Coronavirus is a laboratory creation, says a scientist of renown
On March 12 2020, Robert Redfield, the director for the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a congressional hearing that it had emerged that some of America’s people who had been previously certified as having died from influenza – the common cold known as flu – turned out to have actually succumbed to Covid-19.
The Chinese government authorities were quick to pounce as what that suggested was that hitherto the US Covid-19 scenario had been falsified, that the coronavirus had actually been gnawing away at the US fabric for sometime and likely predated its emergence in China.
The Trump administration, however, is adamant that China was both the birthplace and hub, initially, of Covid-19. It is the US government narrative, seemingly, that holds greater sway across the globe, prompting an outspoken Texas-based NGO to demand a $20 trillion compensation from China on behalf of the US citizenry and a UK think-tank also to weigh in for £350 billion for the UK alone and £3.2 trillion for the G7. The indictment is that China either deliberately or negligently allowed the coronavirus to wash over the entire globe.
Which behooves us to pose this question: was China solely responsible for the advent of Covid-19 or it is no more than an opportunistic scapegoat? Having devoted a great deal of time and energy to delving into the matter, I have, Ladies and Gentlemen, arrived at the verdict that culpability rests with both the Red Dragon and Uncle Sam himself.
A PIECE OF VERY BAD NEWS
In 1977, a spousal team of British biologists, Jean and Peter Medawar, hilariously defined a virus as “simply a piece of bad news wrapped up in protein”. In this analysis, the bad news at issue is the novel coronavirus, the propagator of Covid-19. Until the turn of the century, few members of the global citizenry were conversant with the concept of a coronavirus. But the coronavirus is far from a John-Come-Lately: the pathogen was known as early as 1968. It was first detected in chicken as an infectious bronchitis virus and in two human patients who presented with flu.
The coronavirus typically circulates among animals, notably pigs, camels, birds, bats, and cats, which it seldom harms (just as SIV, the equivalent of HIV, does not lead to AIDS in monkeys) probably because it has dwelt in them for such a long time that they have honed their defence mechanism in its regard.
It is another matter when the virus shifts camp from animals to humans, for then it causes disease, what experts term as a “spillover event”. To date, seven such coronaviruses have been known to cause morbidity in humans, three of which seriously so in some cases.
The three most virulent coronavirus are responsible for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which emerged in late 2002 and disappeared by 2004); MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which broke out in in 2012 and remains in circulation in camels); and Covid-19, which is said to have originated in China’s Wuhan city in December 2019 and has since spread to the rest of the world.
Now, if the novel coronavirus, also known as SAR-Covid-2 or 2019-nCoV, belongs to the same viral clan as the ones behind SARS and MERS, why is it so manifold contagious and deadlier?
THAT CURIOUS GENE CAPACITATION
In February this year, a team of virologists and genomicists led by Professor Ruan Jishou of Nankan University in Tianjin, northern China, reported that SARS-Cov-2 was radically different from other coronaviruses in that its latch-on ability made it 1000 times more potent than the familiar coronaviruses.
This capacity was attested to by findings in two other studies, one by a Huazhong University of Science and Technology team led by Professor Li Hua, and the other by French scientist Professor Dr Etienne Decroly of Aix-Marseille University in France. The capacity derived from a gene that gave the coronavirus a dual attack approach of binding to human cells.
Professor Li referred to the feature that enabled the capacity as an “unexpected insertion”, that is, a genetic mutation (a change in the genetic message carried by the gene, which change may arise from damage or a laboratory-setting alteration).
“This finding,” Li said, “suggests that the 2019-nCoV coronavirus may be significantly different from the SARS coronavirus in the infection pathway … Maybe this is why the SARS-CoV-2 is more infectious than the other known coronaviruses … The result findings show that when compared to the initial SARs mode of entry, this binding method is more than a 1,000 times efficient.”
Considering that Li expressed puzzlement at the so-called insertion, one is prompted to ask whether this was natural or was artificially induced with a view to turning the coronavirus into a steamrolling biological weapon.
