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Coronavirus diary – Part 40

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Passengers wear facemasks as they form a queue at the Wuhan Wuchang Railway Station in Wuhan, early on April 8, 2020. NOEL CELIS / AFP

In part 21 of this serial, I had observed that: “There was a dose of conspiracy theory and ill-fated moves to accuse the US of being responsible for the outbreak of COVID-19 to destabilize its rivals, China, Russia, and Iran. The matter was expected to make the agenda of the Security Council of the United Nations. From then on, it was an uncanny silence.” This part revisits the issue of mutual recrimination, in other words, the blame game amongst the superpowers, and logically so because there are so many conspiracy theories about COVID-19. I do not have new evidence to square the blame. I am simply presenting the mutual accusation as they were then before the criminal silence.

In his tweets, on Thursday, March 12, 2020, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), accused the United States of being responsible for the virus outbreak in the city of Wuhan. According to VOA news, Lijian first posted a video clip in which Robert Redfield, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a congressional hearing Wednesday, March 11 that some deaths from coronavirus have been discovered posthumously in the US. He added that “the U.S. CDC director was caught red-handed. When did patient zero emerge in the U.S.? How many people had he infected? What’s the name of the hospital?… It’s possible that the U.S. military brought the virus to Wuhan. The U.S. has to be transparent and make public its figures. The U.S. owes us an explanation.” Lijian’s comment was consigned to the rumour mill where the story is to the effect that U.S. military personnel had brought the virus to China during participation in Military World Games in Wuhan in October 2019. This was against the backdrop of US Senator Tom Cotton’s statement that the virus had originated from the Wuhan P4 lab, a high-security biochemical lab affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). In the backdrop was also the accusation by Robert O’Brien, the US National Security Adviser, who said that it was the initial cover-up of the virus that accounted for the loss of time for an effective response. O’Brien had urged the Chinese to look inward for the origin of the virus. In his words, “Why not look into the Wuhan P4 Lab? It’s possible that the lab leaked the virus to the downtown area.

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The lab needs to be transparent and make public its figures. The lab owes us an explanation.” Nevertheless, Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan of Hong Kong Baptist University said that this allegation was not to be taken seriously since they did not emanate directly from the Chinese government. Jeremy Bentham would have qualified it as “nonsense upon silts.”

Smarting from the assassination of General Suleimani of the IRGC by the US, the Iranians slammed the latter for the virus outbreak and spread in Iran. General Hossein Salami, the commander of the Guard, saw the virus, possibly as an “American biological invasion,” as well as being a “Zionist biological terrorist attack,” given claims that Israel has conducted “12 bioterrorist attacks against the people of Iran.” the allegation was lent credence by Professor Ali Karami, a professor at the IRGC-run Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, and IRGC’s anchor on biotechnology and genetics, who described the virus as a “biological ethnic weapon”. He drew attention to the similarity of Iranian DNA to that of Italian to explain the high rate of infection in both countries.

Perhaps the latent function for Iran is Kasra Aarabi an analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change who wrote in Foreign Policy has noted is “to rejuvenate the anti-Americanism that lies at the heart of the regime’s ideology.” In what Billy Duddley would have called a return match, the US went on the offensive against Iran. The State Department accused Iran of spreading the virus to different countries. It went further to cite instances in which some countries’ index cases were traced to Iran. According to The Sun of United Kingdom, Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State noted that “The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice.”

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The Russians were also involved in the fray. According to a report in Moscow Times, Kirill Kleimenov, a host of Vremya on Channel One, presented the Chinese bat theory and dismissed it as incredible and underlined the point that the virus was manufactured in an American laboratory on Trump’s orders. Recall that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said there was “a significant amount of evidence” suggesting that the virus emerged from a state laboratory in Wuhan which had researched bat coronaviruses. Equally, President Donald Trump said he believed that a “horrible mistake” was made in China resulting in the pandemic. These allegations were made without concrete evidence. Kremlin weighed in on this. Dmitry Peskov said, “Without proof, we consider it wrong to attack third countries in this, let’s say, humbly speaking, non-diplomatic way.”

Despite this huge unending controversy, many a commentator has stuck to the narrative that the virus originated in a wet market in Wuhan and was transmitted to humans via bats, or pangolins. President Trump much earlier ramped up the blame on China and its “Chinese Virus”. China has not accepted to date this narrative. But what is not in doubt is that there is the Wuhan laboratory that researches viruses among other species. Also, the “Merkovits narrative” underlines state involvement through its institutions. You may wish to connect the dots.

The point at issue is simply that something is not right about this global pandemic and every attempt to be critical about it is labeled conspiracy theory by those who control the global media. Whether the virus is man-made or not, it has the sponge effect, that is, when water touches the sponge, it simultaneously touches the body, in other words, everyone is at risk. Caution is required to save humanity so endangered by the prevailing pandemic, and the foreboding of more deadly ones in the offing.

Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.

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