Institute of International Education Fellowship Award Winner, and runner up national poet to the 2016 Share Botswana Tourism Fiction Award, Teedzani Thapelo*, ponders the nationwide devastation wrought by ex-Dineo, her unchecked tempestuous depredation, and expresses his shock at national unpreparedness for this catastrophe, arguing that this horror, and its merciless cutting blade, tearing up roads, sending rooftops flying, stealing chicken and pigs, laughing at feeble BDP policy institutions, reflects lack of planning, the absence of fences and defence mechanisms against disasters, poor knowledge about the hazards of nature, and BDP flagrant disregard for human effort and national dignity.
The first part of the title comes from a novel by Bessie Head, a South African exile writer who lived and died in Serowe. I am very glad to note her works still hold place of pride at UB, no, not UB at Gaborone, but the University of Buffalo, in the US. There is nothing more fascinating to students of African literature these days than the literature of exile and refuge studies, and Head, sits among the pantheon of literary giants whose works still evoke tremendous intellectual fascination in both the West and Africa.
She had such a delicately sensitive feel about the land and people of her adopted political home, Botswana, that many still regard her as our only literary voice. South Africans, of course, don’t want to hear about this, and already they have usurped her genius and firmly implanted it in their canon and national consciousness, naming libraries and streets after her to promote public admiration and readership of her works. What do the people of Serowe have to say about that, I wonder? BDP government does not care.
As far as they are concerned she never lived here, she means nothing to our cultural heritage. Oh, boy, talk about ignorance. Can anyone imagine British authorities allowing Poland to do the same thing with that celebrated genius, Joseph Conrad? Enough about literary gems we will most probably never possess. Let’s get down to more mundane things; rain, rain, rain; and the horror, the horror!
Well, my grandma, Balebi Thapelo, also had a very strong and rather feverishly sensitive feel about our land. She was, I should think, a very spiritual woman. Trouble with her religion of things, was that it intermingled with too much booze. I witnessed the remaining part of her spiritual journey towards the declining years of her life, and just when I had managed to pluck enough courage to put her through a thorough interview about the whole mystical business she died. That saddened me a great deal.
To date she is the only person whose funeral I attended. One thing though stays in my memory, her stupefying knowledge of gathering clouds and impending rains. In this field she was miles ahead of Radithupa Radithupa. She rarely erred. Come every rain season, and we were in for great drama. I wonder if my family siblings still remember those mind-boggling escapades. The most fascinating thing is that hers was always a solo fetishism. She demanded no audience. We the kiddies could gather around her and enthusiastically clap our hands to her gyrations but you were not allowed to ask any questions; as I said she was a true weather woman.
Try to interfere with her furious dance and strenuous invocations of the rain and the river gods, and you could easily lose a leg. Everything was very solemn, just the way they do things at St Peters Square in the Vatican City, and we lived at Jacklas Number 1 village, right here in good old Botswana. Like most kids we feared the roar of thunder, and granny could imitate it; perfectly, and fearfully, substituting along the way the even more ferociously roars of lions, and yelling of hyenas; a perfect cacophony, but symphony to her ears.
In this way she taught us that even wild animals feared thunder. That man had good reason to fear and welcome thunder at the same time, it was the way of the world, the only way to live with turbulent, and unpredictable nature. Whenever the rain season started approaching she would insist all the huts be fortified with mud and cow dung. Stone bricks were also used. The whole thorn yard fence had to be overhauled; rotting corner poles replaced. Tall trees in the neighbourhood pruned.
It was heavy work, and we all did it; grandma breathing on our backs like an army general. Of course we grumbled a lot, and my uncles’ wives worried she was using up seed for ploughing to brew her ‘religious beer,’ but she stuck to her guns like a true commander in chief. I learnt early at home there is no government without critics, and I enjoyed it all. It was good education. It prepared me for the world of the future, the world of today; the world of tomorrow.
Grandma was the family matriarch, and she did her job well. By the time I was eight I had learnt to respect thunder, and I could take out our cows to grass, clad in a very heavy but very useful sack raincoat, and when it started raining, and the cows started gambolling about mooing wild-to dissipate their own fear of thunder, I would just sit on a rock and watch them dance till they tired, and started falling into small tribal groups for mutual protection and assurance. All these things I learnt from my grandma. They made my life easy, and happy.
I always felt safe because I trusted her government and her religion of things. I only regret I never had the chance to talk to her about these things. I always noted the roll of thunder would go on accompanying her performance till she fell to the ground exhausted, or dead drunk, or possessed by some awfully powerful spirit, or all these things combined, and then, lo and behold, the heavens would open, and at times it could rain non-stop for days and nights. We always had a hard time of it lifting her and taking her to her shrine. Like all governments she was big. Oh, those were thrilling times.
I have been thinking about these dramatic personal experiences the past few days as our country was going through the most magnificent, and equally frightening, heavenly showers in living memory. I also took the trouble, whenever I could, to venture out and witness this unfolding drama first hand. Drama? Well, those of us who grew up on that stupendous intellectual extravaganza, Greek literature, will no doubt see what I mean; read Homer’s Odyssey.
Batswana who know nothing about Homer must still have seen something of his stunning apprehension of the world of man and nature in the continuing struggle for survival on planet earth these past few days as ex-Dineo hit home with garrulous impetuosity tearing up roads, sending rooftops flying, knocking down doors, stealing chicken and pigs, laughing at Government Enclave and generally making our lives miserable. Oh, I know some people are hurting, terribly, and I sympathise.
But we did say we wanted rain. Radithupa warned us to expect a deluge of it nationwide; a perfect storm in the tradition of Hollywood films, and we did nothing to prepare ourselves. Grandma would have done a good job of yelling, cajoling and putting up fences and defence mechanisms in place to avert disaster. It would appear to me the fact it caught us napping is no reason we should be cursing heaven. We have got only ourselves to blame. In a world so full of dangers and risks people must always be prepared for anything.
In fact by definition human life is temporal, mortal, existential, and mostly insignificant in the face of assault by the elements, especially water and fire. If we don’t evolve safety measures to protect ourselves then we do not have anyone to blame but ourselves. Government should take the lead in building such defence mechanisms and educating people about the hazards of nature, but BDP is not the sort of government up to such tasks.
Keep looking up to them for protection and guidance and you will find yourselves sheltering under one huge blanket, donated by Indians, the next time another cyclone, another Dineo comes visiting. What good will that do? Ask the people of Mozambique what a really furious hurricane can do. A blanket, no matter how well knitted, will just not do. I doubt even Homer would have cast BDP in his works; they are just too dismal characters. I miss my grandma’s government.
Homer would not have had much trouble casting grandma in his work, even the weathermen of our time. The rain season is a unique experience. Most Batswana think about it only in terms of ploughing and harvesting. That is not good enough, and the present season clearly demonstrates why we should evolve a new convention with nature when it comes to this time of the year. If we don’t, there is no telling what is going to happen to both our lives and our properties in the future, to both our land and country in the future, and to both our universe and planet in the future.
These are fearful things to put to people who have up to now taken such things for granted. In other parts of the world already people do things differently. Let us not wait for a national catastrophe to hit home before we put the necessary defensive mechanisms in place. I doubt though Government Enclave will heed this call. Unlike Grandma’s authority, these people are really not a government. They are a social club; a gormandizing social club. So long as their stomachs are full they never care about tomorrow, they never plan ahead, and this explains the horrors of ex-Dineo in many parts of our country.
A few incidents awakened my personal consciousness to the gravity of floods in the face of relentless rainfall and devastating rolls of thunder. I did not even know some parts of Botswana are so prone to lightning. Had I interviewed my grandma, no doubt I’d be already a very informed man about these things. Unfortunately I didn’t, and now remains the task to spend long hours poring over literature in public libraries. No matter. I am used to this sort of thing.
