, on Jan. 23, and to share crucial scientific information. Paul McCray, a pulmonologist at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine whose lab studies coronaviruses, told the magazine The Scientist that Chinese researchers “‘released the genomic sequence incredibly rapidly online. . . . They were very public in sharing the most important first piece of information’ about SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19. ‘The fact that scientists all over the world had access to that genomic sequence’ made a lot of early research possible.” [24]

At the end of January, the WHO too praised China and President Xi Jinping for their handling of the virus outbreak. Now the U.S. says the WHO is manipulated by China. Back in 2009, the World Bank had also lauded that country: China is one of a few countries in the world that have been rapidly increasing their forest cover. It is managing to reduce air and water pollution.” Shall we also say that the World Bank – ever dominated by the U.S. and with a U.S. president at the time, Robert Zoellick, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and U.S. Trade Representative – is manipulated by China? [25][26]

The scientific community came again to the rescue of the Wuhan BSL-4 lab with a Feb. 19 letter in The Lancet, the world’s oldest (founded in 1823!) and most prestigious medical journal: “The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumors and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens. This is further supported by a letter from the presidents of the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and by the scientific communities they represent. Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumors, and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.” [27]

Let us close the lab accident hypothesis with two more scientific conclusions. A group of researchers led by above-mentioned computational biologist, Kristian Andersen, published their study in Nature Medicine on Mar. 17, 2020 and categorically said they “do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible. SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus.” This was fully endorsed by Trump’s own scientific spokesperson, Dr. Fauci, who “rejected a conspiracy theory that the novel coronavirus was created in and escaped a Chinese lab,” all the while his own government keeps repeating this accusation against the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

It’s incredibly important to pinpoint the source of infection in order to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

The other scientific opinion is by above-mentioned pulmonologist Paul McCray: “This ability to move in between different animal hosts is a characteristic feature of coronaviruses. It’s exactly what we’ve learned in studies of SARS in 2002 and 2003, and MERS in 2012. . . . So the concept that this is happening again should come as no surprise […] We don’t need to come up with farfetched theories when the genome sequences and the characteristics of these viruses support what we’re seeing.” [24]

The latest: an Apr. 30 statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated the U.S. believed the coronavirus was “not manmade or genetically modified.” Asked about it at a news conference the same day, Trump was seemingly unaware of this and was only interested in knowing who had said it, most likely with the intent to fire him/her as he does with anyone contradicting him. Cornered by a pushy journalist, he offered one of his Trumpian off-the-cuff fabrications – beyond a lie – that he had personally seen evidence that the virus had come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), but that he was not allowed to show it. [28][29][30][31]

A couple of days later, Jonna Mazet, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of California, Davis, who has worked with and trained WIV researchers in the past, asserted that “I know that we worked together to develop very stringent safety protocol, and it’s highly unlikely this was a lab accident”, and she proceeded to give four main reasons. [32] Mazet, a member of the National Academy of Medicine and of the Forum for Microbial Threats, is also the director of the Davis One Health Institute, a multidisciplinary, international program which researches disease transmission among wildlife, domestic animals, and people. Lastly, she was the Global Director of the above-mentioned PREDICT Project which was disbanded by Trump last fall.

The Huanan Wildlife and Seafood Market

In a paper published in February in Nature, the Wuhan team under Shi found that the new virus, causing Covid-19, is 96% identical to that of a coronavirus they had identified in horseshoe bats in Yunnan. “It’s crystal clear that bats, once again, are the natural reservoir,” says Peter Daszak, disease ecologist, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a New York City–based nonprofit research organization that collaborates with scientists, such as Shi, around the world to discover new viruses in wildlife. He adds: “It’s incredibly important to pinpoint the source of infection and the chain of cross-species transmission,” as well as “hunting down other related pathogens—the ‘known unknowns’—in order to “prevent similar incidents from happening again.”  The researchers also say that “The data also point to a single introduction into humans followed by sustained human-to-human transmission.” [33]

“The genomic data cannot pinpoint the origin, but they do show that the jump from animals to humans happened recently,” says Marion Koopmans, a virologist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the number one such institution in Europe. “Several groups have calculated that the virus began to spread around mid-November 2019—which supports the thesis that spread may have occurred before any of the cases linked to the market. One group put the origin of the outbreak as early as 18 September 2019″, as reported in the respected Science magazine.

“That indicates the market played a role in spreading the virus, says Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist at Georgetown University—but he says other data suggest it wasn’t the origin. The first known patient became ill on 1 December 2019 and had no links to the market, according to a paper published by Chinese researchers in the prestigious Lancet on 24 January that offered details about the first 41 patients in Wuhan. In that group, 12 others also had no links to the market.”

Lucey, who has studied since the 1990s the HIV, SARS, the H5N1 bird flu, the H1N1 swine flu, the nipah virus, MERS, Ebola, Zika, the yellow fever, chikungunya, the H7N9 and the plague, and is also a research associate in anthropology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “contends the virus was already circulating silently among humans before it contaminated the seafood market, possibly by infected animals, humans, or both”, possibly even before October, “inside and/or outside Wuhan, or anywhere along the supply chain of infected animals,… even in limited numbers to some other countries.” And the cases were not recognized “Because of the concurrent prevalence of respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia.” [34]

Researcher Yu Wenbin of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden – in South-West China’s prime area of bats – of the Chinese Academy of Sciences collected 93 new coronavirus samples from 12 countries on four continents (as of Feb. 12) and found that they had 58 haplotypes, i.e. varieties. “The haplotypes of patients from the South China seafood market were related to H1, while the more ancient gene types H3, H13, and H38 were from outside the South China seafood market.” [35]

Given that the virus seems fairly stable and that many infected individuals appear to have mild symptoms, and even more are found to be asymptomatic – some say at least 60% of the cases! –, scientists suspect the pathogen might have been around for weeks or even months before the first severe cases raised alarm. (The reason, by the way, Westerners should act responsibly and follow the example of all East Asians who wear a mask in public in order not simply to protect themselves but mostly not to infect others – and leave aside their individualism.)

“There might have been mini outbreaks, but the virus burned out” before causing havoc, says Ralph Baric, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In New York, Adriana Heguy, a viral historian, member of an NYU team from the Grossman School of Medicine, found some New York viruses that shared unique mutations not found elsewhere: “That’s when you know you’ve had a silent transmission for a while.” [33][36]

Bin Cao, a pulmonary specialist at Capital Medical University in Beijing and the corresponding author of The Lancet article, concludes: “Now it seems clear that [the] seafood market is not the only origin of the virus. But to be honest, we still do not know where the virus came from now.” [37]

Wet Markets are Good

Richard Ebright, the above-mentioned professor from Rutgers University so critical of lab safety, rejected Shi Zhengli’s denial of fault when she wrote that is was “nature punishing the human race for keeping uncivilized living habits.” She had meant that it was a “nemesis for the barbaric habits and lifestyle of some people – like eating wild game including bats.”

Yet, eating wildlife has been part of the cultural tradition – probably in part due to the huge past famines when anything alive was good to survive – not only in southern China but throughout the region: Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia. Meanwhile in South Africa, Congo, and Mali chimpanzee parts are used in medicine and as meat. Should we also mention the frogs, kangaroo, all kinds of deer, antelope, wild boar, hare, are not only eaten, but farm-raised, by Europeans? And “the U.S. is the world’s biggest importer of wildlife. A few years ago, an exotic-animal dealer in Texas imported hundreds of African rodents carrying a rare form of monkeypox that was passed along, via pet prairie dogs, to dozens of people in the Midwest. Fortunately, the victims recovered and did not transmit the infection to anyone else.” [38]

the wet market zone has the best record for microbial infections outside the Americas and Europe

Take the pangolin, which they believe could be “intermediate host,” between the bats and the human. Also called scaly anteater, it is the most trafficked mammal in the world, with over 100,000 killed last year. The wildlife industry in general is worth $76 billion with about 14 million people involved – including smugglers importing them to Southeast Asia from as far as the Sahara and Latin America – according to a 2017 report commissioned by the Chinese Academy of Engineering. [33][39]

Anyway, you don’t need a wildlife market to create a problem. Magda Bermejo is a Spanish primatologist and world authority on the western lowland gorilla who lives and works out of the Odzala Ngaga camp in the Republic of Congo. She was in the region during the Ebola outbreak in 2003 and 2004, and explains: “It’s thought the outbreak started because of the bats eating from the persimmon trees in the forests. Bats, gorillas, and chimpanzees love the fruit. That year when the trees ripened, the bats flocked to the trees and everything was covered in bat guano. During the day the gorillas and chimps ate the [bat guano covered] fruit and developed Ebola. It spread quite quickly after that… Hunters found the [gorilla carcasses] and used them for bushmeat and then got the Ebola from the [dead] animals.” [40]

In any case, only a minority of wet markets sell wildlife, whereas they provide clean and fresh produce to the population and have yet to be displaced by supermarkets. Don’t we have this trend in the West with the farmers market? “One 2015 study for the World Health Organization compared the number of years of life lost per 100,000 people due to food-borne sickness, disability, and death. The region encompassing the wet market zone from China and South Korea down through most of Southeast Asia has the best record for microbial infections outside the Americas, Europe and the rich countries of the Pacific Rim.” And those diseases are tapeworms, flukes and other parasitic worms caused by undercooked meat and fish, as reported by David Fickling a reporter for Bloomberg News, Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Guardian. [41]

Further, a key ingredient in Covid-19’s genetic cocktail may not be wild game, but domesticated livestock. So, “wildlife trade and consumption are only part of problem” says Shi, the “bat woman,” and she mentions 25,000 pigs who died of swine acute diarrhea syndrome (SADS) in Guangdong, in China’s south, in 2016, 100 km from the SARS outbreak, caused by a virus whose genomic sequence was 98% identical to a coronavirus found in horseshoe bats in a nearby cave. “This is a serious cause for concern,” says Gregory Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University. “Pigs and humans have very similar immune systems, making it easy for viruses to cross between the two species,” and the SADS virus could also infect rodents and chickens. [33]

The high-density conditions on farms all over the world is thus another major danger, such as the avian flu, which required killing tens of thousands of chicken in North America in 2014, and the Escherichia coli which affects 90,000 North Americans every year. [41][42]

Nature’s Revenge

“The emergence of new pathogens tended to happen in places where a dense population had been changing the landscape—by building roads and mines, cutting down forests and intensifying agriculture. […] China is not the only hotspot,” says, Peter Daszak, the disease ecologist quoted earlier who analyzed about 500 human infectious diseases from the past century. He notes that major emerging economies, such as India, Nigeria, and Brazil, are also at great risk, but they are not alone. [33]

On the Amazon river. Since the arrival of Bolsonaro – the Brazilian Trump – the forest has lost 10,000 square km from January to August 2019. The cutting of forests all over the world has brought wildlife closer to humans, with all its dangerous pathogens for the latter. Photo by Alexandra Panaguli,

Cutting down forests everywhere have brought wildlife closer to humans, from the Amazon to the forests in the U.S. Northeast , where it chased away the “opossums which helps regulate tick populations.” As a result, seven pathogens carried by ticks have grown in the past 20 years, causing, among others, the famous and elusive Lyme disease. A study in 12 countries showed that “the mosquito vectors of human pathogens are twice as numerous in deforested areas as in forests that have remained intact,” reports Sonia Shah, author of “Tracking Contagions: From Cholera to Ebola and Beyond.” This encroachment has been happening since the neolithic period, says she, with the animals bringing us “poisonous gifts”: measles and tuberculosis from cows, whooping cough from pigs, and flu from ducks. [42]

Simpietro, a Warao Indian, clears up a piece of jungle in the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela with just a machete to settle his family there because upstream food has become too expensive. But it also brings them closer to wild life with its pathogens. Photo by Alexandra Panaguli,

wildlife is reclaiming its natural habitat with surprising speed

Now that we, people, are locked in cages and political life is ever more like a zoo, wild animals come to look at us: a puma in the central streets of Santiago de Chile, sika deer in deserted metro stations of Nara, Japan, a stag in Dehradun, capital of Uttarakhand, India, wild turkeys in Oakland, California, shaggy mountain goats in a Wales town, 150,000 flamingos in Mumbai, India, wild boars in Barcelona, Spain, and Haifa, Israel, dolphins in Venice’s canals and in Mediterranean ports.

“This is the habitat they once had and that we’ve taken away from them,” says Marcelo Giagnoni, the head of Chile’s agricultural and livestock service that helped police capture the curious big cat. Marseille’s Calanques National Park president Didier Reault noted that wildlife “is reclaiming its natural habitat with surprising speed.” [43][44]

By the way, with few cars traveling and factories open, big cities are enjoying huge drops in air pollution with up to 30% less nitrogen dioxide. China loses more than 1.2 million people annually to pollution, and calculations done by Marshall Burke, an Earth system scientist at Stanford University, show that 53,000 and 77,000 lives were saved thanks to the current drop in pollution compared to 4,637 coronavirus deaths. [45]

Delayed Response

The U.S. keeps hammering China for having delayed communicating the outbreak in Wuhan. China first reported to the WHO on Dec. 31 “cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology detected in Wuhan.” At their Jan. 7 Politburo meeting, about two weeks before their Lunar New Year celebrations, top Chinese leaders were opposed to any contingency measures “that may mar the festive vibe and make the public panic.” At that early date, they had only a handful of cases and not yet a death (the first confirmed one was on Jan. 11), plus the scientists determined that very same day that the new virus had indeed caused the disease those patients suffered. The Chinese officials quickly saw the danger and on Jan. 20, Xi Jinping announced the first confirmation that the virus had passed from person-to-person. On Jan. 23, the Chinese government lockdowned several parts of the country, two days before the New Year. Under normal circumstances, an estimated three billion trips would have been made in the Spring Festival travel rush this year, with 15 million trips happening in Wuhan. [46][47]

A puma in the central streets of Santiago de Chile. Now that human beings are locked up as in cages and political life is becoming more and more like a zoo, wild animals are coming to watch us.

Already in late November, U.S. intelligence officials with the National Center for Medical Intelligence had issued a report warning that a virus was taking root in China, “according to ABC News. Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event,” and the report was shared in multiple briefings with the White House, the National Security Council, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. [48]

At the same time, on Nov. 18, 2019, the Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies explicitly warned that “the United States must either pay now to gain protection and security or wait for the next epidemic and pay a much greater price in human and economic costs.” [49]

We already knew that, eyeing his pre-election agenda, Trump waited a couple of months before announcing grim news and acting on the coronavirus threat, even saying at one point that the wall on the Mexican border will protect the U.S. from the coronavirus. Now we have more details. On Jan. 1, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, a lawyer and former president of Eli Lilly – a major U.S. pharmaceutical company – learned from Robert Redfield – the CDC Director who acknowledged some cases of flu might have been Covid-19 – that “an unknown respiratory illness was sickening people in Wuhan.” Familiar with an epidemic, having been deputy secretary at HSS under George W. Bush during the 2005 bird flu, Azar called Trump on Jan. 18 and again on Jan. 30 – the day the WHO declared Covid-19 a global health emergency – but was sidelined as an “alarmist.” Trump continued until the end of February holding eight rallies with thousands of people assembled, and playing golf six times.

Trump continued holding eight rallies with thousands of people, and playing golf six times

On Jan. 29, Peter Navarro, Trump’s own trade adviser, sternly warned the White House that “if the administration did not mount an aggressive containment strategy for the coronavirus, it could kill more than half a million Americans and cost the country nearly $6 trillion.” Less than a month later, on Feb. 23, he wrote a second memo in which he said “as many as 100 million Americans could be infected with Covid-19, which might kill upwards of 2 million U.S. citizens.” Barely four days later, on Feb. 27, Trump self-lauded his administration once more and assured the population that the pandemic was well under control, mentioning the number of reported cases at the time: “When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” Three weeks later, on Mar. 20, the 15 individuals had become… 15,000, probably well under-reported as testing was minimal.

On Apr. 7, (cases hitting 400,000, still under-reported, with 13,000 deaths), Trump announced he had “read something about a memo,” and asked Navarro: “Did you do a memo?” adding: “I didn’t look for, I didn’t see it, I didn’t ask for him to show it to me.” His justification for his “rosy assessments of the pandemic” was: “you have to understand, I’m a cheerleader for this country. I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else.” After all this media attention, Trump said he had still not read Navarro’s memos… [50][51][52]

Meanwhile, the public had seen another face of Azar when the HHS Secretary declared on Jan. 31, at the first Coronavirus Task Force briefing which he chaired, and the day after placing an urgent call to Trump: “I want to stress: The risk of infection for Americans remains low.” By that time he had put a friend, Brian Harrison, 37, a former dog breeder with no education/experience in public health, management, or medicine, in charge of this huge HHS agency’s day-to-day response to COVID. On Feb. 14, Azar continued on NPR: “So I think so far, our measures have been quite effective.” On Feb. 25 on Fox News. “But thanks to President Trump’s historically aggressive containment efforts, we’ve actually contained the spread of this virus here in the United States at this point.”

