Feb 08, 2023
Feb 08, 2023
The World Health Organization (WHO) has finally submitted their long-awaited report on the origin of the novel Coronavirus after nearly ten months of the decision was taken on 18 May 2020 when nearly 100 nations pressed for the study despite reluctance from China and boycott by the US in protest of the overall role and conduct of WHO during the Covid-19 pandemic. This should be appropriately called a joint WHO-China venture as it was really the joint team of the Chinese scientists and international experts which have worked together all along to postulate the hierarchy of probability while looking into some 4-5 hypotheses rather than giving any concrete opinion, verdict or accountability on the origin of virus. In a nutshell, the report has created more confusion to the international community than giving any solution, once again hinting the world body to be a toothless organization unable to provide neither leadership nor guidance.
In the meantime, the corona carnage has continued to cause woes and miseries on the entire world community sans the People Republic of China (PRC), which is held responsible for the current nemesis openly and in private by many world leaders and common people as worst sufferers of their life and property.
As on date, 221 countries and territories are reeling under the Covid-19 pandemic with the total toll of the corona positive cases as 147,041,592 and total death count 3,112,315 world over. Among the first ten worst affected countries are the US, India, Brazil, France, Russia, Turkey, UK, Italy, Spain and Germany in the same order. Together these countries account for total cases of 93,966,751 and total deaths of 1,822,569, which represent about 63.90% of the total cases and 58.56% total deaths, respectively. Needless to mention, the US, India and Brazil are still reporting staggering figures of daily new cases and death toll, with India alone having recorded as many as 349,313 new cases and 2761 deaths in the last 24 hours (24 April 2021) – nearly four times higher in a day than the total corona positive cases reported in China so far.
WHO Report on Origin of the Coronavirus
On 30 March 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released its report into the origins of the coronavirus. This lengthy report has not come out with any firm conclusion about the origin of virus but the following theories have been put forth in same order of relevance:
1. The first postulation relies on the concept of the intermediate host animal; according to this theory, the Coronavirus initially spread from the original host, most likely a bat, to another intermediate host animal from where it passed on to human beings probably in one of the wet markets being the possible place of transmission.
2. The novel Coronavirus might have been introduced by imports to Wuhan through meat from the wild life farms in provinces where bats are known to carry similar coronavirus, and in such case the virus possibly directly jumped to humans from bats.
3. The cold food chain theory put forth by the experts team suggests that the frozen food products or their packaging could have been a possible route for the transmission of the virus. This theory has an obvious implication of investigating trails to other countries.
4. The experts suggested (but didn’t do themselves) the screening of the leftover frozen cold-chain products, especially farmed wild animals sold in Wuhan’s Huanan market from December 2019, if available.
All the four theories have arguments in favour and against leaving it sort of open ended without reaching to a firm opinion or conclusion. About the much feared and suspected leak from the Wuhan lab, accidental or intentional, the experts team found it “extremely unlikely” through a laboratory incident and it did not examine the aspect of any deliberate release.
Thus, the report has probably generated more open-ended possibilities and ambiguities than any clear verdict or conclusion about the origin of virus. In a nutshell, it says SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, most likely arose in bats, and then spread to humans via an as-yet-unidentified intermediary animal. Then with certain degree of scepticism, it adds that the virus was possibly circulating in China in mid-to-late November 2019 but the study group considered that it was extremely unlikely that the virus escaped from the Wuhan laboratory. The investigation report claims to have a deep look at the likely role of markets, including much talked about Huanan market; nevertheless, exactly what happened at the Huanan market remains unknown though genomic analyses and inferences based on the origins of other diseases indicate that an intermediate animal — possibly one sold at markets — passed SARS-CoV-2 to humans after becoming infected with a predecessor coronavirus in bats.
