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The Corona Coronation (Part 6)

Covid-19 a man-made disease

If the novel coronavirus was intended as a biological weapon, this is very much in line with China’s biological warfare programme, which was mooted as early as 1999, when Jiang Zemin was in power.

In that year, the army published a book titled Unrestricted Warfare, in which strategies to tilt the balance of power between a weaker nation and a stronger one were suggested and propounded upon. Among the viable options was biological warfare.

In 2015, a paper published in India’s Journal of Defence Studies carried the expose that China had 42 facilities involved in research, development, production, testing, or storage of Biological Weapons. In the interests of sustained good diplomatic relations, the facilities were not named but if they had, the Wuhan Institute of Virology would no doubt have taken pride of place.

Could that be the real reason why the Chinese government remain adamant that the novel coronavirus originated from the Wuhan Seafood Wholesale Market – to deceptively cover up for their clandestine pursuit of biological weaponry?

In so saying, their fallback pretext is the SARS epidemic of 2003, which is said to have arisen when a coronavirus jumped from Asian palm civets, a cat-like creature that is legally raised and consumed. The Chinese authorities insist that the novel coronavirus might have followed the same path by way of the seafood market.

Perhaps to lend credibility to this thesis, Beijing on February 24, 2020 decreed a permanent ban on wildlife consumption and trade, with the nod given only in relation to medicinal, research, or display purposes. This was irrespective of putting paid to a $76 billion industry and at the cost of 14 million jobs according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

ALL FINGERS POINT TO WUHAN INSTITUTE

As already made mention of in previous articles, the one particular place in China that is in the eye of the storm with respect to the emergence of the novel coronavirus is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is reportedly equipped with “the technology to synthesise viruses for cross-species transmission”. The institute not only has become synonymous with coronavirus but with the term “bat” as well.

It is no secret that the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been actively researching coronaviruses from horseshoe bats. The research, which began as early as the turn of the century, was directly acknowledged in a paper the institute published in 2005, which posited that China’s horseshoe bats were natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses.

The researchers are said to have isolated over 300 bat coronavirus sequences from thousands of horseshoe bats ferreted out from the mountains of southern China, about 900 km from Wuhan.

It was at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that the horseshoe coronavirus was made genetically optimal for human transmission.   A  molecular biologist at Rutgers University,  Richard Ebright, told The Scientist, a professional magazine targeted at  life scientists, in November 2015 that,   “The only impact of this work (of the Wuhan Institute of Virology)  is the creation, in a lab, of a new, non-natural risk.”

An investigative report by National Review, America’s most influential magazine for conservative news, commentary, and opinion extensively documented evidence to the effect that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had put out an advertisement for scientists who were needed to study coronaviruses and bats.

Indeed, on December 24, 2019, the institute made known on its website that it had “discovered a large number of new bat viruses and their infection mechanisms that could transmit to humans”.

France’s Pasteur Institute was actually alarmed by the goings-on at the Wuhan Institute as far back as four years prior and warned that growing a virus that remarkably grew well in humans was tantamount to courting a doomsday scenario for mankind. “If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory”, one of its leading virologists so presciently told Nature magazine in November 2015.

A “SHE” AT THE CENTRE OF IT ALL

If there is one particular name that keeps cropping up in relation to the diabolical viral research exploits of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, it is Shi Zheng Li.

Shi, a 55-year-old of female gender, is the institute’s lead researcher, with her last 16 years devoted to bat-borne coronaviruses and their transmitability to humans. Part of her CV reads something like that she has “researched in synthetic viruses and published several papers on the creation of coronaviruses for the study of cross-species transmission of coronaviruses.”

In short, Shi is an expert in engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential – the reason, supposedly, the presently raging pathogen was dubbed the “novel” coronavirus. It is novel because its characteristics are very much unlike your typical natural coronavirus.

Shi has a moniker which is not so much a tribute as a dressing-down. She is amongst the scientific establishment in China called “Bat Woman”. Of course she does not remotely resemble a bat: she’s so-called because of her compulsive virus-hunting expeditions in the bat caves of southern China.

Her very first was logged in 2004, when in the company of an international team of researchers, she set off for the bat colonies in caves around Nanning, the provincial capital of Guangxi. Her predilection for southern China bats is informed by her research, which posits that it is the southern, subtropical provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan which may be the most susceptible to infections by coronaviruses jumping from bats.

In the countless bat dwellings she has sampled coronaviruses from, Shi has found that “constant mixing of different viruses creates a great opportunity for dangerous new pathogens to emerge”, prompting her inalienable stance that given that coronaviruses are liable to trigger a chain of morbidity outbreaks in humans, “we must find them before they find us.”

It was Shi and her team who fathomed the origins of the SARS virus, which sprang forth in Guangdong in 2002. But there was more. Says one report: “In late 2016, pigs across four farms in Qingyuan County in Guangdong — 60 miles from the site where the SARS outbreak originated — suffered from acute vomiting and diarrhea, and nearly 25,000 of the animals died.

Local veterinarians could not detect any known pathogen and called Shi for help. The cause of the illness — swine acute diarrhoea syndrome (SADS) — turned out to be a virus whose genomic sequence was 98 percent identical to that of a coronavirus found in horseshoe bats in a nearby cave.”

At the time Covid-19 hit the headlines, Shi was attending a conference in Shanghai.  Upon being pointed to one such banner headline, she immediately took off, but not before she quipped to a journalist that, “If coronaviruses were the culprit, could they have come from our lab?”

There it was folks, straight from the horse’s mouth: it was not a direct acknowledgement but it was a telltale. It suggested in no uncertain terms that Shi’s institution, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was already a breeding ground for coronaviruses.

SHI AND CO PREDICT ADVENT OF COVID-19

The one thing that cannot be denied or downplayed is the fact that Shi Zheng Li is a reputable researcher, albeit the Frankenstein type, it turns out.

Since 2003, in the immediate wake of the outbreak of SARS, Shi has published no less than four papers which have riveted the attention of the international scientific community. All the papers centred on the study and manipulation of bat coronaviruses.

Her latest, the one that was published in 2015, was particularly topical. Authored as part of a team of researchers drawn from various institutions from Asia, Europe, and the US, the paper was titled A SARS-Like Cluster Of Circulating Bat Coronaviruses Shows Potential For Human Emergence and appeared in Nature Medicine magazine on December 21st of that same year.

In the paper, Shi’s team reported that they had created a new virus by combining two coronaviruses, one of which was found in Chinese horseshoe bats and the other from the so-called backbone of the SARS virus, which had been adapted to grow in mice and mimic human disease. They called this hybrid virus a recombinant virus which they had “synthetically re-derived”, or genetically re-engineered in simpler terms.

The report said that this new, chimeric virus had demonstrated rapid viral replication and was capable of infecting human airway cells and therefore it was feared that a SARS-like disease might soon emerge.

On November 14, 2018, Shi spoke at Shanghai Jaiatong University, where she unequivocally made the case that bat coronaviruses were capable of across-species transmission, specifically from bats to human beings.

It emerges, folks, that Covid-19 was not only anticipated as early as 2015: its vector virus, the novel coronavirus, was actually created in the laboratory. 

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Opinions

Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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