It is odd that the possible perpetrator of an activity being investigated becomes the judge and jury deciding whether the perpetrator (himself) was responsible for the activity or not. From 2014 to 2019, Peter Daszak managed to convince the guru of healthcare in the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, to fund “Gain of Function” studies on bat corona viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Although this laboratory complex has been stamped by the WHO as a BSL4 (or highest grade of safety) lab, the organisation seems to have ignored the fact that the Wuhan Institute has several labs, ranging from BSL2 to BSL4. Or that much of the initial research into the SARS-CoV-2 (or SARS2) virus was done by Dr Zhengli Shi in partnership with Dr Ralph Baric from the US.
It may be noted that it was Baric who in 1999 first began researching the virus that was studied in Wuhan, and which in 2020 brought such disruption and death to the world. The funding for the SARS2 studies was approved by Dr Anthony Fauci on the basis of inputs from Baric and Daszak. This included the money used to develop “Gain of Function” capabilities in the virus. In other words, make it more infectious and more deadly to human populations than it would otherwise be.
Owing to the risk of viruses escaping from labs, “Gain of Function” research had been banned in the US under President Obama in 2014, but reinstated for domestic funding by President Trump in 2017, who disliked any regulation by government, even those necessary for the public good. Peter Daszak saw to it that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was provided with the funding required to carry out “Gain of Function” research in its laboratories from 2014 till 2019.
As the records of the institute are a state secret, it is impossible to know whether such activity was carried out in 2019 in a BSL2 or 4 lab. Even BSL4 labs across the world have been known to have accidental leaks of deadly pathogens, and to assume that Wuhan was the exception to this rule (as the WHO concluded) was based more on faith than science.
Once the “lab leak” theory surfaced, the Funder of the research by the Wuhan Institute into the corona virus, Peter Daszak, ensured that a letter was published in LANCET on February 19 that debunked entirely any suggestion that the virus may have accidentally been released from a lab at the institute. Another US-based researcher, Dr K G Andersen, got written a similar letter in NATURE MEDICINE on 17 March 2020 making the same assertion. It is a reflection on the carelessness of international media that these two letters (which were not scientific papers but a mere expression of personal views) became the basis for the conclusion in media across the world that the highly probable “lab leak” theory was a conspiracy theory invented by Sinophobes, and that the SARS2 pathogen had its origins in the Yunnan bat population. MERS and SARS1 also had their origin in bats, but it was quickly discovered that MERS had travelled from bats to camels and thereafter to humans, while SARS1 had jumped from bats to civet cats and after that, to humans. This far, there is no indication even from Chinese officials of what animal, if any, was the intermediate vector of the virus after it had spread from Yunnan bats.
Wuhan, where the virus first appeared, is nearly 1500 kilometres from that location, another reason why the “lab leak” theory has salience over the “wet market” hypothesis. Despite his connection with the work done by the Wuhan institute and written denunciation of the “lab leak” hypothesis, Peter Daszak was named by WHO as the lead investigator into the origins of the virus. Not surprisingly, the Wuhan lab complex was exonerated in the WHO probe, which was carried out 13 months after the outbreak first, came to attention through PRC social media. The report seems to have been written on the assumption that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the same in February 2021 as it was in November 2019.
Social media posts in China (almost all of which have disappeared) during November 2019 began carrying reports of an outbreak of a flu-like ailment that attacked the lungs. Some posts spoke of micro-containment zones being enforced in the vicinity of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. By the close of the year, the posts increased. The authorities in Wuhan, however, seem to have dismissed the possibility that a new type of SARS had begun infecting human beings, and permitted flight after flight to depart from Wuhan to locations across the world. The WHO certified such flights as safe, even after the warning from Taiwanese specialists in December 2019 that a new disease had begun manifesting itself among the human population in China. Soon afterwards, preceded by North Korea and followed by India, flights from China to Taiwan were banned.
The US and the UK, obeying advice from the WHO, continued such flights even after India barred them. By then, the
virus had spread everywhere, and with a virulence that suggested that there was indeed a lab-induced “Gain of Function” in the toxicity of the virus. Doctors in Wuhan began to use social media during the final weeks of 2019 to
draw attention to a danger that the authorities in that city (and in Hubei province more generally) seemed to take lightly. Word of the risk to public health seems to have finally reached Beijing by the end of 2019, when the authorities in Hubei realised that they were unable to keep the genie bottled up.
On January 23,2020, Xi Jinping ordered the indefinite lock down of Wuhan and the quarantining of Hubei province from the rest of the country. The WHO still maintained that flights from there to other parts of the world were safe, and the UN body was believed across the world for some weeks, before it realised the error caused by blind faith rather than discovery through science. The series of errors made by the WHO in the matter of SARS2
did not discourage authorities across the world from having the same faith in the prognostications of the WHO as the organisation did in the official reporting coming from the PRC. The pandemic has hit both lives and livelihoods in a manner as savage as is the case in wartime.
That SARS2 was studied intensively by both US as well as Chinese experts for several years is undeniable. That the Wuhan laboratory complex was carrying out “Gain of Function” research into creating a more virulent form of the pathogen was not a secret. That the absence of an intermediate vector from bats to humans in the case of SARS-CoV-2 indicates an absence of evidence to buttress the theory of the Wuhan “wet market” for live animals is also on record, as is the fact that the speed of transmission of the virus causing
SARS2 (a simpler way of designating it than other names used) and its toxicity resembles a virus that has been created in a laboratory rather than having evolved from nature.
Given this, it would have been prudent to assume that the SARS2 global outbreak in 2020 was the consequence of (perhaps an inadvertent) “bio-terror attack”. Or that GHQ Rawalpindi and its all-weather friends in the PLA may have seen the deadly impact of the first wave, and got designed other variants more deadly than the first.
This is not a complicated matter, and it is less a question of scientific capability than of ethics that has prevented more such bio-weapons from being developed. Add the fact that a second wave hit several countries in Europe and other countries that in many was deadlier than the first. Those given the responsibility in 2020 by PM Modi of protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people of India ought to have understood that what they were facing was a war situation.
Had this possibility crossed their minds, they may have been more diligent in utilizing the last ten months to erect barriers to harm done to the people by a new wave of the pandemic, whether engineered or not.The performance of the multiple task forces and empowered groups to prepare against the second wave that began to ravage the country in February 2021 was dismal.
A similar avoidance of acceptance that India is engaged in a war on multiple fronts by the GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA combine may have been the cause of the February withdrawal by the army from the Kailash heights despite
warnings that such a concession would not be met with any from the Chinese side.
Having missed the second wave, India has become the first country to warn of a third wave. This when actionable data on the second wave is still being collated, and (unlike during the second wave) the third wave has yet to appear anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, the nation continues to struggle with the consequences of not taking worst case scenarios seriously, which unfortunately is Standard Operating Procedure in the Lutyen’s Zone. To assume (as was done in February) that the PLA would reciprocate once India gave up its own advantage on the border, or to believe that a second wave would not hit India when it had so many other countries, indicates the
need for moving to a war footing. This needs to occur before any Third Wave does. India cannot any more afford the luxury of ignoring where its enemies are working to take it, or working harder and better to ensure that they fail.
Prof MD Nalapat, Editorial Director, ITV Network. His latest book, on “Foreign Policy for India in the 21st Century”, will be brought out by the close of the year.
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