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 Americas 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 Ł350 billion for the UK alone and Ł3.2 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 Chinas 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. Its 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 countrys first Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) 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?
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has recently faced significant criticism for its handling of the voter registration exercise. In this prose I aim to shed light on the various instances where the IEC has demonstrated a lack of respect towards the citizens of Botswana, leading to a loss of credibility. By examining the postponements of the registration exercise and the IEC’s failure to communicate effectively, it becomes evident that the institution has disregarded its core mandate and the importance of its role in ensuring fair and transparent elections.
Incompetence or Disrespect?
One possible explanation for the IEC’s behavior is sheer incompetence. It is alarming to consider that the leadership of such a critical institution may lack the understanding of the importance of their mandate. The failure to communicate the reasons for the postponements in a timely manner raises questions about their ability to handle their responsibilities effectively. Furthermore, if the issue lies with government processes, it calls into question whether the IEC has the courage to stand up to the country’s leadership.
Another possibility is that the IEC lacks respect for its core clients, the voters of Botswana. Respect for stakeholders is crucial in building trust, and clear communication is a key component of this. The IEC’s failure to communicate accurate and complete information, despite having access to it, has fueled speculation and mistrust. Additionally, the IEC’s disregard for engaging with political parties, such as the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), further highlights this disrespect. By ignoring the UDC’s request to observe the registration process, the IEC demonstrates a lack of regard for its partners in the electoral exercise.
Rebuilding Trust and Credibility:
While allegations of political interference and security services involvement cannot be ignored, the IEC has a greater responsibility to ensure its own credibility. The institution did manage to refute claims by the DISS Director that the IEC database had been compromised, which is a positive step towards rebuilding trust. However, this remains a small glimmer of hope in the midst of the IEC’s overall disregard for the citizens of Botswana.
To regain the trust of Batswana, the IEC must prioritize respect for its stakeholders. Clear and timely communication is essential in this process. By engaging with political parties and addressing their concerns, the IEC can demonstrate a commitment to transparency and fairness. It is crucial for the IEC to recognize that its credibility is directly linked to the trust it garners from the voters.
The IEC’s recent actions have raised serious concerns about its credibility and respect for the citizens of Botswana. Whether due to incompetence or a lack of respect for stakeholders, the IEC’s failure to communicate effectively and handle its responsibilities has damaged its reputation. To regain trust and maintain relevance, the IEC must prioritize clear and timely communication, engage with political parties, and demonstrate a commitment to transparency and fairness. Only by respecting the voters of Botswana can the IEC fulfill its crucial role in ensuring free and fair elections.
The Oil and Gas industry has undergone several significant developments and changes over the last few years. Understanding these developments and trends is crucial towards better appreciating how to navigate the engagement in this space, whether directly in the energy space or in associated value chain roles such as financing.
Here, we explore some of the most notable global events and trends and the potential impact or bearing they have on the local and global market.
Governments and companies around the world have been increasingly focused onÂ transitioning towards renewable energy sourcesÂ such as solar and wind power. This shift is motivated by concerns about climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Africa, including Botswana, is part of these discussions, as we work to collectively ensure a greener and more sustainable future. Indeed, this is now a greater priority the world over. It aligns closely with the increase in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing being observed. ESG investing has become increasingly popular, and many investors are now looking for companies that are focused on sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint. This trend could have significant implications for the oil and fuel industry, which is often viewed as environmentally unsustainable. Relatedly and equally key are the evolving government policies. Government policies and regulations related to the Oil and Gas industry are likely to continue evolving with discussions including incentives for renewable energy and potentially imposing stricter regulations on emissions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a strong role. Over the last two years, the pandemic had a profound impact on the Oil and Gas industry (and fuel generally), leading to a significant drop in demand as travel and economic activity slowed down. As a result, oil prices plummeted, with crude oil prices briefly turning negative in April 2020. Most economies have now vaccinated their populations and are in recovery mode, and with the recovery of the economies, there has been recovery of oil prices; however, the pace and sustainability of recovery continues to be dependent on factors such as emergence of new variants of the virus.
This period, which saw increased digital transformation on the whole, also saw accelerated and increased investment in technology. The Oil and Gas industry is expected to continue investing in new digital technologies to increase efficiency and reduce costs. This also means a necessary understanding and subsequent action to address the impacts from the rise of electric vehicles. The growing popularity of electric vehicles is expected to reduce demand for traditional gasoline-powered cars. This has, in turn, had an impact on the demand for oil.
Last but not least, geopolitical tensions have played a tremendous role. Geopolitical tensions between major oil-producing countries can and has impacted the supply of oil and fuel. Ongoing tensions in the Middle East and between the US and Russia could have an impact on global oil prices further, and we must be mindful of this.