As soon as reports of floods and public damage started filtering in through social media, I raised my antennae, broadened my intellectual radar, and hit the road. The precautions I took along the way, excluding the sack raincoat, I learnt from my grandma. In one plain field I encountered an old woman with about three Zimbabwean help hands. She didn’t mind my enquiries about the feel of the land. Also I had good chilled water to which she seemed very partial. So we conversed freely.
The clouds were dark, and heavy, and I knew I had to be careful. It could rainy anytime. She, however, was not concerned with that. Her concentration was on the soil. She took a pinch of it and ate it. I was so startled I must have ejaculated my astonishment. Grandma used to do exactly the same thing. I saw her roll the dirt round her mouth, and, I think, she swallowed some of it. The remaining bit she spat to the ground with knowing satisfaction, and a very grave face. Then she shaded her poor eyes with her right hand, and looked at the gathering clouds for several seconds. After a heavy sigh, she waddled to her dilapidated truck and collapsed into the front seat.
I followed her and put a direct question to her about that startling incident. She tried to dodge it. So I explained about my grandma. She listened to me very carefully, asked a few questions of her own, and I answered as best I could. It soon transpired she came from Matebeleng village in Mochudi. She spoke both Ikalanga and IsiNdebele well. She told me all she thought she knew about people like my grandma, and her quaint religion. I know Matebeleng well but I did not let this out. In a way I was not surprised.
Her field is just on the road to that village, and my guide had informed me I would probably meet only people from the neighbourhood in our trip. But I had hit a jackpot. This old woman seemed to be cut from the same cloth as my grandma. Unfortunately she clumped her mouth shut soon as she realized I had company; the local guide. They started arguing about some old money debt, till we left. Once again I had failed to connect with my ancestral past regarding the rituals of rainfall. When it started raining I was already on my way home, and a very disturbed man.
That evening, and in subsequent news, I really was not surprised by the devastation shown on television. Thanks to my grandma I had read the signs well. What shocked me was the level of unpreparedness throughout the whole country. Just what good is our government? What do these people do on a normal day? Who really are these people? Are they Africans? Did any of them go to any schools? What do they want in office? How come the nation is so vulnerable and the whole country so fragile? Ai madoda, I really do miss my grandma’s government.
This is not the way to live. People can just not get anyway this way. There’s terrible rot in our political system, in our public institutions and moral consciousness as a nation and a republic. If we don’t change the way we do things, and do so fast, there is no telling where we will be as a people in five years’ time. I mean who wants to build a house today and have it ruined tomorrow? Who wants to travel a road today and see it destroyed tomorrow? Who wants to build a bridge today and see it collapsed tomorrow? Who really wants to live in a world of futility? Why do we permit these fatal arrangements? What is wrong with us? Why can’t we create enduring things? Why do we hate beautiful and useful things?
Take Nata for example. It is a long time since I travelled that part of the country. But I loved it enough to write some reasonable good and memorable poems about my adventures there: One night in a lodge Is all it takes to savour A country feel to my land One amazing ride in the river Bathing off the spleen of rage And sleepless nights Is all it takes to savour A pleasant bush….
A blinding beauty Blighted my sight This day Marooned Amid flamingo bird And barren wasteland A transit landscape Fit only for the intrepid spirit Possessed of passions Infinite In a rugged land Of mysterious trunked trees Robust flowers Of an age….
The girl flirts about the green field, And screws up her lips Into a raw pout of tenderness, Playing a dialogue of wanton carelessness, And watching her, I fear tomorrow There shall be tears upon this score….
I remember well, my bothers The luxurious sturdiness of childhood, But why remind me old age, Of the disastrous sojourns of time past, At this hour of truth, When I stand an indistinct spectre, In the cruel theatre of life, And one foot in the grave, When the bones now can only rattle in the body?
I just picked out four parts from my poems; A Country Feel About my Land, Makgadikgadi Pans, Foul Field and Memoriam, from my collection of poems, Black Sunlight, and all these were written during that memorable trip to Nata and beyond. Later on I would write the 600 words poem Okavango Delta which won a literary award.
