Gestalt #22 – SARS-2 Pandemic

CIDRAP and China

I have CIDRAP on my sidebar as a recommended site. Most of the articles that appear at that site are well-researched and well-written. But there is one subject which suffers from extreme bias at CIDRAP: China. When the odious Margaret Chan, who was responsible for the deaths of Hong Kongers from SARS, was nominated to be Director-General of the WHO, Michael Osterholm, founder of CIDRAP, strongly endorsed her. When Director-General Chan later praised the genocidal regime of North Korea for their wonderful health care system that prevented obesity (by starving its people to death), Dr. Osterholm did not revoke his endorsement. When Director-General Chan botched the response to Ebola Dr. Osterholm is quoted as saying: ‘”If we fault WHO for the early dropping of the ball, the whole world has dropped the ball in some sense,” he said. “Nobody is to blame because everybody is to blame.”‘

The Chinese government has imprisoned a million Uyghurs in concentration camps and is reported to be conducting hideous experiments on the inmates. Surely this is a public health outrage that the outspoken Dr. Osterholm would like to take on. Actually, no. I searched CIDRAP for Uyghur. Nothing. The Chinese government has imprisoned members of the Falun Gong religion and pulled organs out of their still-living bodies without anesthesia. Anything on CIDRAP on this? No. Why not? Dr. Osterholm also opposed imposing travel restrictions from China.

I provide all of this as context for the following article from CIDRAP:
Scientists: ‘Exactly zero’ evidence COVID-19 came from a lab

Wow, what a misleading title. Which “scientists”? The quote comes from exactly one scientist. Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, there are many scientists who know that China’s biosecurity and just general lab practices are very sloppy. I know this for a fact. So, the article is completely biased and inaccurate. If writer of this article wanted to write a balanced and fair article, it would not be hard to find large numbers of scientists who have personally witnessed this sloppiness. Further, there is no mention of published reports indicating that SARS escaped from Chinese labs, twice. Isn’t this fact directly relevant to the hypothesis, not “conspiracy theory”, that SARS-2 also escaped from a Chinese lab?

Dr. Osterholm is credible on many aspects of epidemiology. But on China, he is biased and is not credible.

Gestalt # 21 – SARS-2 Pandemic

Origin of SARS-CoV-2 Hypotheses

1. The virus was engineered in a crude and obvious way.
Although there have been a few scientists who claim to have found evidence for genetic modification, the consensus view is that are no obvious signs of tampering. There are characteristics of the sequence that point to natural evolution.

2. The virus was engineered in a sophisticated and non-obvious way.
There is no way to prove this hypothesis without a confession from someone who did it or knows about it. This is because all of the signs of natural evolution of a virus could be carefully synthesized, nucleotide by nucleotide. There is also no way to disprove this hypothesis, even in theory.

3. The virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan.
There is no definitive proof that this occurred. However, there is very strong circumstantial evidence which raises suspicion that this may have occurred. The Chinese government, under the direction of Dictator Xi Jinping, launched a massive cover up which included destroying samples, prohibiting publication of information, silencing of researchers who knew what happened and preventing outside scientists from investigating.

4. The virus originated in a “wet market” in Wuhan.
This hypothesis has been disproven. