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Coronavirus conspiracies

Coronavirus conspiracies

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May you live in interesting times

The 9/11 attacks were a conspiracy whether you believe in the official story or not. Whether it was al-Qaeda who planned the attacks or an insider job in the US, the only explanation of the 9/11 tragedy was a conspiracy. The question is which one of the conspiracy theories will you believe. On what basis will you believe a theory? For a start, I think an open mind is needed when evaluating evidences supporting a particular theory in order to give some merits to all presented theories, no matter how trustworthy or ridiculous it may sound at first.

The world is now struggling to contain a new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak and many conspiracy theories are abound. The Chinese authority alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) on flu-like cases in late December 2019 and later on the first day of 2020, a seafood market in Wuhan was claimed as the ground zero of the suspected outbreak. The novel coronavirus was subsequently isolated and have its genome sequenced and the findings were published by Prof Lu and colleagues in the journal Lancet on Jan 24, 2020. Genetic analysis, or to be more specific, a phylogenetic tree of the novel coronavirus genomes and other viral genomes in the genus Betacoronavirus, revealed that we are dealing with a new coronavirus that is closest to bat coronavirus (Bat-SL-CoV).

Bat origin of coronavirus

This finding that 2019-nCoV is most closely related to bat coronavirus gave support to those claiming it was the Chinese who like to eat exotic animals such as bats that spread the virus. Chinese from Wuhan are seen as disgusting because they consume bats but just exactly how many of them include this flying mammal as part of their diet is not known. The chances of getting infected from eating bats such as in the form of soup is low as the temperature used to cook it should be high enough to prevent infection. Sure, one can argue the virus can survive being cooked but their ability to infect should have been much reduced, and our bodies should be able to produce enough antibodies to fight it. Regardless of the fact that we are still uncertain on the source of infection, the video of a Chinese woman eating a bat went viral online and many have assumed this was the true source. Perhaps the chances of getting infected from handling bats, such as those catching them for sale, are much higher?

The worst place at the worst time

Two weeks before the Chinese New Year on January 25, the first coronavirus death was reported in China. This did not stop celebration in Wuhan including a mass banquet on January 18, which had at least 40,000 families or more than 100,000 people, attended it. Clearly the virus has been spreading in the Chinese population in Wuhan in the period leading to the Lunar New Year and close contacts between people during this festival promoted viral transmission. To make matters worse, Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, has the largest transportation hub in central China and also one of the largest intermediate ports along the famous Yangtze River. While Wuhan is the epicenter of the outbreak, it requires little effort to imagine the virus has transmitted beyond this city long before it was quarantined. Indeed, the mayor of Wuhan has reported about five million people had already travelled out of the city just prior to the lockdown.

Uncontrolled outbreak

As of this writing on 11 February, the total number of confirmed cases exceed 40,000 and the total deaths have just crossed a thousand people, which has surpassed the 2003 SARS outbreak. One of the conspiracies that is now widely circulated is the Chinese central government knew about disease but has not acted promptly, which has led to a high number of infections and deaths beyond the official statistics (e.g. those given in WHO). Similarly, back in the 2003 SARS outbreaks, Chinese officials were also accused for being not forthcoming with information on the disease, which had led to 774 deaths worldwide. There have been cases of people such as Dr Christopher Martenson who warned that the true number of cases in the current coronavirus outbreak may be much higher than the official statistics but he was discredited including having his wiki page deleted. Within China, local heroes such as Dr Li Wenliang was forced to acknowledge he made false statements on the danger of the SARS-like infections. Unfortunately, he succumbed to the disease he warned against and left behind a pregnant wife, a child and a mother who questioned the officials why he was silenced.

Dead human bodies are piling up

On the same day Wuhan was under lockdown, the Chinese government started an ambitious plan to build a 1000-bed hospital named Huoshenshan Hospital (note: Huoshenshan literally means fire god mountain). On this day, the total confirmed cases according to the official statistics were only 845. Why did the government build such an elaborate facility and finished it in 10 days when they have the Wuhan Union Hospital, which has 5000 beds? Moreover, there are probably more existing buildings that could be retrofitted to treat infected people. Would this not be faster than building a big hospital? Has the capacity of the hospital been overwhelmed by less than a thousand cases? A local named Fang Bin had accidentally videoed a hospital in Wuhan that seemed overwhelmed and counted 8 dead bodies on a funeral home’s car outside the hospital even though he was only there for a few minutes. His videos went viral and threaten the Chinese regime and he went into hiding.

Strange coincidence on ground zero and the Wuhan Institute of Virology

The Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is a highly prestigious research institute administered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is only about 20 km away or 30 minutes by car to the Hunan Seafood Market, the epicenter of the outbreak. The institute is well equipped with a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory, which is the only one available in China. According to an incomplete compilation of BSL-4 laboratory on Wikipedia, only 53 of such laboratories exist in the world. The highest level of protection and safety measures against pathogen escape in BSL-4 comes at an expensive price due to the nature of the facility needed and the expert knowledge required to operate it. The rather strange co-incidence that the only BSL-4 laboratory in China is so near the ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak, which has no cure, has led to speculation that the source of the virus was a bioweapon. Prof Lu and colleagues who sequenced the coronavirus genome discussed the origin of the virus and wrote in a paper to Lancet, “… recombination is probably not the reason for emergence of this virus,”. Could this be support for the case of bioweapon? Probably not because the authors were careful to follow the sentence with “although this inference might change if more closely related animal viruses are identified”.

Is coronavirus an engineered bioweapon?

The hypothesis that the origin of the coronavirus is a bioweapon and traces of scientific evidences that may be linked to it have been compiled by The Epoch Times, which is a group associated with the Falun Gong. This group has a history of struggles with the Chinese government and at least one of the scientific papers cited on their website was withdrawn (see Prashant et al 2020). The paper refers to 4 insertions in the spike glycoprotein, which the authors thought was uncanny, and many have interpreted this to mean unnatural man-made editing of the viral genome. The Epoch Times has been very open in stating the fact that the paper was retracted. Readers can make up their own minds provided they have the training to interpret the scientific results. There was not enough statistical evidence that the four insertions were indeed very rare, which was probably one of the reasons the authors retracted their paper.

The outbreak is likely to be natural

Notwithstanding the conspiracies, it is probably more likely the outbreak was natural. Why? To engineer a bioweapon requires a group of rational thinking individuals. Specific changes will be made to the viral genome and no herd immunity should exist in the target population. If the group is rational then they would not be foolish enough to release a virus and thought its evolutionary trajectory can be entirely predicted so that they could be used as a weapon to harm others but not themselves. Sure, as a protection, the team would probably have developed a vaccine or drug against the virus to ensure their own safety. However, their egos need to be sufficiently high to think they have mastered the control of disease outbreak. The interdependency of people, economies and the environments as a giant network means the domino effects of knocking down one target population can have many trajectories, which is unthinkable how one will be able to accurately model what will happen next.

The danger and opportunity in crisis

The simplest explanation is still a natural outbreak in a place where history repeats i.e. officials not wanting to report bad news to their superiors especially during the most important celebration, the situation got out of hand as the infection grew exponentially and cover up or “saving face” actions are put into place to contain a worldwide public health disaster. Why do you think the construction of the hospital was streamed live? As the Chinese word “crisis” means danger and opportunity, the coronavirus outbreak is clearly dangerous but is also an opportunity to showcase Chinese unity and capability in construction.

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