As was feared at the beginning when the WHO group had first visited China in 2020 and returned back even without touching Wuhan, the epicentre of Covid-19 disease, in the communist nation, the WHO report, other than its volume, hardly provides any satisfactory answers to the questions agitating the minds of governments and common people across the globe for over a year now. The release of report indeed prompted governments in certain countries such as the US, UK and Australia, to express their concerns over whether members of the investigating team had access to all the requisite data during the study. While the WHO report has concluded that the chances of the coronavirus escaping from a lab was highly unlikely, with the majority scientists suggesting an overwhelming possibility of SARS-CoV-2 having spilled over from animals into humans, but reportedly a few of them are sceptic about the whole exercise and have also backed the idea that the virus was either intentionally or accidentally leaked from a lab.
Interestingly, like what truly occurs in many politically motivated cases, the investigation report has winnowed out several alternative hypotheses about when and where the pandemic arose, and the need for more investigation in other geographical areas too while concluding that the virus probably didn’t spread widely before December or escape from a laboratory. The further recommendations of the report suggest that more research is necessary for a holistic picture of the origin of Coronavirus not just in China but in other countries too like Italy and Iran to know if the SARS-CoV-2 was circulating even earlier than December 2019. For instance, there are early biological samples not only in Wuhan but also in many laboratories across the world. There were SARS-CoV-2 positive blood donations in the US and France, many cases in Italy, and sewage testing samples in Spain, and so on. According to this report, the examination at all these places with early outbreaks of Covid like symptoms might help the scientific investigators to find out if SARS-CoV-2 was actually circulating earlier than what people generally think or believe.
As can be seen from the tenor and texture, it is not likely that the truth will ever come out under the aegis of WHO, which in any case has not earned any satisfactory credentials during the current pandemic. The main objection of the small group of scientists who have reportedly gone to media with their reservations about the outcome of the report, appears the reason that investigation team’s work was closely overseen by the Chinese government. The conclusion about the “unlikely leakage of virus from a lab” in the report was derived on the basis of submissions made by the scientists of the Wuhan Institute that no one in the lab was found with any antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and that the Institute did not keep any live virus strain akin to SARS-CoV-2 rather than any actual testing or independent scientific investigation by the team. Of course, a cover up statement was later made by the current DG WHO that he did not believe this assessment was extensive enough and that further investigation may be needed, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts that he was willing to deploy.
Clearly, so the communist nation has its way and what its politicians were arguing during the first wave of the Coronavirus across the globe immediately after it subsided in Wuhan, appears to have been formally endorsed by the experts team comprising of scientific investigators engaged by the WHO. In the past, the Chinese leaders had blamed the US Military for the spread of virus in a counter attack when Americans started calling it a “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus. Besides, they have also found some African nationals too as soft targets with similar allegations. In yet another narrative, attempts were made to target France as the likely place of the origin of virus by antedating a suspected Coronavirus infection vis-s-vis Wuhan. So the aforesaid majority recommendations of the experts teams, albeit with some riders of the DG WHO, logically appear a ploy to deflect the focus of investigation itself that serves well the objective of the current communist leadership and it is more likely that now the truth will never come out.
Apparent US Policy Shift vis-à-vis Past Stand
When the Covid-19 pandemic started in 2020, the American leadership under the then President Donald Trump openly criticized China for the leadership’s suspect and irresponsible acts leading to the spread of Coronavirus across the globe. Despite the utter resentment and protests from China, the US President even called it a China and/or Wuhan virus more than once and the relationship between the two countries dipped to a new low in July 2020 when, in a surprise move, the US asked China to close its consulate office in Houston, Texas. However, the aforesaid action was neither abrupt nor extemporaneous as US had already taken a slew of measures since its trade war started with the communist giant in 2018. It is undisputed fact that the US has been worst victim and sufferer of Covid-19 pandemic both in terms of human casualties and economic disaster till date. Ever since the disease hit the countries outside China around March 2020, the US has more than 32.7 million corona positive cases with over 585 thousand deaths, the second worst affected being India.
Such measures and the deployment of two US Naval Battle Groups in the South China Sea had indeed put pressure on hegemonistic and belligerent communist nation under their present leadership.