On the home front in Botswana, all these discussions are relevant and the subject of discussion in many corporate and even public sector boardrooms. Stanbic Bank Botswana continues to take a lead in supporting the Oil and Gas industry in its current state and as it evolves and navigates these dynamics. This is through providing financing to support Oil and Gas companiesâ operations, including investments in new technologies. The Bank offers risk management services to help oil and gas companies to manage risks associated with price fluctuations, supply chain disruptions and regulatory changes. This includes offering hedging products and providing advice on risk management strategies.
Advisory and support for sustainability initiatives that the industry undertakes is also key to ensuring that, as companies navigate complex market conditions, they are more empowered to make informed business decisions. It is important to work with Oil and Gas companies to develop and implement sustainability strategies, such as reducing emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy. This is key to how partners such as Stanbic Bank work to support the sector.
Last but not least, Stanbic Bank stands firmly in support of Botswanaâs drive in the development of the sector with the view to attain better fuel security and reduce dependence risk on imported fuel. This is crucial towards ensuring a stronger, stabler market, and a core aspect to how we can play a role in helping drive Botswanaâs growth. Â Continued understanding, learning, and sustainable action are what will help ensure the Oil and Gas sector is supported towards positive, sustainable and impactful growth in a manner that brings social, environmental and economic benefit.
Loago Tshomane is Manager, Client Coverage, Corporate and Investment BankingÂ (CIB), Stanbic Bank Botswana
So, the conclusion is brands are important. I start by concluding because one hopes this is a foregone conclusion given the furore that erupts over a botched brand. If a fast food chef bungles a food order, thereâd be possibly some isolated complaint thrown. However, if the same companyâs marketing expert or agency cooks up a tasteless brand there is a country-wide outcry. Why?Â Perhaps this is because brands affect us more deeply than we care to understand or admit. The fact that the uproar might be equal parts of schadenfreude, black twitter-esque criticism and, disappointment does not take away from the decibel of concern raised.
A good place to start our understanding of a brand is naturally by defining what a brand is. Marty Neumier, the genius who authored The Brand Gap, offers this instructive definition – âA brand is a personâs gut feel about a product or serviceâ. In other words, a brand is not what the company says it is. It is what the people feel it is. It is the sum total of what it means to them. Brands are perceptions. So, brands are defined by individuals not companies. But brands are owned by companies not individuals. Brands are crafted in privacy but consumed publicly. Brands are communal. Granted, you say. But that doesnât still explain why everybody and their pet dog feel entitled to jump in feet first into a brand slug-fest armed with a hot opinion. True. But consider the following truism.
Brands are living. They act as milestones in our past. They are signposts of our identity. Beacons of our triumphs. Indexes of our consumption. Most importantly, they have invaded our very words and world view. Try going for just 24 hours without mentioning a single brand name. Quite difficult, right? Because they live among us they have become one of us. And we have therefore built âbrand bondsâ with them. For example, iPhone owners gather here. You love your iPhone. It goes everywhere. You turn to it in moments of joy and when we need a quick mood boost. Notice how that ârelationshipâ started with desire as you longingly gazed upon it in a glossy brochure. That quickly progressed to asking other people what they thought about it. Followed by the zero moment of truth were you committed and voted your approval through a purchase. Does that sound like a romantic relationship timeline. You bet it does. Because it is. When we conduct brand workshops we run the Brand Loyalty â˘ exercise wherein we test peopleâs loyalty to their favourite brand(s). The results are always quite intriguing. Most people are willing to pay a 40% premium over the standard price for âtheirâ brand. They simply wonât easily âbreakupâ with it. Doing so can cause brand âheart acheâ. There is strong brand elasticity for loved brands.
Now that we know brands are communal and endeared, then companies armed with this knowledge, must exercise caution and practise reverence when approaching the subject of rebranding. Itâs fragile. The question marketers ought to ask themselves before gleefully jumping into the hot rebranding cauldron is â Do we go for an Evolution (partial rebrand) or a Revolution(full rebrand)? An evolution is incremental. It introduces small but significant changes or additions to the existing visual brand. Here, think of the subtle changes youâve seen in financial or FMCG brands over the decades. Evolution allows you to redirect the brand without alienating its horde of faithful followers. As humans we love the familiar and certain. Change scares us. Especially if weâve not been privy to the important but probably blinkered âstrategy sessionsâ ongoing behind the scenes. Revolutions are often messy. They are often hard reset about-turns aiming for a total new look and âfeelâ.
