People wearing masks walk past a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping on a street as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Shanghai, China February 10, 2020. Photograph:( Reuters )
From the perspective of biological warfare, China could develop new viruses for which there are no known treatments
China has the knowledge and the techniques to manufacture new viruses and animal models to test the ability of those new viruses to infect humans.
The question remains – is the Chinese virus, COVID-19, the cause of the global pandemic, a naturally-occurring coronavirus that 'jumped' from bats to humans within the Wuhan Seafood Market as China claims or did it 'leak' from a Chinese laboratory either as a yet unknown bat viral isolate stored there or as a man-made virus?
A second, but additionally important question – has China been using politically 'tainted' scientific articles as part of an information campaign to absolve itself of responsibility for the Chinese coronavirus pandemic?
That is, to leverage the widely-accepted credibility of science as one element of a propaganda strategy orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party.
Beginning already in January 2020, articles written by Chinese scientists started appearing in the international scientific literature that either rejected outright the possibility that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese laboratory or were peppered with statements reinforcing the Chinese government argues that it originated in the Wuhan Seafood Market, such as one written by a lead scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Zheng-Li Shi.
Many of those articles were published by Chinese-controlled scientific journals, had not undergone the normal peer review process or were written by Chinese scientists with no apparent research background in coronaviruses.
Yet, occasionally, the likely truth slipped through the cracks.
Contrary to the official Chinese government narrative of a late December 2019 onset originating in the Wuhan Seafood Market, a Chinese-authored article published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, states that the first documented case of COVID-19 was at least as early as December 1, 2019, being a hospitalised patient who had not visited the Wuhan Seafood Market.
On December 10, 2019, two out of the three coronavirus patients admitted to the hospital had not been in the Wuhan Seafood Market. It was only after December 15, 2019, that a larger percentage of COVID-19 patients were identified as visitors to the Wuhan Seafood Market.
A Chinese-authored scientific article written during the first week of February 2020 also directly contradicts the Chinese government narrative that COVID-19 'jumped' from bats to humans within the Wuhan Seafood Market:
“The epidemiological investigation of early cases of 2019-nCoV pneumonia showed that many cases had been exposed to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. In addition, 33 of the 585 environmental samples from Huanan Seafood Market were positive for 2019-nCoV; however, that market was trading a variety of live animals, such as hedgehog, badger, snake, and bird (turtledoves), probably pangolin, but not bats. Thus, bats are less likely to have direct contact with humans, and direct transmission of the virus from bat to human is unlikely.”
An alternative explanation for the origin of the Chinese COVID-19 pandemic is that it resulted from a 'leak' out of a Chinese laboratory.
Just such a leak out of a Chinese laboratory occurred in two separate incidents in April 2004 involving researchers infected with the deadly coronavirus SARS-CoV, responsible for the 2002-2003 pandemic.
In such a scenario, COVID-19, representing one of the hundreds of coronaviruses isolated by the Chinese from various animals, could have similarly leaked out of a Wuhan laboratory either carried by an infected employee who later visited the Wuhan Seafood Market or by an infected experimental laboratory animal that was sold to the market.
An especially dangerous possibility is that COVID-19 is man-made. That would involve a bioengineering capability to construct novel viruses by combining parts of two or more viruses (chimera). The infectivity of the novel viruses would then be tested in cell cultures and animal models.
China possesses all those capabilities.
In 2015, Ralph Baric from the University of North Carolina and Zheng-Li Shi from the Wuhan Institute of Virology jointly published a scientific article describing the combination of the receptor-binding spike protein from a newly isolated coronavirus (SHC014) and the “backbone” from SARS-CoV, the coronavirus responsible for the 2002-2003 pandemic. It produced a novel virus (chimera SHC014-MA15), which showed “robust viral replication both in vitro [cell cultures] and in vivo [animals],” using models adapted to test human infectivity.
Many of the techniques involved in creating coronavirus chimeras are described in detail in a publicly-available 2018 patent (US9884895B2) submitted by Dr. Baric.
In addition to possessing the techniques for creating new viruses, China has developed a genetically-engineered mouse model, not only to test the human infectivity of coronaviruses but, through multiple passages, potentially increase its human receptor selectivity.
It was recently reported that the Wuhan Institute of Virology received a $3.7 million grant from the US National Institutes of Health to study coronaviruses.
Given the well-known propensity for coronaviruses to mutate, both in animals and humans, the introduction of man-made coronaviruses into nature could have catastrophic consequences for human health and the ecosystem.
From the perspective of biological warfare, China could develop new viruses for which there are no known treatments or viruses deliberately designed to circumvent them, risks already identified by Dr Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina in 2012.
It is now urgent to confront China in order to determine the true origin of COVID-19.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)