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?
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.
Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués. In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.
The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.
However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.
Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region. The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”. The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?
As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel. It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.
The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.
Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.
As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie
British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”
The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.
As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.
We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.
Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.
Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values. This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.
Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.
Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.
Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.
We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.
These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.
Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.
The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.
Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.
One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.
When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.
The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.
The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.
As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.
When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.
“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.
Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.
This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.
So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.
Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana