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Zafar Bangash

The US has accused China of spreading the coronavirus. Donald Trump has even dubbed it the “Chinese virus” and on March 15, during the televised debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, Dana Bash of CNN asked the two democratic contenders what punishment should be given to China for spreading the virus? On March 12, a class-action lawsuit for $20 trillion (yes, trillion!) was launched in Florida against China for starting and spreading the virus. The Chinese have hit back accusing the Americans of bringing the virus to Wuhan during military games in October. The first cases were reported in Wuhan in December 2019 but the Chinese allege that there may have been earlier cases in the US. They have demanded answers from the US but so far no thing has been forthcoming.

As the coronavirus (officially named
[i]COVID-19 by the World Health Organization [WHO] on February 11 and declared a pandemic on March 11) spreads rapidly across the globe, the question of where and how it originated has also been doing the rounds. There are different theories. They range from infected bats’ droppings being sniffed by pangolins that were then consumed by humans in Wuhan, China, to the virus escaping from a lab in the city.

The lab escape theory that was being discussed by lay persons on social media platforms got a boost when Steven Mosher published an article in the [i]New York Post[/i] on February 22. Social scientist and president of the Population Research Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, Mosher speculated that the coronavirus may have been accidentally spread by China’s National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers have studied bat coronaviruses.

He offered no evidence for his theory except that the lab is less than 10 miles away from the seafood market where the cases were first discovered. For Mosher that was enough evidence to prove China’s culpability. In a country fed on a steady diet of anti-China propaganda, Mosher’s article confirmed the Americans’ worst suspicions. It also helped Trump regime propagandists to paint China as the villain in an attempt to deflect attention from their own misdemeanor.

Angered by such allegations, the Chinese hit back. A respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan stated at a February 27 press conference that “though the COVID-19 was first discovered in China, it does not mean that it originated from China.” He hinted that its origins may lie elsewhere. A month earlier (January 24, 2020), leading Chinese researchers and doctors had published their findings in the British medical journal, [i]The Lancet[/i], after studying 41 patients in Wuhan, the overwhelming majority of them men, suffering from acute respiratory problems. They wrote: “Major gaps in our knowledge of [i]the origin[/i], epidemiology, duration of human transmission, and clinical spectrum of disease need fulfilment by future studies.” ([i]emphasis added[/i]).

Other Chinese officials were more direct; they alleged that the virus was spread in China when 300 US military personnel arrived in the Wuhan region for the Military World Games in mid-October and infected the local population. On February 23, Chinese researchers stated categorically that their findings prove the virus did not originate in Wuhan; it was brought from outside.

Amid these series of allegations, American officials responded by hurling their own allegations against China, Mike Pompeo calling it the “Wuhan virus” while Donald Trump insists on calling it the “Chinese virus” despite being reminded that it was racist and leading to attacks against Asian Americans. Unlike Trump who blatantly lies and then flatly denies it, Pompeo has publicly confessed to lying. Yet, he has accused China of being the source of the virus and Iran as an ‘accomplice’ in spreading it without offering any evidence.

Meanwhile, both China and Iran have called for investigation into the US role in spreading the virus. Iran has also launched its own investigation into whether the virus is America’s biowarfare against the Islamic Republic. This suspicion is reinforced by the fact that a very large number of senior Iranian officials and members of parliament have been infected or have died due to the coronavirus.

While testifying before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee on March 11, Dr Robert Redfield, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, admitted that some earlier deaths in the US assumed to have been caused by the common flu were actually COVID-19. The following day (March 12), Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took to Twitter to ask some pointed questions. “When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” 

George Webb, an American investigative journalist named an American soldier, Maatje Benassi who was part of the US military team that went to Wuhan games, of being America’s ‘patient zero’ of the coronavirus. He speculates that Benassi may have spread it in China, lending credence to Chinese allegations against the US.