Sen. Richard Burr was getting daily briefings on the threat of the coronavirus, he sold his stock one week before the market went into a free-fall

Some people were much better informed and took (personal) action, also showing a double face.  As chairman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, with access to the federal government’s most classified and sensitive information, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr was getting daily briefings on the threat of the coronavirus. To members of a private Washington club, he said in early February: “There’s one thing I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history. It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.” Yet, on Feb. 7, he wrote a reassuring op-ed for the public on Fox News: “Thankfully, the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump Administration.” Six days later, on Feb. 13, he sold  $1.72 million in stocks in 33 separate transactions. On Feb. 20, the stock market went into a free-fall.

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein also unloaded stocks after a Jan. 24 closed-door briefing by Trump administration officials about the potential extended cost and risks to public health posed by the coronavirus. So, the government – and the senators – were aware a dramatic situation was imminent, yet they chose to lie and to save themselves at the expense of the public they are supposed to serve.

The Stock Act of 2012, lays out an explicit prohibition on insider trading. Lawmakers and their staff “are not exempt from the insider trading prohibitions arising under the securities laws. It also says every lawmaker and staff member ‘owes a duty’ to their ‘relationship of trust and confidence” to the government and the American people ‘with respect to material, nonpublic information.’” [53]

In passing, Loeffler is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, with an estimated net worth of over $500 million, and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the chair of the New York Stock Exchange… When asked about the four insider-traders, Trump said: “I find them to be honorable people.” [54]

U.S. Unpreparedness

“The United States is the only major country that cannot even provide data to the World Health Organization (WHO) because it’s so dysfunctional”, opined Noam Chomsky on Apr. 10. A few days earlier, on Mar. 30, the Boston Globe wrote, in an editorial titled “A president unfit for a pandemic,” that “Catastrophic decisions in the White House have doomed the world’s richest country to a season of untold suffering,” and that Trump had “blood on his hands.” In an attempt to deflect the attention – and with an eye on the November presidential elections – the U.S. administration unleashed a major propaganda push to blame the WHO and especially China for having delayed their warning and hidden information. [55][56]

At the same time the World Military Games were taking place in Wuhan, the 9th Xiangshan Forum was being held in Beijing with delegations from 76 countries, and 23 ministers of defense, including U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Chad Sbragia and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

China’s purpose for this forum is to achieve at the political level what the games do at the sports level: create “a multilateral platform for dialogue, military to military relations, and other forms of security cooperation,” by, above all, building trust. However, this runs totally counter to th Trump administration, whose motto is America First, run by a narcissist whose modus vivendi is to blame everybody else for his innumerable missteps and who built a team immersed in Cold War mentality and science denial.

The New Huoshenshan Field Hospital in Wuhan. While Beijing has successfully built a new hospital in just 10 days, it will take weeks for the Pentagon to move a naval hospital ship from its port in Virginia to the port of New York.

A few facts. Kishore Mahbubani, a former Singaporean diplomat and president of the United Nations Security Council, summarized the difference: “The six billion people outside the U.S. and China are genuinely shocked to see the sharp contrast between the competent responses of China and the incompetent responses of the U.S. [57] The BBC’s New York correspondent, Nick Bryant, observed: “whereas Beijing managed to build a new hospital in just 10 days, the Pentagon will take weeks to move a naval hospital ship from its port in Virginia to New York harbour.” [58]

As of Mar. 20, the United States had 314 coronavirus tests per million people compared to 6,148 for South Korea, 20 times higher. [59] “An emergency room physician in New York who worked at eight different hospitals had one mask that he had been using for a week,” said reporter Adriana Belmonte. “He was describing the challenges of trying to intubate and trying to work with patients who are very, very sick without getting exposed himself.” [60]

The Lancet published an open letter from leading medical and public health professionals also praising China’s response, noting that efforts made by “scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China… [were] remarkable.” [57]

Xinjiang, China, February 2020. Chinese health officials went to the far corners of the country to bring supplies and test the population, here in the Altay, tucked between Mongolia, Siberia, and Kazakhstan, Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A 36-year-old U.S. citizen who returned from China saw “locals and Chinese officials understanding the severity of the outbreak and taking safety precautions. That contrasted heavily with his colleagues’ blasé attitudes back in the U.S. and a disorderly experience at San Francisco International Airport upon his return,” where “they literally had no idea what they were doing, he said, adding that one airport official even admitted that since things had escalated so quickly they were in disarray…. Based on his experience in both China and the U.S. as the coronavirus has spread, his family was actually considering going back to China since they felt safer there.” [61]

The European Union countries acted alone, without any coordination, selfishly and un-scientifically, closing their inside borders, barricading the Other, even between a German village Sigmarszell, and its Austrian neighbor Hohenweiler

Same for Shasta Grant from Indianapolis, a 44-year-old writer who is happy she could not leave Singapore, where she has been living for eight years: “It feels very strange to say that I feel safer here than in my home country.” [62]

A Chinese-Belgian couple who recently returned were also amazed at the carelessness, disorganization, and ignorance they found in Belgium, people not wearing face masks nor practicing social distancing. The result: one of the highest per capita infections in the world.

Even Earlier Warnings

“I rate the chance of a nuclear war during my lifetime as being fairly low. I rate the chance of a widespread epidemic far worse than Ebola in my lifetime as well over 50%.” That was Bill Gates in… 2015, at the time of the Ebola epidemic in Africa, which resulted in over 11,000 deaths. At the time, he said no other event would scare him. He mentioned the 1918 flu which made 50-100 million deaths, adding that now transportation is 50 times greater.

I rate the chance of a widespread epidemic far worse than Ebola in my lifetime as well over 50%

“The Ebola epidemic showed me we’re not ready for a serious epidemic, an epidemic that would be more infectious and would spread faster than Ebola did. This is the most likely thing by far to kill over 10 million excess people in a year,” Gates added. To prepare ourselves, “we don’t need to invest nearly what we do in military preparedness. This is something where less than a billion a year in R&D, medical surveillance, standby personnel, training the military so they ca play a role in terms of all the logistics. This can be done, and we may not get many more warnings like this one [Ebola] to say, Ok, this is a pretty modest investment to avoid something like, really, in terms of the human condition would be a gigantic setback.” At the time – fiscal year 2015 – the U.S. Defense Department had a budget of $560 billion. [63]

Exactly three years later, in May 2018, Trump disbanded the Global Health Security Team, established at the National Security Council under the Obama administration in response to the Ebola outbreak. The month prior, the newly nominated national security adviser John Bolton had fired Tom Bossert, the homeland security adviser whom the Washington Post reported “had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks.” Worse, last October, Trump canceled the USAID project Predict, which was working in Third World countries, including China, to try to detect new viruses that might turn into the anticipated pandemic. It had trained and supported staff in 60 foreign laboratories — including the Wuhan Institute of Virology. [64]

The Trump administration budget proposals also called for massive cuts to the CDC, the NIH, and the WHO. In spite of the lack of preparation and equipment during the current coronavirus pandemic, Trump shows no regret: “Some of the people we cut, they haven’t been used for many, many years. And if we have a need, we can get them very quickly. I’m a business person. I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them.” This is equivalent to firing the firefighters when there is no fire. Actually, they released their new budget on Feb. 10, well into the pandemic, with continued cuts to the CDC and other health agencies, while there are new subsidies to the fossil fuel industries.

in 1980, hard-hit Italy had 9 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants for serious cases. Now they have less than 3

This is part of the wider neoliberal agenda of the past 40 years which has been cutting non-productive sectors and turned health into a business. And the main reason for “flattening the curve” now is because the health infrastructure has been severely eroded and could simply collapse under an onslaught of patients. A couple of figures. In 1980, France had 11 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants, now there are 6, almost half, and Emmanuel Macron’s health minister was still proposing back in September to give them to “bed managers” to improve productivity… Back in 1980, hard-hit Italy had 9 beds per 1,000 inhabitants for serious cases. Now they have less than 3. Same for the U.S., 8 beds in 1970 versus less than 3 now. The savings they made will be well offset by the current economic loss. [65]

The question of masks in most Western countries is due to the same “business model” imposed on the health sector. Keeping a stock in a warehouse is expensive and consolidating production across a few factories reduces costs. Added to the lack of foresight, in the event of a pandemic this results in a shortage. Because of this – and the fact that culture places too much emphasis on individual freedom at the expense of collective well-being –  not only do most western governments not impose the wearing of masks, they even go so far as to discourage it and ask individuals to voluntarily make masks (and sometimes even medical robes) in order to donate them to hospitals that lack them. Wearing a mask is mainly used to protect others –  keeping your own droplets as close as possible to you – and therefore for this to be effective everyone must wear them, showing intelligence and solidarity. It is no coincidence that the countries of the Far East (China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore) and those of Eastern Europe (supplied with medical equipment by China) all have much lower rates of infection and death because, accustomed to collective behavior and discipline, they all wear masks.

While the Chinese protect each other (here at a bus station), the NorthAmericans demand their individual freedom (here at the state capitol of Michigan) and doing so, endanger their fellow citizens.

Ironically, those 80% cuts by Trump two years ago “forced the CDC to cancel its efforts to help countries prevent infectious-disease threats from becoming epidemics in 39 of 49 countries in 2018. Among the countries abandoned? China.” [66]

At about the same time, at the Malaria Summit in London in April 2018, Bill Gates was reiterating his belief that a coming disease could happen easily within the next decade and could kill 30 million people within six months. While an optimist, he said “there’s one area though where the world isn’t making much progress, and that’s pandemic preparedness.” [67]

On Oct. 18, 2019, his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the World Economic Forum, organized a high-level tabletop exercise about a coronavirus pandemic in New York called “Event 201″ with 15 top experts from the WHO, the U.S. and Chinese CDCs, and the private sector, including a former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Avril Haines.

They used the simulation of an outbreak of a novel zoonotic coronavirus starting in pig farms in Brazil, transmitted from bats to pigs to people that eventually becomes a severe pandemic transmissible in the community setting by people with mild symptoms. Although at first some countries are able to control it, it continues to spread and be reintroduced, and eventually no country can maintain control. There is no possibility of a vaccine being available in the first year. The scenario ends at the 18-month point, with 65 million deaths. The pandemic is beginning to slow due to the decreasing number of susceptible people. The pandemic will continue at some rate until there is an effective vaccine or until 80-90 % of the global population has been exposed. From that point on, it is likely to be an endemic childhood disease.

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program told participants – and the 150 observers – that the WHO deals with 200 epidemics every year. It’s only a matter of time before one of those becomes a pandemic. “The issues may be table top scenarios today, but they could be real tomorrow. This is our new normal.” [68]

Not tomorrow. At the very same time those words were spoken, the SARS-CoV-2 virus was silently propagating in China and possibly elsewhere.

Gates probably got his hunches from the many scientists who have long warned that the emergence rate of new infectious diseases is accelerating—especially in developing countries where high densities of people and animals increasingly mingle and move about.

One of them was none other than Trump’s current medical point man, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. “There is no question that there will be a challenge to the coming administration in the arena of infectious diseases,” he had said in a speech titled “Pandemic Preparedness in the Next Administration” at Georgetown University Medical Center just days before Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017. Head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, he warned that “no matter what, history has told us definitively that [outbreaks] will happen. It is a perpetual challenge. It is not going to go away. The thing we’re extraordinarily confident about is that we are going to see this in the next few years.” It happened less than three years later. [69]

And one of the needed measures Fauci listed to prepare for an outbreak was to create and strengthen global health surveillance systems, as well as the public health and health care infrastructure. Not only did the U.S. not prepare, but as we mentioned, Trump got rid of the ad hoc Global Health Security Team put in place by his predecessor.

14th century Persian miniature. The first inoculation against a virus – the smallpox – was invented in China in the 15th century, and perhaps even before. But it took Europeans centuries before they accepted what they called “folklore” – variolation – at a time smallpox was killing tens of thousands of people a year on the old continent.

The 2015 SARS was the first time a deadly coronavirus with pandemic potential emerged. Shi’s long-term collaborator Linfa Wang, who directs the emerging infectious diseases program at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School – and whose work on bat-borne coronaviruses was mentioned in the 2011 Hollywood blockbuster “Contagion” – said that the Coronaviruses were mostly known for causing common colds, and “the SARS outbreak was a game changer.” This discovery helped to jump-start a global search for animal viruses that could find their way into humans. In a March 2019 scientific study entitled “Bat Coronaviruses in China, Shi and her co-authors specifically warned that it was “highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China.” They were not “spreaders,” but “warners”. [33][70]

Endnotes

[1] Vaping and e-cigarettes: Adding fuel to the coronavirus fire? DR. Chloë E. Nunneley, Good Morning America, March 26, 2020
[2] https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/s0912-update-cases-vaping.html
[3] Cases of vape-related lung damage rise to at least 149, Cases have been reported in at least 15 states from coast to coast but mostly in the Midwest. More than 150 cases of vaping-related lung disease being investigated across the U.S. Aug. 20, 2019, Erika Edwards, https://www.nbcnews.com/health/kids-health/cases-mysterious-vaping-related-illnesses-rise-least-127-n1044281
[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/virus-biological-us-army-weapons-fort-detrick-leak-ebola-anthrax-smallpox-ricin-a9042641.html
[5]
https://www.c-span.org/video/?470224-1/dr-fauci-warns-congress-coronavirus-outbreak-worse&start=6097 https://www.c-span.org/video/?470277-1/federal-health-officials-testify-coronavirus-outbreak-response
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkLgcILca6g
[6] US accused of ‘modern piracy’ after diversion of masks meant for Europe – German politician adds to chorus of complaints about American tactics to source protective gear, Sat 4 Apr 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/03/mask-wars-coronavirus-outbidding-demand?CMP=share_btn_link,
[7] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-health-usa-idUSKBN2012FH
[8] Suspected SARS virus and flu samples found in luggage: FBI report describes China’s ‘biosecurity risk’, Sharon Weinberger, Jana Winter and Martin De Bourmont, Yahoo News, March 30, 2020
[9] Controversy and Confusion Over The Hindu’s Report of Bengaluru Scientists’ Study, 3 Feb 2020, Vasudevan Mukunth, science editor, The Wire https://science.thewire.in/the-sciences/controversy-and-confusion-over-the-hindus-report-of-bengaluru-scientists-study/
[10] India to investigate China’s Wuhan institute of virology, AJ Nelson, Feb 3, 2020 https://wearechange.org/india-investigate-china-wuhan-institute-of-virology/
[11] Suspected SARS virus and flu samples found in luggage: FBI report describes China’s ‘biosecurity risk’, Sharon Weinberger, Jana Winter and Martin De Bourmont, correspondents,Yahoo News, March 30, 2020
[12] The conspiracy theories about the origins of the coronavirus, debunked, There’s a rumor the coronavirus started in a Chinese lab. And a scientific consensus it didn’t, Eliza Barclay, Mar 12, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/3/4/21156607/how-did-the-coronavirus-get-started-china-wuhan-lab
[13] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8003713/China-appoints-military-bio-weapon-expert-secretive-virus-lab-Wuhan.html, Billie Thomson, 14 February 2020
[14] I Beg To Differ; In a Lonely Stand, a Scientist Takes On National Security Dogma, William J. Broad, June 29, 2004, https://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/29/science/i-beg-to-differ-in-a-lonely-stand-a-scientist-takes-on-national-security-dogma.html?searchResultPosition=2
[15] C.D.C. Closes Anthrax and Flu Labs After Accidents, Donald G. McNeil Jr., July 11, 2014

[16] Ebola Sample Is Mishandled at C.D.C. Lab in Latest Error, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the C.D.C., testified before Congress in July about previous lab mistakes, admitting that they were part of a pattern of unsafe practices.Credit…Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency, Denise Grady and Donald G. McNeil Jr., Dec. 24, 2014 https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/25/health/cdc-ebola-error-in-lab-may-have-exposed-technician-to-virus.html?searchResultPosition=10
[17] Pathogen Mishaps Rise as Regulators Stay Clear, Denise Grady, July 19, 2014 https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/science/pathogen-mishaps-rise-as-labs-proliferate-with-scant-regulation.html,
[18] Investigative Group Exclusive: [!] Coronavirus Expert Says Virus Could Have Leaked From Wuhan Lab, Andrew Kerr, April 02, 2020 https://dailycaller.com/2020/04/02/coronavirus-leaked-wuhan-institute-virology-richard-ebright-shi-zhengli/
[19] China’s bioweapon spy story that never was, False conspiracy theories, wild exaggerations and potentially harmful claims create confusion online, By Dave Makichuk, February 15, 2020, https://asiatimes.com/2020/02/chinas-bioweapon-spy-story-that-never-was/
[20] Don’t buy China’s story: The coronavirus may have leaked from a lab, Steven W. Mosher, February 22, 2020 https://nypost.com/2020/02/22/dont-buy-chinas-story-the-coronavirus-may-have-leaked-from-a-lab/
[21] http://www.rfi.fr/cn/%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD/20200215-%E6%96%B0%E5%86%A0%E8%82%BA%E7%82%8E-%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E7%A7%91%E6%8A%80%E9%83%A8%E7%B4%A7%E8%B7%9F-%E6%80%A5%E6%8E%A8%E5%AE%9E%E9%AA%8C%E5%AE%A4%E7%AE%A1%E7%90%86%E4%B8%8E%E5%8A%A0%E5%BC%BA%E7%97%85%E6%AF%92%E7%AE%A1%E7%90%86%E6%B3%95%E8%A7%84
[22] http://www.most.gov.cn/mostinfo/index.htm?r-url=./xinxifenlei/fgzc/
[23] Lou Dobbs Floats War With China As ‘Consequences’ For Coronavirus, Josephine Harvey, HuffPost, April 17, 2020
[24] Theory that Coronavirus Escaped from a Lab Lacks Evidence, The pathogen appears to have come from wild animals, virologists say, and there are no signs of genetic manipulation in the SARS-CoV-2 genome, Emily Makowski, Mar 5, 2020 https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/theory-that-coronavirus-escaped-from-a-lab-lacks-evidence-67229
[25] WHO lauds Chinese response to virus, says world ‘at important juncture’, Reuters, January 29, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-health-who-idUSKBN1ZS2EE
[26] “Can China be green by 2020?”, Wassermann, Rogerio, BBC, 2 April 2009 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7972125.stm
[27] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30418-9/fulltext
[28] The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2, Kristian G. Andersen, Andrew Rambaut, W. Ian Lipkin, Edward C. Holmes & Robert F. Garry, Nature Medicine volume 26, pages450–452(2020), https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0820-9, 17 March 2020,
[29] Dr. Fauci throws cold water on conspiracy theory that coronavirus was created in a Chinese lab, insider@insider.com (John Haltiwanger), Business Insider, April 18, 2020
[30] Trump says he has evidence coronavirus came from a Chinese lab, but he can’t reveal it, David Knowles,Yahoo News, May 1, 2020
[31] Top US intel agency rules out ‘manmade’ theory of coronavirus origins, Natasha Bertrand 4/30/20 https://www.politico.eu/article/top-us-intel-agency-rules-out-manmade-theory-of-coronavirus-origins/
[32] A US researcher who worked with a Wuhan virology lab gives 4 reasons why a coronavirus leak would be extremely unlikely, awoodward@businessinsider.com (Aylin Woodward), Business Insider, May 2, 2020
https://www.yahoo.com/news/us-researcher-worked-wuhan-virology-121100299.html
[33] How China’s “Bat Woman” Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus
Wuhan-based virologist Shi Zhengli has identified dozens of deadly SARS-like viruses in bat caves, and she warns there are more out there, Jane Qiu on March 11, 2020 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-chinas-bat-woman-hunted-down-viruses-from-sars-to-the-new-coronavirus1/
[34] Science Speaks: Global ID News, Center for Global Health Policy IDSA hivma, UPDATE Wuhan coronavirus – 2019-nCoV Q&A #6: An evidence-based hypothesis, Antigone Barton, January 25, 2020 https://sciencespeaksblog.org/2020/01/25/wuhan-coronavirus-2019-ncov-qa-6-an-evidence-based-hypothesis/,
[35] Behind the suspected ‘mutation’ of Covid-19: what you have missed, March 8, 2020 https://cntechpost.com/2020/03/08/behind-the-suspected-mutation-of-covid-19/
[36] Most New York Coronavirus Cases Came From Europe, Genomes Show, Carl Zimmer, The New York Times, April 9, 2020
[37] 8 strains of the coronavirus are circling the globe. Here’s what clues they’re giving scientists, Elizabeth Weise. USA TODAY, March 29, 2020, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6477/492.full
[38] Why Our Planet is a Breeding Ground for Emerging Diseases – Experts say habitat destruction and climate change are factors, David J. Craig, May. 04, 2020
https://magazine.columbia.edu/article/why-our-planet-breeding-ground-emerging-diseases
[39] Journalist goes undercover at “wet markets”, where the Coronavirus started | 60 Minutes Australia, Mar 8, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7nZ4mw4mXw
[40] The New York Post, Inside the horrific, inhumane animal markets behind pandemics like coronavirus, Jan. 25, 2020, Paula Froelich https://www.marketwatch.com/story/inside-the-horrific-inhumane-animal-markets-behind-pandemics-like-coronavirus-2020-01-25
[41] China Is Reopening Its Wet Markets. That’s Good, David Fickling, Bloomberg, April 4, 2020
[42] Contre les pandémies, l’écologie – D’où viennent les coronavirus?, Sonia Shah, Monde diplomatique, mars 2020, p1
[43] Nature takes back world’s empty city streets, Julie Pacorel, Laure FILLON, AFP, March 29, 2020
[44] Photos show wildlife roaming freely as humans are on coronavirus lockdown, from ‘bear parties’ in Yosemite to lion naps on South Africa’s streets, insider@insider.com (Sophia Ankel), April 17, 2020
[45] Pollution made COVID-19 worse. Now, lockdowns are clearing the air.
Even before the coronavirus, air pollution killed seven million people a year. Will today’s cleaner air inspire us to do better? Beth Gardiner, April 8, 2020 https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/pollution-made-the-pandemic-worse-but-lockdowns-clean-the-sky/
[46] Coronavirus ‘lab leakage’ rumors spreading. Outbreak ‘could have started’ in Wuhan facility, as first patient never went to wet market identified as source, Frank Chen, February 17, 2020, https://asiatimes.com/2020/02/coronavirus-lab-leakage-rumors-spreading/
[47] Volume 395, Issue 10223, P470-473, February 15, 2020
A novel coronavirus outbreak of global health concern, Chen Wang, Peter W Horby, Frederick G Hayden, George F Gao, January 24, 2020, DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30185-9]
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30185-9/fulltext
[48] ABC News in A timeline of Trump’s missed opportunities on coronavirus, David Knowles, Yahoo News, April 8, 2020
[49] Ending the Cycle of Crisis and Complacency in U.S. Global Health Security, THE CSIS, Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security, NOV 18, 2019 https://healthsecurity.csis.org/final-report/
[50] Trump adviser warned of millions of virus deaths in January. Trump says he saw the memo only this week, David Knowles, Editor,Yahoo News, April 8, 2020]
[51] Navarro memos warning of mass coronavirus death circulated in January, Jonathan Swan, Margaret Talev, Axios, updated Apr 7, 2020, https://www.axios.com/exclusive-navarro-deaths-coronavirus-memos-january-da3f08fb-dce1-4f69-89b5-ea048f8382a9.html
[52] Trade Adviser Warned White House in January of Risks of a Pandemic, A memo from Peter Navarro is the most direct warning known to have circulated at a key moment among top administration officials, Maggie Haberman, April 6, 2020

[53] Senators sold stocks before coronavirus sank the markets: what we know, Nicholas Wu USA TODAY, Apr 1, 2020 https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/03/20/coronavirus-senators-sold-stocks-before-market-downturn-what-we-know/2882679001/
[54] The Justice Department is reportedly investigating actions by US lawmakers who dumped stocks before the market plunged over coronavirus fears, ssheth@businessinsider.com (Sonam Sheth), Business Insider•March 30, 2020
[55] Noam Chomsky on Trump’s Disastrous Coronavirus Response, Bernie Sanders & What Gives Him Hope, April 10, 2020 https://www.democracynow.org/2020/4/10/noam_chomsky_trump_us_coronavirus_response]
[56] Boston Globe Editorial Board: Donald Trump ‘Has Blood On His Hands’ Over Coronavirus, Lee Moran, HuffPost, March 31, 2020
[57] Opinion: How China could win over the post-coronavirus world and leave the U.S. behind, Kishore Mahbubani, April 14, 2020 https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-china-could-win-over-the-post-coronavirus-world-and-leave-the-us-behind-2020-04-14?siteid=yhoof2&yptr=yahoo,
[58] Coronavirus: What this crisis reveals about US – and its president, Nick Bryant, BBC News, New York, BBC, March 25, 2020 https://www.yahoo.com/news/coronavirus-crisis-reveals-us-president-200404032.html,
[59] The giant hole in Trump’s back-to-work plan, Rick Newman, Senior Columnist, Yahoo Finance, March 24, 2020
[60] ER doctor: Coronavirus treatment is ‘an enormous logistical nightmare’, Adriana Belmonte, Associate Editor,Yahoo Finance, April 6, 2020
[61] A California man who self-quarantined after returning home from China amid the coronavirus outbreak said he is ‘100x more concerned’ for his health in the US than he was in China. insider@insider.com (Katie Canales), Business Insider, March 5, 2020, https://www.yahoo.com/news/california-man-self-quarantined-returning-173042979.html
[62] A mess in America’: Why Asia now looks safer than the U.S. in the coronavirus crisis, Shashank Bengali, LA Times, March 21, 2020
[63] Bill Gates TED Talk Transcript from 2015: Warns of Pandemics, Epidemics https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/bill-gates-ted-talk-transcript-from-2015-warns-of-pandemics-epidemics
[64] Trump administration ended pandemic early-warning program to detect coronaviruses
By Emily Baumgaertner, James Rainey, April 2, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-04-02/coronavirus-trump-pandemic-program-viruses-detection
[65] Jusqu’à la prochaine fin du monde…, Renaud Lambert et Pierre Rimbert, Monde diplomatique, avril 2020, p1
[66] https://twitter.com/JuddLegum/status/1232051346796371968
[67] Bill Gates thinks a coming disease could kill 30 million people within 6 months — and says we should prepare for it as we do for war, Kevin Loria Apr 27, 2018 https://www.businessinsider.com/bill-gates-warns-the-next-pandemic-disease-is-coming-2018-4?r=US&IR=T
[68] http://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/event201/
[69] Dr. Fauci Warned In 2017 Of ‘Surprise Outbreak’ During Trump Administration, Nina Golgowski, HuffPost, April 5, 2020
[70] Bat Coronaviruses in China, Yi Fan,1,2 Kai Zhao,1,2 Zheng-Li Shi,1,2 and Peng Zhou1,2,* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466186/, Viruses. 2019 Mar; 11(3): 210. Published online 2019 Mar 2. doi: 10.3390/v11030210, PMCID: PMC6466186, PMID: 30832341

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