By Allawi Ssemanda
On Saturday, 28th August, 2021, United States of America (U.S) published declassified intelligence community report which detailed their findings on a possible origin of Coronavirus.
Despite being able to give us a few key findings, such as ruling out the possibility that Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, was developed as biological weapon, and that it “was not genetically engineered,” the report also concluded that officials in China had no “foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of Covid-19.”
However, the report indicated that two other intelligence agencies believe “there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment on either way.” Of course, one can argue that the intelligence community remained divided because their investigations were arguably intelligence-based, and not science-based.
A renown American scientist, Carl Sagan, once observed that “the suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there is no place for it in the endeavor of science.” Indeed, a World Health Organization (WHO) Phase One study, which was conducted in China by a team of experts from over 11 countries, concluded that the hypothesis of a “lab leak” as a possible source of the virus was “extremely unlikely.”
Other scientific studies conducted by renown scholars and scientists have also hinted at natural causes as the source of the virus. A study by Professor Andreas Önnerfors of Uppsala University and Swedish Research Council also challenges the lab leak theory, arguing that the “lab leak theory” and “China virus” rhetoric are conspiracies whose aim is to create a narrative that China be held accountable for the Covid-19 outbreak, which plays in political interests of some countries.
Massimo Galli, an infectious disease expert and head of Italy’s Infectious Diseases Unit at University of Millan, argues that Sars-CoV-2 has no signs of genome engineering and cannot be as a result of a “lab leak.” In his study, the Italian infectious disease specialist contends that 99% chances are the virus is a result of a natural spill-over.
Going by almost all emerging human viruses the world has witnessed in the last 50 years, such as Sars which ravaged the world in 2003 and Mers in 2012, animals have always been cited as sources. In his article; “The animal origins pathway of Covid-19 outbreak is logical, but there’s no ‘gotcha’ evidence,’” Professor Dominic Dwyer, a medical virologist and a member of WHO-China joint team studying origins of Coronavirus, argues that by virtue of their ecology, bats may have played a role in spreading not just Coronaviruses, but also Hendra and Ebola. Basing on such known facts, animals being the origins pathways of Sars-CoV-2 is scientific and the most logical.
Therefore, it is important to stop the blame game and politicizing the Covid-19 outbreak, and conduct science-based studies to identify the true origins of Coronavirus and its pathway to humans. However, this must be done without any delay. On Wednesday 25th August, 2021, a team of 11 scientists who were part of WHO’s mission in tracing the origins of Coronavirus wrote an article entitled; “Origins of SARS-CoV-2: window is closing for key scientific studies” noting, “the window of opportunity for conducting the inquiry is closing fast.” They argued the work had “stalled” and should commence without delay because “any delay will render some of the studies biologically impossible.”
Also, important to consider is that, given the way human activities have destroyed the environment, unless efforts are made to restore the environment, perhaps we should be more worried about facing more serious virus-related outbreaks in the near future. This view is shared by Sir, Professor Jerremy Farrar who, in his book entitled Spike: The Virus Vs The People – The Inside Story, explains how he at first believed in the narrative of a “lab leak” as the source of Covid-19, but after what he describes as “intense consultations with other researchers and infectious diseases experts,” changed his view to strongly believe in a natural cause. “As things currently stand, the evidence strongly suggests that Covid-19 arose after a natural spillover event,” notes Sir Jerremy.
This argument is supported by Professor James Wood, who leads the Disease Dynamics Unit at University of Cambridge. He says that politicizing the origins of Covid-19 will derail efforts to find the truth. In his own words, “I think there is very strong evidence for this being caused by natural spillovers but that argument simply does not suit some political groups. They promote the idea that Covid-19 was caused by a lab leak because such a claim deflects attention from increasing evidence that indicates biodiversity loss, deforestation and wildlife trade – which increase the dangers of natural spillovers – are the real dangers that we face from pandemics.”
Put differently, other than lacking facts and logic, theories that a lab leak caused Covid-19 are convenient for some political groups because they distract world attention away from ongoing environmental degradation for which they are responsible. The most likely cause of future outbreaks is human activities, such as wildlife trade, deforestation and other forms of land clearance, including mining. This is because, as wildlife and vegetations are destroyed daily, countless species of viruses and the bacteria they host are set loose to seek new hosts; and the only available options are domestic livestock and humans. This, many scientists argue, has already occurred with the outbreak of Sars, and only time will tell if it is not the same with Covid-19.
Dr. Allawi Ssemanda, is Executive Director of a Foreign Policy think tank, Development Watch Centre and author of Why Africa Deserves a Permanent Seat on United Nations Security Council.