With the change of leadership and control passing under the hands of the democrats in January 2020, although any significant foreign policy change has not been announced but few actions taken by the new US President Joe Biden suggest that he is not inclined to follow an aggressive policy towards China unlike his predecessor. In a recent move, President Joe Biden has banned any references to Covid-19 by geographical locations of its origin. According to him, such references by the political leaders have played a role in furthering the xenophobic sentiments in the US and elsewhere. Though he did not call by names but it was an obvious reference to ex-President Trump and his supporters who had called it as “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” at public platforms and blamed the communist country for the spread of the pandemic. Evidently, the new leadership is not inclined to call the spade “a spade” and has a reason given for it that it might aggravate racism in certain parts. Message is clear that the new leadership in America is more inclined to have a reconciliatory approach than confrontation with China despite their own iconic losses to the life and economy in pandemic during the last one year.
The South China Sea had remained a maritime zone of a possible confrontation after the deployment of its two naval fleets in 2020 with US claiming its navigation rights and need for safeguarding the interests of the smaller Southeast Asian countries. Recently, the Southern Theatre Command of the Chinese Military has conducted rather a provocative live-fire drill with a proclaimed objective of testing its response to repeated missile attacks in a "far sea" location without disclosing the place. Reportedly, the drill involved a guided-missile destroyer, a guided-missile frigate, an amphibious dock landing ship with another support ship. As per convention, a commensurate exercise or drill also follows from the potential adversary (ies) in such situation; however, the US merely despatched a reconnaissance aircraft to fly over the South China Sea off the coast of Taiwan. It is an obvious sign that although the current US leadership is not in a hurry for the withdrawal from the South China Sea but is also not in a mood either to escalate or continue tension with the Chinese in the region.
In a recent news conference, President Biden has, however, expressed desire to work with the allies and like-minded democracies in order to hold China accountable to follow rules in the global perspective. The world will only know in the near future about how serious is new US President to lead and provide world leadership to counter unethical practices and hegemonistic conduct of the communist giant in the neighbourhood land and sea, and elsewhere. But for now the democrat leadership in America appears to have resumed their favourite political game of dominance and arm-twisting of the developing democracies like India that have potential to emerge as powerful country, both economically and militarily in the coming decades rather than tackling the real challenges and threat globally posed by certain irresponsible communist countries and Islamic terrorism. Needless to mention, internal developments of India have always been their favourite subject; two such illustrations are briefly mentioned as follows.
The US Department of State has raised several issues in their 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in the Indian context. According to this report, India has several significant human rights issues, that include unlawful and arbitrary killings including extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police, restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, violations of the religious freedom, arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, widespread corruption at all level, violence against women, overly restrictive rules on nongovernmental organisations, intolerance, and so on. Each of these issues are a separate subject to deal with the real facts and figures gathered from neutral sources while most such instances are one-sidedly gathered for the said report from certain interested groups, including NGOs of suspect credentials. The Indian government has repeatedly rejected findings of such reports in the past as being far from facts. Moreover, racism, discrimination based on colour and religion, unlawful and extra-judicial killings, violence and corruption in public life, etc. are not something that the US is free from. But the US government often opts to play a big brother to the other democracies rather than setting own house in order.
The second issue is far more serious and unfortunate when a country like US is involved. Recently, it has been widely reported in media that President Joe Biden has used a wartime law to block India’s vaccine ramp up. Reportedly, supplies of nearly 30 items have been put on hold under the law known as the Defense Priorities and Allocations System Programme under the Defense Production Act and the vaccine maker Serum Institute of India is in a dire need of these raw materials to ramp up its production of vaccine amid an alarming surge of infections in India and elsewhere. These raw materials include reagents, tubing materials, nano-filters, plastic bagging material and equipment needed for the vaccine production. The diplomatic response to Indian frantic efforts suggests that the Americans have promised to give “due consideration” and work with India “to find appropriate solutions”.