This is what natural beauty does for people who care about their country, it inspires them, it makes them human, it gives them culture and knowledge. So you can guess how I felt when I saw want happened to the land and people of Nata and surrounding areas; poor planning and ignorance killing hope and human livelihoods. Who should I blame for this negligence but BDP?
I am angry, and disappointed. But that is what BDP wants. They trade in misery of citizens. People in that region are mostly very poor. They need help, desperately. But I can bet my last coin nobody is going to help them get out of this rut. The land there is beautiful and rewarding. But nobody is going to do the best they can to put things to rights after these horrible floods and destruction.
How sad. How truly sad.
Novelist, poet and historian, Teedzani Thapelo*, is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science and the School of Oriental and Africa Studies, University of London. He is author of Seasons of Thunder and the forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, and Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe.
The 490-hectare campus researches the world’s deadliest pathogens, including Anthrax (in 1944, the Roosevelt administration ordered 1 million anthrax bombs from Fort Detrick), Ebola, smallpox, and … you guessed right: coronaviruses. The facility, which carries out paid research projects for government agencies (including the CIA), universities and drug companies most of whom owned by the highly sinister military-industrial complex, employs 900 people.
Between 1945 and 1969, the sprawling complex (which has since become the US’s ”bio-defence centre” to put it mildly) was the hub of the US biological weapons programme. It was at Fort Detrick that Project MK Ultra, a top-secret CIA quest to subject the human mind to routine robotic manipulation, a monstrosity the CIA openly owned up to in a congressional inquisition in 1975, was carried out. In the consequent experiments, the guinea pigs comprised not only of people of the forgotten corner of America – inmates, prostitutes and the homeless but also prisoners of war and even regular US servicemen.
These unwitting participants underwent up to a 20-year-long ordeal of barbarous experiments involving psychoactive drugs (such as LSD), forced electroshocks, physical and sexual abuses, as well as a myriad of other torments. The experiments not only violated international law, but also the CIA’s own charter which forbids domestic activities. Over 180 doctors and researchers took part in these horrendous experiments and this in a country which touts itself as the most civilised on the globe!
Was the coronavirus actually manufactured at Fort Detrick (like HIV as I shall demonstrate at the appropriate time) and simply tactfully patented to other equally cacodemonic places such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China?
THE FORT DETRICK SCIENTISTS’ PROPHECY WAS WELL-INFORMED
About two years before the term novel coronavirus became a familiar feature in day-to-day banter, two scientist cryptically served advance warning of its imminence. They were Allison Totura and Sina Bavari, both researchers at Fort Detrick.
The two scientists talked of “novel highly pathogenic coronaviruses that may emerge from animal reservoir hosts”, adding, “These coronaviruses may have the potential to cause devastating pandemics due to unique features in virus biology including rapid viral replication, broad host range, cross-species transmission, person-to-person transmission, and lack of herd immunity in human populations … Associated with novel respiratory syndromes, they move from person-to-person via close contact and can result in high morbidity and mortality caused by the progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”
All the above constitute some of the documented attributes and characteristics of the virus presently on the loose – the propagator of Covid-19. A recent clinical review of Covid-19 in The Economist seemed to bear out this prognostication when it said, “It is ARDS that sees people rushed to intensive-care units and put on ventilators”. As if sounding forth a veritable prophecy, the two scientists besought governments to start working on counter-measures there and then that could be “effective against such a virus”.
Well, it was not by sheer happenstance that Tortura and Bavari turned out to have been so incredibly and ominously prescient. They had it on good authority, having witnessed at ringside what the virus was capable of in the context of their own laboratory. The gory scenario they painted for us came not from secondary sources but from the proverbial horse’s mouth folks.
CDC’S RECKLESS ADMISSION
In March this year, Robert Redfield, the US Director for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee that it had transpired that some members of the American populace who were certified as having died of influenza turned out to have harboured the novel coronavirus per posthumous analysis of their tissue.
Redfield was not pressed to elaborate but the message was loud and clear – Covid-19 had been doing the rounds in the US much earlier than it was generally supposed and that the extent to which it was mistaken for flu was by far much more commonplace than was openly admitted. An outspoken Chinese diplomat, Zhao Lijian, seized on this rather casual revelation and insisted that the US disclose further information, exercise transparency on coronavirus cases and provide an explanation to the public.
