Who or what is to blame for COVID-19? With world powers pointing fingers and politicians being politicians, the U.S. military is weighing in.
U.S. intelligence shows that the coronavirus probably happened naturally rather than being created in a lab in China, but there is no certainty either way, according to top U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A team of 27 scientists has insisted that the coronavirus originated in nature — not in a lab, Reuters reported. The experts condemned conspiracy theories about the virus being man-made. Scientists from around the world “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” they said in a statement in the Lancet medical journal in February. Such conspiracy theories “do nothing but create fear, rumors and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against this virus,” they said
However, some politicians are erring on the side of fear.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted in March that the U.S. lacked transparency and the U.S. Army might have “brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the country’s coronavirus outbreak could be part of a biological attack on the Islamic Republic and called on the military to help fight the disease.
Trump has called the coronavirus “the Chinese virus” in briefings. When China objected, the State Department said that China was trying to deflect criticism of its role in “starting a global pandemic and not telling the world.”
Wuhan, China, was home to a wet market, not uncommon in the country, where wild and exotic animals including wolf pups, otters and koalas were sold for food.
China’s official origin story is that the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan was the starting point for the coronavirus outbreak. The market was closed on Jan. 1 after it was identified as a problem.
However, the Chinese government-funded Wuhan Institute of Virology has been fighting rumors since February that the virus may have escaped one of its labs.
Gen. Milley declined to say at a Pentagon news briefing whether the military had any evidence that the virus began in a Chinese lab and was released by accident.
“There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, the blog sites, etc. It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that,” Milley said.
“And I would just say, at this point, it’s inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But we don’t know for certain.”
U.S. diplomats raised safety concerns in 2018 about the Wuhan Institute of Virology which was conducting studies of coronavirus from bats, the Washington Post reported.
“The lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” a cable dated Jan. 19, 2018 said, according to the Post.
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Diplomats urged the U.S. to address the concerns in Wuhan, but the Trump administration was cutting back on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outreach abroad, according to the Guardian. No support was given.
Wuhan is also home to the National Biosafety Lab — China’s only P4 lab. P4 labs operate at the highest biosafety level. They often work with pathogens that are easily transmissible, cause severe or fatal illnesses, and often have no known vaccines or treatments, according to Caixin, a Beijing media group.
Bats are critically important for dispersing seeds and pollinating flowers but they also host some of the toughest known diseases. Rabies, Ebola, SARS and other coronaviruses all have been traced to bats, NPR reported.