Those who know the finesse of such diplomatic statements also know as well that such statement carries a lot further behind the scene manoeuvres and bargaining point in the bilateral arrangement. The world knows that the Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna in the US are mainly catering for the American population and also supplying to other affluent countries at a high premium making huge profit. As against it, India is not only catering for its own population but also serving the humanity at large across the globe either free or at minimal cost. As on date, India has supplied vaccines to at least 95 countries (https://www.mea.gov.in/vaccine-supply.htm) world over, mostly underdeveloped and poor countries but also to the developed countries like Canada and UK. But it is quite surprising to note that the US President is able to fathom xenophobic element while taking a decision to ban the references of China or Wuhan virus but he is unable to realize the humane aspect and threat to life of the global population on account of the same virus.
Why Accountability of Errant Nation Must Be Fixed?
In fact, the lengthy report of the WHO rendered towards the March end has not produced any new fact or evidence which was not known earlier. Although the report has inter alia suggested further expert study in more geographical locations but the broad consensus is that the Coronavirus originated in one of the Wet market places in Wuhan city of Hubei province of China. The theory of accidental or intentional release of the virus from a lab has been nearly ruled out albeit some experts are not happy with the data and access given by the Chinese authorities. The only undeniable fact remains that the world is still going through this major health crisis of the century which has simultaneously crippled the world economy too. If at all any country remains relatively unharmed or least affected, it is China itself where the virus was first reported with one major city Wuhan remaining an epicentre for the corona carnage for a few weeks.
Some of the crucial questions and reasons why the world fraternity, and more particularly the developed West, remained unhappy and dissatisfied with the Chinese response to the Covid-19 pandemic have not been addressed by any party. Any truth-seeking person would certainly want to know answers of the following questions:
During the last one year, a lot has been spoken and written about the novel coronavirus and pandemic caused by it as also the role and opportunism of the communist nation largely responsible for it. The most enigmatic and mystifying fact is that nearly all countries have taken needful measures including long spells of severe lockdown but none has been able to stop the second and/or third wave of the frequently mutating virus. China is the only country where the Coronavirus started and largely remained localized in Wuhan, Hubei province with only few cases reported in other provinces during the early months of the year 2020 despite the fact that neither the Chinese people are any good in adhering to hygiene and cleanliness nor China has the best healthcare system in the world. During the last many months, they have reported only a few hundred cases and two deaths but the whole world reeling under second/third corona wave is deprived of the benefit of their skill and expertise in controlling the Coronavirus or the exact measures domestically taken by them to control it.
Imperatives upon the World Leaders
The normal life continues to be disrupted by the pandemic, in the countries of the affluent West and India, the situation leading from bad to worse impacting jobs, businesses, children and social life besides carrying the burden of unwarranted mortalities. All this is bound to have a long-term repercussion on the world. The WHO has nearly disappointed most nations since beginning of the pandemic and now they have disappointed once again with their report on the origin of the novel Coronavirus. This means now it is imperative on the developed nations of the West including the US, UK and European Union, and other developing yet influential countries like India, Brazil, South Africa, etc. to take a joint call and decide two-pronged action of saving the life and economy as also fixing responsibility for the violations committed against the humanity. Surprisingly, the world leader and the only superpower in the world which is known to have unleashed punitive wars in the past on countries merely on some suspicion, is now not even willing to call the spade “a spade” citing xenophobic reason while it merrily stops essential supplies related to the world public health.
Some of the haunting questions need urgent answers: For instance, from where did the Coronavirus came and which nation or people are responsible for it? Then how come there is an immense apprehension across the world that the things could have been better handled to prevent the global spread of the virus and who will answer or unlock this puzzle? Should the erring country be identified and made responsible for the sufferings of the vast community of the nations? Should the responsible country be made to pay compensations to the affected nations for their enormous losses of life and economy. What steps need to be collectively taken to contain the virus and its ill-effects on the global population when the designated world body is failing to meet its obligations? Last but not the least, would it be legally possibly to hold the guilty nation accountable for its omissions and commissions in handling the outbreak of the virus?