But that was not all the beef Zhao had with the US. He further charged that the coronavirus was possibly transplanted to China by the US: whether inadvertently or by deliberate design he did not say. Zhao pointed to the Military World Games of October 2019, in which US army representatives took part, as the context in which the coronavirus irrupted into China. Did the allegation ring hollow or there was a ring of truth to it?
THE BENASSIE FACTOR
The Military World Games, an Olympic-style spectrum of competitive action, are held every four years. The 2019 episode took place in Wuhan, China. The 7th such, the games ran from October 18 to October 27. The US contingent comprised of 17 teams of over 280 athletes, plus an innumerable other staff members. Altogether, over 9000 athletes from 110 countries were on hand to showcase their athletic mettle in more than 27 sports. All NATO countries were present, with Africa on its part represented by 30 countries who included Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Besides the singular number of participants, the event notched up a whole array of firsts. One report spelt them out thus: “The first time the games were staged outside of military bases, the first time the games were all held in the same city, the first time an Athletes’ Village was constructed, the first time TV and VR systems were powered by 5G telecom technology, and the first use of all-round volunteer services for each delegation.”
Now, here is the clincher: the location of the guest house for the US team was located in the immediate neighbourhood of the Wuhan Seafood Market, the place the Chinese authorities to this day contend was the diffusion point of the coronavirus. But there is more: according to some reports, the person who allegedly but unwittingly transmitted the virus to the people milling about the market – Patient Zero of Covid-19 – was one Maatie Benassie.
Benassie, 52, is a security officer of Sergeant First Class rank at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia and took part in the 50-mile cycling road race in the same competitions. In the final lap, she was accidentally knocked down by a fellow contestant and sustained a fractured rib and a concussion though she soldiered on and completed the race with the agonising adversity. Inevitably, she saw a bit of time in a local health facility. According to information dug up by George Webb, an investigative journalist based in Washington DC, Benassie would later test positive for Covid-19 at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
Incidentally, Benassie apparently passed on the virus to other US soldiers at the games, who were hospitalised right there in China before they were airlifted back to the US. The US government straightaway prohibited the publicising of details on the matter under the time-honoured excuse of “national security interests”, which raised eyebrows as a matter-of-course. As if that was not fishy enough, the US out of the blue tightened Chinese visas to the US at the conclusion of the games.
The rest, as they say, is history: two months later, Covid-19 had taken hold on China territory. “From that date onwards,” said one report, “one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 — the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 — and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.”
TWO CURIOUS RESEARCH HALTINGS
Is it a coincidence that all the US soldiers who fell ill at the Wuhan games did their preparatory training at the Fort Belvoir military base, only a 15-minutes’ drive from Fort Detrick?
That Fort Detrick is a plain-sight perpetrator of pathogenic evils is evidenced by a number of highly suspicious happenings concerning it. Remember the 2001 anthrax mailing attacks on government and media houses which killed five people right on US territory? The two principal suspects who puzzlingly were never charged, worked as microbiologists at Fort Detrick. Of the two, Bruce Ivins, who was the more culpable, died in 2008 of “suicide”. For “suicide”, read “elimination”, probably because he was in the process of spilling the beans and therefore cast the US government in a stigmatically diabolical light. Indeed, the following year, all research projects at Fort Detrick were suspended on grounds that the institute was “storing pathogens not listed in its database”. The real truth was likely much more reprehensible.
In 2014, there was a mini local pandemic in the US which killed thousands of people and which the mainstream media were not gutsy enough to report. It arose following the weaponisation at Fort Detrick of the H7N9 virus, prompting the Obama administration to at once declare a moratorium on the research and withdraw funding.
