Australian Notes

Australian notes

Let’s be a lot more sceptical towards China

21 March 2020

9:00 AM

21 March 2020

9:00 AM

Nearly 400 years ago the French rationalist and philosopher, René Descartes, invited us to always suppose that everything we thought we knew was, in reality, false; and that all we thought was true was an illusion created by ‘an evil genius’ whose sole purpose was to deceive and mislead us and to convince us of the truth of all that was untrue.

In modern times we seem to have forgotten the importance of Cartesian scepticism but it would surely serve us well to apply its principles to today’s events. We might then ask ourselves why should we so unquestioningly accept as truth the word of all the health officials and all the politicians of all the governments in the world who, remarkably unanimously, assure us that the outbreak of the new Coronavirus (Covid-19) was a natural occurrence?

Is there a case for thinking otherwise? Despite all the denials, could this deadly virus actually be man-made?  Even if it were not, and was a natural but dangerous pathogen merely being observed under laboratory conditions, could it have escaped from a research laboratory by accident or as a result of human error or negligence? Or, most sinisterly of all, could it have been unleashed on the world deliberately, perhaps only after it was realised that it had already escaped from the lab and perhaps, heaven forbid, as a test-run for something even more lethal?

Well, let’s marshal what we know. Most countries with a strong military or defence sector are known to conduct extensive research into biological or germ warfare. Some, particularly totalitarian regimes like communist China, the Russian federation, Iran and North Korea, are believed to hold large stocks of biological agents and toxins, despite being signatories to the UN Biological Weapons Convention that bans them. It is widely accepted that the first instance of human infection with Covid-19 occurred in Wuhan, China in December 2019. That city is home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which houses China’s National Biosafety Laboratory, the only Level-4 biosafety lab in China, and where researchers are known to have studied bat coronaviruses. The first cluster of Covid-19 cases were diagnosed in people at a seafood market just 15 kilometres away. A factor supporting the suggestion that the virus may have accidentally ‘escaped’ from the lab is that China has a poor safety record in preventing these types of accident. After the 2003 SARS outbreak that virus was found to have escaped multiple times from labs in China. On the other hand a factor that may suggest that the virus was to be weaponised is that Chinese virologist and bioweapons expert Major General Chen Wei is known to have gone to the Institute with military scientists in January to study the new virus.

We also know from figures supplied by the authorities of many countries the number of people reported to have tested positive for the disease. Sadly these numbers are growing on a daily basis; in many cases they don’t tell the whole story; and we don’t yet have any idea when the peak will be reached or how long the infectiousness will last. We know that some countries have been hit more than others. In raw numbers it’s not surprising that China currently tops the list, although certainly not as a proportion of its population. Many however will be surprised that Italy has the second-highest number of confirmed cases. This may be explained by the fact that the average age of her population is the highest in Europe and that the elderly seem to be particularly susceptible to the coronavirus. Additionally, Italy’s public health system is positively antediluvian.

Even now there are insufficient intensive care units to deal with those requiring hospitalisation and a doctor wrote this week that if things got worse and more people started turning up at the ERs he and his colleagues may have to make decisions as to who lives and who dies, as if in a war zone.

Iran has the third-highest number of reported cases and it is tempting to suspect that much of the reason for this may be that, given the history of their close and continuing co-operation with China in matters of nuclear technology, Iranian personnel may also have been co-operating in biological research at Wuhan and may, alas, have returned to Tehran as carriers of the virus.

The sum of what we currently know does not add up to evidence that the Covid-19 virus was deliberately unleashed. There is also no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 was ‘man-made’ in the sense that the virus was or had been genetically engineered or modified in the lab to be a bioweapon.

However, the circumstantial evidence we do have suggests that, regardless of how Covid-19 may have originated, it did at some time prior to it being transmitted around the world from December 2019 onwards actually exist in the laboratories of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In that narrow sense it may be said to be ‘man-made’.  Furthermore the evidence supports the view that the virus had been allowed to ‘escape’ from the lab as a result of, at the very least, human error. But such human error, in the light of China’s past poor safety record in such matters, can only be described as gross negligence and indeed corporate manslaughter on a colossal scale by the People’s Republic of China.

Unfortunately there is very little, short of force, that can be done to punish China for this outrage and fear of an armed conflict with the world’s most populous nation is clearly, and understandably, the reason such a non-confrontational attitude is presently being taken by the world’s leaders. However, when this current pandemic is all over, I have no doubt that the attitude towards China of most governments around the world will harden considerably. Meanwhile let us all say a prayer for all those infected and affected by the virus and may we remember to preserve a healthy scepticism and an inquiring mind towards all information fed to us.

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