Another Chinese foreign ministry official, Geng Shuang, took US officials to task for their “immoral and irresponsible” comments that blamed China’s response to the coronavirus. The Americans have accused China for the worsening global impact of the pandemic despite the World Health Organization praising its efforts. Geng insists China’s measures had helped the world to prepare for the pandemic. Several other analysts, and not just Chinese, have raised questions about the role of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick in Maryland. After inspection by a team of CDC investigators in July 2019 that found the ‘deadly germ facility’ in breach of biosafety protocols, the facility was shut down in August. What was the facility producing and why?

There are other troubling questions relating to US role in the production of germs and viruses. As early as November 2015, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill “engineered a virus with the surface protein of the SHC014 coronavirus, found in horseshoe bats in China.” Titled ‘Lab-Made Coronavirus Triggers Debate’, other scientists raised questions about the risks of gain-of-function research (we reproduce the article in full in this edition for readers’ easy access—Editorial Staff).

And then there was the Event201, hosted by John Hopkins Center for Health Security in cooperation with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum in New York on October 18, 2019. The meeting was called to consider the outbreak of an epidemic that they named the “novel coronavirus”. It coincided with the day the Military Games in Wuhan started. Was it a coincidence? 

The ‘Event 201’ statement said in part: 

“In recent years, the world has seen a growing number of epidemic events, amounting to approximately 200 events annually. These events are increasing, and they are disruptive to health, economies, and society. Managing these events already strains global capacity, even absent a pandemic threat. Experts agree that it is only a matter of time before one of these epidemics becomes global—a pandemic with potentially catastrophic consequences. A severe pandemic, which becomes ‘Event 201’, would require reliable cooperation among several industries, national governments, and key international institutions.”

In addition to its horrific record of killing millions of people in the last 20 years—estimates range from 5 million to as high as 25 million—the US has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world to have used atomic weapons (against Japan in August 1945). It used biological weapons against North Korea and China in the Korean War and Agent Orange in Vietnam to destroy its forests. The US also used depleted uranium shells in Iraq in January 1991 that resulted in poisoning its soil and led to the birth of horribly deformed babies. In more recent times, the US has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. These have not only inflicted much economic suffering on the targeted people but also prevented desperately needed medicines for such diseases as leukemia and other cancer-related illnesses reaching them.

With such a gory record, it is natural to ask whether the US has deliberately created and spread the coronavirus in countries it considers as enemies. China and Iran are two of the hardest hit countries affected by the coronavirus. Instead of peddling nonsensical propaganda about ‘[i]conspiracy theories’ (and here), US officials and media outlets should come clean and honestly answer the questions that have been asked.[/i]


Some of the most devastating outbreaks of the modern era can be traced to rapacious development and habitat destruction that brings wild creatures into our domestic spaces.

Story Transcript

Marc Stiener: I’m Marc Steiner, great to have you all with us on this day. The COVID-19 pandemic has much of the world gripped in fear, entire countries are on lockdown. People are fearful, and rightfully so, of being in contact with each other. For us here, empty shelves in supermarkets, no cars on the highways, empty streets, give you that eerily post apocalyptic feel. Donald Trump labeling this as the Chinese virus and urging us to go back to normalcy, seems unattached to reality. It’s not the Chinese flu, it’s not the other, it’s us. More accurately, it’s our destruction of natural habitats and a climate crisis that is unleashing these viruses among us.

COVID-19 was being blamed on the poor, peaceful pangolin. But this poor anteater that looks like an Armadillo, may be part of the reason the virus spread in China, but it’s our industrial development that’s destroying his habitat that brought them into contact with us. And then some thought it would be a good idea to eat these things. It’s not bats or pangolins, but what our human expansion has done to unleash viruses from Ebola to COVID-19. From the destruction of wild habitats to melting off permafrost and arctic shelves, viruses we’ve never known existed may be coming our way.

And we’re joined by Dr. Sonia Shah. She wrote the book Pandemic: Tracking Contagious from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond. Her newest book is The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move, that comes out in June. And her latest article published in the nation is Think Exotic Animals Are to Blame for the Corona Virus? Think again. And it’s being wildly read. So welcome Sonia Shah, good to have you with us.

Sonia Shah: Nice to be here.

Marc Stiener: Help us think again, so the connection between habitat loss and climate crisis can get lost in this conversation. And when we try to figure out how to avoid these things now and in the future, talk a bit about that connection.

Sonia Shah: This latest coronavirus is just the last in a series. Well, it won’t be the last, but it’s just the latest in a series of newly emerged pathogens. So over the past like 50, 60 years or so, we’ve had over 300 of these pathogens kind of newly emerge, or re-emerge into places where they’d never been seen before. So, that includes Ebola in West Africa in 2014, it had never been seen in that part of the continent before. It includes Zika in the Americas were it had never been seen before. We have new kinds of tick borne illnesses, new kinds of mosquito borne illnesses, new kinds of antibiotic resistant bacterial pathogens. And the list goes on and on, including of course this latest coronavirus. And about 60% of these new pathogens come from the same place. And that is the bodies of animals. About 70% of them come from the bodies of wild animals.

So, what I tried to do in my work is look at how does a microbe that is generally harmless in its native habitat, in its natural habitat, turn into a pandemic causing pathogens. What are the changes that have to happen for that process to occur? And what I found is that in a lot of cases it’s because humans are invading wildlife habitat. So when we cut down the trees where bats roost… If bats are roosting in some far off jungle, we cut down those trees, well they don’t just go away. They come and fly into our gardens, and backyards, and farms instead. So in all these ways when we destroy wildlife habitat, we force wildlife to come into closer contact to where we live, into little fragments of habitat that we have left for them and that eases all kinds of new kinds of contact between animals and humans.

It increases hunting, trading, uneven casual contact. For example, if you touched a piece of fruit that had some bat saliva on it you could get Ebola virus on your hands, and you put that your hand in your mouth and that’s it. The microbe that lives in the animals bodies has come into the human body, and that’s how the Ebola outbreak of 2014 actually started. And we will probably eventually be able to trace back this current pandemic to some kind of single quote unquote spill over event like that. But the root of it is microbes in animals coming into human bodies because we’re destroying their habitat and bringing them closer into contact with ours.

Marc Stiener: A couple of things here I’ve got to explore. What you mentioned a moment ago, I mean we’re talking about viruses, everything from Ebola to HIV, to Lyme disease in this country are all kind of erupting for the similar reason. And when you look at some of the new science coming out about the potential viruses being unleashed by the melting of permafrost in the Arctic ice shelves. When you add that to the habitat issue we, unfortunately and frighteningly, could just be seeing the beginning of what could erupt over the next decades. Do think that’s alarmist? Do you think that’s real?

Sonia Shah: I don’t know that the melting permafrost is sort of the biggest driver of this, I think invading wildlife habit is a bigger driver because you also have to think about which microbes in animals bodies can easily adapt to human bodies. And so that’s usually microbes that live in other mammals, and it’s usually ones that are more similar to us. So, we get a lot of pathogens from pigs for example, we’ll get fewer from reptiles, right? So, the source matters because each microbe has to kind of adapt. So this is a long process, this doesn’t happen instantly. What happens is there’s repeated contact between humans and the animal reservoir of these microbes. And those repeated contacts allow the microbe to slowly adapt to the human body, right? Because in the beginning it’s an animal microbe, it’s not going to make you sick necessarily, or your immune system’s going to get rid of it.

The pathogen has to adapt. So there has to be repeated contact over time. So we’ve seen these wet markets have existed, for example, which is a source of the SARS pathogen that came out in 2002, 2003, and may be the origins of the current Corona virus. Those wet markets existed for many, many years, but what happened over the past 20 or 30 years is they started to get bigger and bigger because the Chinese economy expanded and people were going farther and farther into wildlife habitat to invade, in places that are farther and farther away, bring animals from lots of different places closer together. So it’s that slow process of expansion and the repeated contact between humans and wildlife that allows these microbes to adapt and become human pathogens.