The Trump administration, however, which has a pathological fixation on undoing practically all the good Obama did, reinstated the research under new rigorous guidelines in 2017. But since old habits die hard, the new guidelines were flouted at will, leading to another shutdown of the whole research gamut at the institute in August 2019. This, nonetheless, was not wholesale as other areas of research, such as experiments to make bird flu more transmissible and which had begun in 2012, proceeded apace. As one commentator pointedly wondered aloud, was it really necessary to study how to make H5N1, which causes a type of bird flu with an eye-popping mortality rate, more transmissible?
Consistent with its character, the CDC was not prepared to furnish particulars upon issuing the cease and desist order, citing “national security reasons”. Could the real reason have been the manufacture of the novel coronavirus courtesy of a tip-off by the more scrupulous scientists?
President Mokgweetsi Masisi may have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he emerged victorious in last year’s 2019 general elections, but the ultimate test of his presidency has only just begun.
From COVID-19 pandemic effects; disenchanted unemployed youth, deteriorating diplomatic relations with neighbouring South Africa as well as emerging instability within the ruling party — Masisi has a lot to resolve in the next few years.
Last week we started an unwanted cold war with Botswana’s main trade partner, South Africa, in what we consider an ill-conceived move. Never, in the history of this country has Botswana shown South Africa a cold shoulder – particularly since the fall of the apartheid regime.
It is without a doubt that our country’s survival depends on having good relations with South Africa. As the Chairperson of African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe once said, a good relationship between Botswana and South Africa is not optional but necessary.
No matter how aggrieved we feel, we should never engage in a diplomatic war — with due respect to other neighbours— with South Africa. We will never gain anything from starting a diplomatic war with South Africa.
In fact, doing so will imperil our economy, given that majority of businesses in the retail sector and services sector are South African companies.
Former cabinet minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor, David Magang once opined that Botswana’s poor manufacturing sector and importation of more than 80 percent of the foodstuffs from South Africa, effectively renders Botswana a neo-colony of the former.
Magang’s statement may look demeaning, but that is the truth, and all sorts of examples can be produced to support that. Perhaps it is time to realise that as a nation, we are not independent enough to behave the way we do. And for God’s sake, we are a landlocked country!
Recently, the effects of COVID-19 have exposed the fragility of our economy; the devastating pleas of the unemployed and the uncertainty of the future. Botswana’s two mainstay source of income; diamonds and tourism have been hit hard. Going forward, there is a need to chart a new pathway, and surely it is not an easy task.
The ground is becoming fertile for uprisings that are not desirable in any country. That the government has not responded positively to the rising unemployment challenge is the truth, and very soon as a nation we will wake up to this reality.
The magnitude of the problem is so serious that citizens are running out of patience. The government on the other hand has not done much to instil confidence by assuring the populace that there is a plan.
The general feeling is that, not much will change, hence some sections of the society, will try to use other means to ensure that their demands are taken into consideration. Botswana might have enjoyed peace and stability in the past, but there is guarantee that, under the current circumstances, the status quo will be maintained.
It is evident that, increasingly, indigenous citizens are becoming resentful of naturalised and other foreign nationals. Many believe naturalised citizens, especially those of Indian origin, are the major beneficiaries in the economy, while the rest of the society is side-lined.
The resentfulness is likely to intensify going forward. We needed not to be heading in this direction. We needed not to be racist in our approach but when the pleas of the large section of the society are ignored, this is bound to happen.
It is should be the intention of every government that seeks to strive on non-racialism to ensure that there is shared prosperity. Share prosperity is the only way to make people of different races in one society to embrace each other, however, we have failed in this respect.
Masisi’s task goes beyond just delivering jobs and building a nation that we all desire, but he also has an immediate task of achieving stability within his own party. The matter is so serious that, there are threats of defection by a number of MPs, and if he does not arrest this, his government may collapse before completing the five year mandate.
The problems extend to the party itself, where Masisi found himself at war with his Secretary General, Mpho Balopi. The war is not just the fight for Central Committee position, but forms part of the succession plan.
If we are to go by what I can term as conventional wisdom, the coronavirus arose in China’s Hubei province in the city of Wuhan. According to the WHO, the Chinese government filed the country’s first confirmed Covid-19 case with the international health regulator on December 8, 2019, with the first case outside of China’s boarders reported in Thailand on January 13, 2020.