Hard rebranding is risky business. History is littered with the agony of brands large and small who felt the heat of public disfavour. In January 2009, PepsiCo rebranded the Tropicana. When the newly designed package hit the shelves, consumers were not having it. The New York Times reports that âsome of the commenting described the new packaging as âuglyâ âstupidâ. They wanted their old one back that showed a ripe orange with a straw in it. Sales dipped 20%. PepsiCo reverted to the old logo and packaging within a month. In 2006 Mastercard had to backtrack away from itâs new logo after public criticism, as did Leeds United, and the clothing brand Gap. AdAge magazine reports that critics most common sentiment about the Gap logo was that it looked like something a child had created using a clip-art gallery. Botswana is no different. University of Botswana had to retreat into the comfort of the known and accepted heritage strong brand.Â Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital was badgered with complaints till it âadjustedâ its logo.
So if the landscape of rebranding is so treacherous then whey take the risk? Companies need to soberly assess they need for a rebrand. According to the fellows at Ignyte Branding a rebrand is ignited by the following admissions :
Our brand name no longer reflects our companyâs vision.
Weâre embarrassed to hand out our business cards.
Our competitive advantage is vague or poorly articulated.
Our brand has lost focus and become too complex to understand. Our business model or strategy has changed.
Our business has outgrown its current brand.
Weâre undergoing or recently underwent a merger or acquisition. Our business has moved or expanded its geographic reach.
We need to disassociate our brand from a negative image.
Weâre struggling to raise our prices and increase our profit margins. We want to expand our influence and connect to new audiences. Weâre not attracting top talent for the positions we need to fill. All the above are good reasons to rebrand.
The downside to this debacle is that companies genuinely needing to rebrand might be hesitant or delay it altogether. The silver lining I guess is that marketing often mocked for its charlatans, is briefly transformed from being the Archilles heel into Thanosâ glove in an instant.
So what does a company need to do to safely navigate the rebranding terrain? Companies need to interrogate their brand purpose thoroughly. Not what they think they stand for but what they authentically represent when seen through the lens of their team members. In our Brand Workshop we use a number of tools to tease out the compelling brand truth. This section always draws amusing insights. Unfailingly, the top management (CEO & CFO)always has a vastly different picture of their brand to the rest of their ExCo and middle management, as do they to the customer-facing officer. We have only come across one company that had good internal alignment. Needless to say that brand is doing superbly well.
There is need a for brand strategies to guide the brand. One observes that most brands âmake a planâ as they go along. Little or no deliberate position on Brand audit, Customer research, Brand positioning and purpose, Architecture, Messaging, Naming, Tagline, Brand Training and may more. A brand strategyÂ distils why your business exists beyond making money â its âwhyâ. It defines what makes your brand what it is, what differentiates it from the competition and how you want your customers to perceive it. Lacking a brand strategy disadvantages the company in that it appears soul-less and lacking in personality. Naturally, people do not like to hang around humans with nothing to say. A brand strategy understands the value proposition. People donât buy nails for the nails sake. They buy nails to hammer into the wall to hang pictures of their loved ones. People donât buy make up because of its several hues and shades. Make up is self-expression. Understanding this arms a brand with an iron clad clad strategy on the brand battlefield.
But perhaps youâve done the important research and strategy work. Itâs still possible to bungle the final look and feel.Â A few years ago one large brand had an extensive strategy done. Hopes were high for a top tier brand reveal. The eventual proposed brand was lack-lustre. I distinctly remember, being tasked as local agency to âlandâ the brand and we outright refused. We could see this was a disaster of epic proportions begging to happen. The brand consultants were summoned to revise the logo. After a several tweaks and compromises the brand landed. It currently exists as one of the countryâs largest brands. Getting the logo and visual look right is important. But how does one know if they are on the right path? Using the simile of a brand being a person – The answer is how do you know your outfit is right? It must serve a function, be the right fit and cut, it must be coordinated and lastly it must say something about you. So it is possible to bath in a luxurious bath gel, apply exotic lotion, be facebeat and still somehow wear a faux pas outfit. Avoid that.
Another suggestion is to do the obvious. Pre-test the logo and its look and feel on a cross section of your existing and prospective audience. There are tools to do this. Their feedback can save you money, time and pain. Additionally one must do another obvious check â use Google Image to verify the visual outcome and plain Google search to verify the name. These are so obvious they are hopefully for gone conclusions. But for the brands that have gone ahead without them, I hope you have not concluded your brand journeys as there is a world of opportunity waiting to be unlocked with the right brand strategy key.
Cliff Mada is Head of ArmourGetOn Brand Consultancy, based in Gaborone and Cape Town.