Marc Stiener: And a broader question here, if human expansion and capitalist development and all kinds of industrial development and development period are part of the causes that underlies these growth of viruses, then how do we think about what to do about that? I mean it’s one thing to talk about how you fight COVID-19 at this moment, and I think that’s one issue. The other issue is how do you prevent the COVID-19s of the future from erupting given the nature of human beings to expand? I mean you wrote in your article that even when you think of the neolithic period that was unleashed there, tuberculosis and measles that are still with us. So, how do we begin to talk as a society, as human beings, as a culture, how to change what we do in order not to have these explosions or is that even possible?

Sonia Shah: It is possible. We’re always going to have infectious diseases, right? I mean we live on a microbial planet and that’s sort of part of the human condition. So we don’t want to sanitize the planet of microbes or anything like that. So the trick is, do you have to have pandemics though? And I think from my research and reporting, the answer is absolutely not. Pandemics are manufactured by human activities. We’ll have infectious disease outbreaks, but we don’t have to have these massive pandemics that travel across the globe and result in what we’re seeing today. And one step towards that is, of course, reducing our destruction of wildlife habitat so that microbes that live in animals bodies stay in their bodies. Reducing the impact of climate change will help too because, of course, we know that a lot of species are moving into new places to escape the effects of the climate crisis. And as they do that, they’re moving into new kinds of contact with human populations also. So that provides other opportunities for these spillovers to happen.

But we also can sort of actively surveil where these spillovers are happening and kind of contain them at their source. We don’t know which microbe will cause the next pandemic, but we do know what the drivers are. We know that it’s things like invasion of wildlife habitat, lots of flight connections, lots of slums, lots of factory farms. These are all drivers of pandemic causing pathogens. So since we know that we can Predict where it’s most likely to happen. So scientists have actually come up with these global hotspot maps. There are places… It’s a map and it just shows where are all the places in the world where it’s most likely that a pandemic causing pathogen could emerge. And in those places we can do active surveillance, really look at all the microbes there. Don’t wait for the outbreak to happen, don’t wait for cases to emerge so people are already getting sick and the microbe’s already spreading exponentially. But actually look for them sort of preventively, to do that kind of active surveillance. And that was actually a project that was going on for about 10 years until the Trump administration killed it last year.

Marc Stiener: You’re talking about Predict and the stuff that CDC was doing that the budget was canceled, that’s what you’re talking about.

Sonia Shah: That’s right.

Marc Stiener: Talk a bit about that.

Sonia Shah: So that was a program funded by USAID and it involved lots of different agencies and academic institutions around the world. And what they would do is they would go to these disease hotspots and try to actively surveil how microbes might be changing. So they would sample say, scat from animals or take blood from farmers or hunters. They had a variety of different ways to actually actively look for these microbes and then see how they might be changing. And they actually were able to find about 900, I think, over the course of that 10 year period. And so then you can say, “Okay, well this microbe looks like it’s evolving to adapt to the human body in a way that could make it into a dangerous pathogen. Let’s change our behaviors on this local level so that it doesn’t have those opportunities anymore.” Maybe it’s changing hunting practices, or some trading practices, or something much more localized that you could alter through a small intervention as opposed to waiting until it starts erupting in epidemics and spreads around the world. And then thinking, “Oh, okay, now let’s try to contain it.”

Marc Stiener: So without being accusatory here, just larger questions in close. If Predict had been funded fully, if we had full funding to be able to look ahead and see what potential pathogens may arise, could this have been avoided? Is that possible or is that too much conjecture?

Sonia Shah: I mean it’s possible. This is all probabilities, right? So say there’s thousands of microbes out there that could become the next pandemic causing pathogen. If we could surveil and contain 80% of those, would our risk of pandemics go down? Yes, it would. Does it mean that this particular virus would not have emerged? Well, who knows?

Marc Stiener: And as we conclude Sonia give us a little tip for the future about what we should be wrestling with as a society in terms of how to go forward.

Sonia Shah: The first thing is we got to get this thing under control and what’s happening now is commercial pressures and political pressures are altering our containment strategy, and what we’re going to see is a bloodbath in our hospitals. So all of us need to chip in. And I think one of the things that’s really striking about these outbreaks of novel kinds of diseases is that there is no drug, there is no vaccine, there is no easy biomedical product that we can all use to solve it, right? Because they come up too fast and by the time you get the vaccine or the drug you’ve already had this whole wave of epidemic. So what that means is that the only thing that really works is collective action and solidarity. And I think we’re starting to see that in different parts of the world, and people are trying, and that’s really going to be the solution out of this thing.

Marc Stiener: Well Sonia Shah thank you for the work you do and the writing you do. It’s really important and I look forward to seeing what else you produce, look forward to your book coming out in June. And I want to thank you so much for joining us here on the real news today. I appreciate you taking the time with us, I know you’re very busy at this moment, so thank you so much.

Sonia Shah: Thank you.
Marc Stiener: And I’m Mark Steiner here for the Real News Network, thank you all for joining us. 

Let us know what you think. We’ll be covering this pandemic intensely from all different quarters. So take care and take care of yourself.


The Corona Virus Disease 2019 or “Covid-19” is a coronavirus similar to the virus that causes pneumonia. Covid-19 is a danger to at-risk groups including the elderly and the chronically ill. 
[i]If you are not elderly and if you are in good health you have virtually no chance of dying from it.[/i]
For the vast majority of the population, Covid-19 is no more dangerous than the common cold. This is backed up by statistics already being reported across Western publications and based on information derived from China’s outbreak where the virus first appeared.Compared to cancer, heart disease, substance abuse, or car accidents – Covid-19 is relatively harmless. But it has been put in the spotlight by deliberately dishonest, selective reporting that focuses on generating hysteria by presenting out-of-context information to an ignorant and easily panicked public. If there is no global concern or massive mobilization over cancer and heart disease – conditions that claim far more lives than any virus – why the sudden hysteria and “concern” .

Context is King 

According to in their article, “Lower death rate estimates for coronavirus, especially for non-elderly, provide glimmer of hope:”

The chance of someone with symptomatic Covid-19 dying varied by age, confirming other studies. For those aged 15 to 44, the fatality rate was 0.5%, though it might have been as low as 0.1% or as high as 1.3%. For people 45 to 64, the fatality rate was also 0.5%, with a possible low of 0.2% and a possible high of 1.1%. For those over 64, it was 2.7%, with a low and high estimate of 1.5% and 4.7%. The chance of serious illness from coronavirus infection in younger people was so low, the scientists estimate a fatality rate of zero. would report in their article, “Here’s How COVID-19 Compares to Past Outbreaks,” that the most affected groups are:

…adults over 65 with underlying health conditions; children seem to be spared and are experiencing milder symptoms (in China, children account for just 2.4 percent of cases)

If that isn’t convincing enough, simply scrutinize content you’re already reading – especially regarding Covid-19 deaths – and see how old and in what health those are in reportedly dying from Covid-19. Many paragraphs down – far from the hysteria-generating headlines – you will find that those dying are already chronically ill, advanced in age, and/or already at risk whether it was Covid-19 or the common cold. When deaths are reported without context they easily create panic.

When the number of Covid-19 deaths are put into perspective in relation to past outbreaks – or even side-by-side with the annual common flu virus- we see just how unwarranted the current wave of hysteria is and how overreactions from governments are aimed more at saving face and assuaging public panic than preserving public health. In Thailand where up to four deaths have been reported at the time of writing this article – the first case involved a man who already had Dengue fever – a serious, life-threatening tropical illness spread by mosquitoes.

The other 3 cases involved a 70 year old with pre-existing tuberculosis, a 79 year old with multiple pre-existing chronic illnesses, and a 45 year old suffering from obesity and chronic diabetes. All four individuals would be considered “at-risk” and should have been isolated from those potentially carrying not only Covid-19 – but any communicable disease at all including the common cold or flu. Do these deaths warrant paralyzing an entire nation of 70 million people? Or closing entire businesses and costing billions in commerce? The damage measures made in reaction to hysteria will cause more damage to many more people and for a much longer duration than Covid-19 ever could on its own.

Common Sense Measures 

Measures should be put into place and resources invested into educating the public on how to isolate and protect at-risk individuals – efforts should be made to help those at risk isolate themselves and provisions – including investments in critical care equipment such as ventilators – made to handle the influx of at-risk patients who end up with Covid-19 regardless.

What should not be done – is the spread of panic, hysteria, and the imposition of draconian measures simply to assuage panic and hysteria – measures that will also gut the economy, impact millions of workers, and disrupt the lives of millions more who depend on the day-to-day functioning of society and who face little or no health risk upon contracting the virus.

These measures – ironically – are in turn fueling additional panic including hording and social tensions that are only compounding the damage “Covid-19 hysteria” is already having on society.

Who is Fueling Hysteria and Why? 

There is the vastly corrupt mass media who depends on public panic and hysteria at times like this to boost clicks and sell newspapers. They also seek to advance their agenda and that of their wealthy sponsors and enhance their grip over the public’s attention. The media is determined to spread hysteria to keep people fixated on their reportage, completely indifferent to the damage they are causing.

There are also political groups – partnered with the media – attempting to leverage and amplify the appearance of Covid-19 into an unprecedented crisis despite a lack of evidence to justify doing so. Their interest is not in ensuring the safety of the public or maintaining oversight of government efforts – but instead leveraging the resulting hysteria to chip away at ruling governments they seek to destabilize and replace.

Aiding them are US and European-funded fronts posing as “human rights” advocates and “independent media” outlets. Groups like “Human Rights Watch” have attacked governments for not taking decisive enough action – then complained when decisive action was taken as being too draconian and violating “human rights.”

These are interest groups that are never satisfied with the government’s response to Covid-19 because they are interest groups completely unconcerned with Covid-19 itself and its impact on public health – and instead – concerned only with how they can generate and leverage public hysteria to advance their entirely unrelated and self-serving political agenda. Again, this is done with complete indifference to the damage being done to society by doing so.

What has resulted is governments around the globe taking measures in reaction to public panic – not to fight the actual pathogen. While draconian efforts to isolate the entire population may work in slowing the spread of Covid-19 – is it worth paralyzing entire economies, costing billions in economic damage, disrupting the lives of hundreds of millions of people who – if contracting Covid-19 – will have what is essentially a cold for a week?

The answer should be an obvious “no.”

Now and in the Future 

The answer also isn’t “doing nothing.”

Again, at-risk groups can and should be protected. State resources should be mobilized to protect and isolate them from the general population and treat them in the worst case scenario should they contract the virus anyway. Public information campaigns should be mounted to encourage basic hygiene especially for those who may come in contact with at-risk individuals – something that should be done year-round and regardless of whatever strain of the cold or flu is prevalent at the time.

And just in case a genuinely deadly pathogen appears on the horizon, nations should invest in economic infrastructure that can thrive regardless – just in case nationwide containment ever truly is necessary. This includes investing in online commerce, delivery services, decentralized manufacturing, and localized food, water, and energy security measures – all measures that would make for a more resilient society regardless of the threats that may or may not appear in the future.

Panic has proven a greater enemy than the Covid-19 pathogen. That society can be crippled by politicians, political groups, and a corrupt mass media over what is essentially a slightly more virulent form of the common cold, says a lot about how the world currently works and what needs dire attention to fix.

From those driving needless hysteria to those caving into it at the cost of economic stability and the disruption of millions of ordinary lives – it’s clear that we face a precedent being set – one that will ensure virtually any excuse in the future can be used to cripple civilization on a global scale. It seems obvious this cannot be allowed to stand, but what is less clear is what can be done to ensure it does not. It can be hoped that governments around the globe pressured by hysteria this time around will set up measures in the future to avoid caving in again.

For the average individual – knowing that virtually everything you read in the media is likely promoting an agenda and thus being misrepresented – gives you the ability to look for context and truth yourself and applying critical thinking skills – reducing your susceptibility to panic and hysteria – and innoculating us all against the real virus infecting society – a political and social virus.

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