We now know, however, courtesy of a paper in The Lancet that was authored by doctors from Wuhan’s Jinhintan Hospital, that the first such case was logged on December 1. We have also come to learn that in point of fact, the first patient, the so-called Patient Zero, may have presented with the as yet unfathomed Covid-9 symptoms in a public health facility on November 17. This is according to a report in the South China Morning Post, which claims to have seen classified medical government reports.
The Post report says nine cases of Covid-19 sufferers, aged between 39 and 79, were attended to during the month of November alone and that a total of 266 people officially had the disease by December 31st. Clearly, the disease had been sedately circulating for some time before it exploded towards the end of the year considering that a great number of people do not present symptoms at all.
Yet the fact the disease was first announced in China and even laboratory-spawned in that country does not necessarily mean China was its veritable place of origin. It almost certainly had multiple origins and may have occurred much earlier in other places on the globe.
AMERICA’S FLU ILLNESS TSUNAMI
Unbeknownst to much of the world, Covid-19 struck in Europe and the USA about the same time it did so in China, if not much earlier, it has now emerged. This is not tabloid hogwash or simply idle gossip folks: it was reported by the highly estimable news outlets such as NBC News and The New York Times. Even Newsweek, which along with Time magazine constitute America’s leading two weekly political magazines, was adamant that the coronavirus outbreak must have occurred as early as September 2019 and that Wuhan was possibly not its birthplace as such. For some reason (or is it for partisan reasons?), the globally renowned broadcast media networks like CNN, BBC, and Sky News have chosen to self-gag on the matter.
If there’s one disease which is so notoriously recurrent and even death-dealing in the US, it is influenza – commonly referred to as the flu or common cold. Here in Africa, flu is no much of a big deal: it is so mild I personally do not know – nor have ever heard of – a single one person who died of flu. In the US, flu is some menace. For instance, in the 2017-18 season, over 61,000 deaths were linked to flu, and in the 2018-19 season, 34,200 succumbed to the disease. Every year, 10 percent of the US population, or 32 million people, contract flu, though only about 100,000 end up being hospitalised anyway.
In the US, the flu season ordinarily runs from October to May, straddling three of the country’s four-season set, namely fall (September to November), winter (December to February), and spring (March to May). The disease is particularly widespread in 16 states. Last year, the winter flu season began atypically early and with a big bang that had never been seen in 15 years according to a December 6, 2019 report by Associated Press (AP), a wire news agency. By the beginning of December or thereabouts, 1.7 million flu illnesses, 16,000 hospitalisations, and 900 flu-related deaths had taken place.
The Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) put the number of people already dead from flu-related illnesses as of mid-March 2019 at between 29,000 and 59,000. This was in addition to the misery of hundreds of thousands of flu-related hospitalisations and millions of medical visits for flu symptoms that have raged in the course of the season. Some hospitals in New Orleans have reported the busiest patient traffic ever at their emergency departments.
Health authorities in Louisiana, which was the first to be impinged, said flu-like illnesses began to rocket in the month of October. Said the AP report: “There are different types of flu viruses, and the one causing illnesses in most parts of the country is a surprise.” Dave Osthus, a flu statistician at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was quoted as saying, “This could be a precursor to something pretty bad. But we don’t know what that is.” Well, maybe we can venture an answer to the conundrum: the flu situation was exacerbated by the coronavirus.
THE CASE OF A NEW JERSEY MAYOR
The story of Michael Mellaham, the mayor of the New Jersey city of Belleville, has been widely reported in the Western world, albeit in the comparatively fringe media houses primarily lest the finger of indictment shift from China to the US. Sometime in November last year, Mellaham came down with an ailment that presented with Covid-19-like symptoms such as aches, high fevers, chills, and a sore throat, the latter of which went on for a full month. Right at the onset of his diseased condition, Mellaham went to see his doctor, who told him not to worry as it was little more than flu and would peter out in a matter of days. The illness lingered for much longer though he at long last fought it off. It was the sickest he had ever been in his adult life.