Now the efforts are also on to deflect the course of investigation from Wuhan, China to other countries in the West. But what the world knows till date is that the initial cases with Covid symptoms were identified in Wuhan way back in November 2019 and there were many inconsistencies including perhaps deliberate delays on the part of authorities in Wuhan, who acted under the instructions of the central authorities. One worth mentioning fact is that China became a global economic giant only after its gradual integration with the world economy over the past 3-4 decades yet its booming economy lacks many established world protocols and adherence to international laws. Currently, many nations are either openly or secretly unhappy and critical of China not only for its failure to restrict the virus but also to inform the world community well in time. Some of these inconsistencies and suspicious actions are already enumerated in the previous section.
Just to recapitulate a few points here again: Reportedly, the first case was known on 17 November 2019, and with a few more cases daily this figure exceeded the 250 mark by 31 December 2019. Despite this alarming position, the whistle-blowers were punished, lockdown was avoided until 22 January 2020 and some 4-5 million people were allowed to leave Wuhan to many foreign destinations. The poorly controlled wet markets, the Huanan Seafood Wholesale market being one such place, have gained notoriety since long time and have served as the epidemiological origin of few worst health crises in the past but apparently nothing or least has been done to control them. For instance, origin of another SARS virus killing about eight hundred people in 2002 was also traced to one such market. The early samples are said to have been destroyed by the Chinese authorities citing public health issues and any substantive sharing or access to Virology lab was not given to independent scientists from other countries keen to investigate and help. Even if it was not deliberate, their constant disregard to much desired reforms is for sure responsible for the current disaster.
Therefore, it is the dire need of hour that the natural world leaders like the US and other developed countries of the Western world such as UK and EU collectively take cognizance of the omissions and commissions of the erring country to hold it accountable and make it to compensate for the enormous miseries and losses. If considered necessary, they must also show necessary grit and resolve to take action under the prevailing international laws. There are many instruments such as the principle of transboundary harm, legal provisions in the WHO Constitution as well as international health regulations, laws on the breach of the international obligations including the world public health issues, provisions in the UN Charter, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and so on, which could be examined and invoked in the light of various omissions and commissions made by the communist nation since the showing up of novel coronavirus cases in Wuhan.
When the only known superpower and world leader US observed lapses in the functioning of WHO during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and criticized it for functioning hands and gloves with China, the correct course of action would have been to protest and put pressure on both with the support of other like-minded counties. Instead, the then President Donald Trump chose to boycott and/or stop funding to WHO thereby losing own country’s status and influence on the world body and missing an opportunity to correct the wrong-doings, if any. The Chinese misdemeanour was not merely restricted to global virus outbreak; instead, it also violated the sovereignty and geographical integrity of its neighbours like India, Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and Taiwan during the same period. Hence the incumbent US President should not repeat similar mistake(s) by downplaying or ignoring violations caused to the humanity by unethical and arrogant leadership of the communist nation.
Going to war is certainly not a desirable option or optimal solution to discipline or teach a lesson to the errant nation. While recourse to the legal provisions under the international laws are always open but such a process is often very tardy and time consuming, and countries too are found defying verdicts of the international court. After being certain about the misdemeanours, the other viable options could be banning the participation of the erring nation at certain important world forum for a given period or even suspension of the membership, removal from the select UN organizations, imposition of trade restrictions, downgrading diplomatic status, resorting to economic sanctions, and so on. The US has already lost its ground in many areas to China over the years but it still continues to be the only viable world leader and superpower. Hence the incumbent US President needs to rework his priorities. Instead of trying to restrict or bargain with fellow democracies like India through an adverse State Human Rights report or stoppage of the supplies of raw material associated with the corona vaccine s o badly needed for the global public health, he should appropriately focus on the real perpetrators of the humanity and enemies of the democratic world.
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More by : Dr. Jaipal Singh