HOW CORONA STEALS INTO THE HUMAN CELL
Let us first outline the mechanism by which the novel coronavirus eases itself into a human cell. Like all viruses, the coronavirus cannot reproduce itself using its own, innately programed capacity. For it to replicate and populate expansively in its habitat, it has to hijack living cells and turn them into a self-perpetuation factory.
The coronavirus uses the constitutional infrastructure of its own and that of the target cell to embed itself in the latter, also known as the host cell. To do that, it uses one of the four filaments on its outer layer known as spikes. These are components of the S-Protein, which occur in groups of three, crown-like spikes – the reason it is known as the coronavirus, meaning crown-like virus.
In order to invade the target cell, the coronavirus needs a doorway. In human cells, this doorway is known as the Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2, or ACE2 protein in short. The coronavirus then extends a part of its S-Protein to attach itself to the ACE2 receptor, thereby gaining entry to the cell. The virus is ushered into the cell by a “door bouncer” which it “coaxes” or “sweet-talks”, known as the TMPRSS2 Cellular Protease
In healthy humans, however, the ACE2 protein occurs rather scantily and that makes it difficult for coronaviruses to ordinarily intrude into the cell (the reason the SARS outbreak of 2002/2003 which infected close to 8,000 people globally was not so widespread).
The coronavirus’ fallback action in the face of a telling ACE2 dearth is what we can as well term the Furin route. A pundit explains this phenomenon thus: “It (the mutated coronavirus) is also able to attack human cells via the target called Furin, which is an enzyme that works as a protein activator in the human body. Typically, many proteins are inactive or dormant when they are produced and have to be ‘cut’ at specific points to activate their various functions, which Furin does in the human cellular pathways.”
The coronavirus bears an activation site on its body which it “commandeers” (as if at gun point) the Furin protein to operationalise. That done, the virus is able to slip into and lodge in the cell without the need of the ACE2 protein. Seemingly, its activation by Furin affords the coronavirus easy admittance into the cell without being subjected to a kind of vetting process.
HIV DISCOVERER SMELLS A RAT (OR WAS IT A BAT?)
Since the onset of Covid-19, there has been no shortage of either eminent or little-known researchers crying foul over the morphology of the propagator virus now on rampage across the globe.
Perhaps the most authoritative of the connoisseurs on the subject is Luc Montagnier, the famous French virologist who discovered HIV in 1982 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for this same feat. In an interview with CNews, a French free-to-air TV network late last month, Montagnier charged that the novel coronavirus was scientifically tweaked in a laboratory to turn it into the monster it is. In a bid to content the Doubting Thomases, we will quote him verbatim thus:
“We came to the conclusion that there was manipulation around this virus … to a part but I do not say the total … of the coronavirus of a bat: someone added sequences, in particular of HIV, the virus of AIDS … It is not natural. It’s the work of professionals, of molecular biologists … a very meticulous work.”
Perhaps out of sense of common human courtesy, Montagnier, however, did not, allege sinister motives on the part of whomever scientists were involved: he supposed that they likely punctuated the virus’ virulence with a view to, and in the process of, finding a vaccine against AIDS.
To further buttress his assertion, Montaignier pointed to a 9-man team of Indian researchers who in their paper titled Uncanny Similarity of Unique Inserts in the 2019-nCoV Spike Protein to HIV-1 GP120 and Gag, which was published on January 31 this year, came to precisely the same conclusion.
This song, of the coronavirus being turned into a deadly morbidity weapon, has actually become a familiar refrain. In February this same year, for instance, US senator Tom Cotton and Francis Boyle, a law professor, on good authority opined that the coronavirus may have been a “Chinese bioweapon which escaped from a lab”.
Three years earlier, a US molecular biologist, Richard H Ebright, had voiced fears over the attempt on the part of the Chinese government to upgrade the Wuhan Institute of Virology to the country’s first Biosafety Level 4 (BSL–4) laboratory having taken into account previous escapes of the SARS virus at other Chinese laboratories. Were these commentators of good standing internationally spot-on or were guilty of building castles in the air, of making a mountain out of a molehill?
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.