In April this year, Mellaham took a Covid-19 test and he was found not with Covid-19 per se but its antibodies, which crystal-clearly evinced he had the disease at some stage in the recent past. This is what he told China Global Television Network (CGTN) in May: “We’re told that they (people with Covid-19-like symptoms) don’t have the flu. They just have bronchitis. They just have a bad cough or it’s a bad cold. I think that we just weren’t expecting Covid-19 then, so therefore the doctors didn’t know what to call it or what to expect.”
Of the credibility of the test he took, known as IgM (Immunoglobulin M Test), the first antibody a body makes when it fights a new infection, Mellaham said, “The IgM is the more recent antibody, which would have shown that that antibody is more recent in my system, that my body more recently fought the coronavirus.”
The first publicly admitted case of coronavirus-triggered morbidity in the US was announced in January this year and involved a Californian who had recently returned from Wuhan, but as Mellaham pointedly put it, “that doesn’t mean it wasn’t here (on US soil) before that”.
SUDDENLY “MANY PIXELS”
On May 7, 2020, The New York Times reported of two men aged 57 and 69 who died in their homes in Santa Clara, California, on February 6 and 17 respectively, and this was 23 days before the US announced its first Covid-19 fatality in Kirkland, Washington, on February 29. Their demise was attributed to flu post-mortem but it later emerged that they had been victims of the novel coronavirus. Since they had never travelled outside their community for years, they must have contracted the disease within the locality.
The Santa Clara county’s chief medical office Sarah Cody said the deaths of the two was probably the tip of the iceberg of unknown size. Dr Jeffrey Smith, the Santa Clara county executive, he too a medical doctor, opined that the coronavirus must have been spreading in California unrecognised for a long time now.
Indeed, if we take stock of the fact that passengers on board the Grand Princess cruise ship, which departed California on February 11, developed Covid-19 whilst on board, the odds certainly are that Covid-19 hit much earlier in the US than it hit the headlines. As Cody pointedly put it, “We had so few pixels you could hardly pick out the image. Suddenly, we have so many pixels all of sudden that we now realise we didn’t know what we were looking for.”
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
In Europe, a radiology research team at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Colma, France, has traced the first Covid-19 case in that country to November 16, 2019 according to reports by NBC News and The New York Times. The researchers came to this finding after examining 2500 chest X-rays taken from November 1, 2019 to April 30 this year.
French authorities declared the first Covid-19 case on January 24 having detected it in three nationals who had recently been to China, though it has now transpired that whilst one finger was point to China, four were point back at France itself.
It came to light last month that a sample taken from a French patient with pneumonia on December 27 subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. “There’s no doubt for us it was already there in December,” Dr Yves Cohen, head of intensive care at the Avicenne and Jean Verdier hospitals in the northern suburbs of Paris, told The New York Times on May 4 this year. “It is quite possible that there were isolated cases that led to transmission chains that died down.”
Weighing in on the matter too, Michel Schmitt, who led the Albert Schweitzer Hospital research, said, “The testimonies are really rich; they show that people felt that something strange was going on, but they were not in a capacity to raise the alarm.”
THE CAMBRIDGE AND UCL FINDINGS
Meanwhile, two independent research projects by two of Britain’s premier institutions of learning have turned up evidence that Covid-19 was in Europe as early as the third quarter of 2019. Following a study to understand the historical processes that led to the Covid-19 pandemic, the University of Cambridge found that the coronavirus outbreak appears to have started between September 13 and December 7 in 2019.
The University College London’s Genetics Institute (UCL) analysed genomes from the Covid-19 virus in over 7,500 people and deduced that the pandemic must have started between October 6 and December 11 in 2019. The UCL team analysed virus genomes, using published sequences from over 7,500 people with Covid-19 across the globe. Their report, titled HYPERLINK “https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1567134820301829” \l “s0045” \t “_blank” Emergence of Genomic Diversity and Recurrent Mutations in SARS-CoV-2, was published in the May 6, 2020 edition of the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution.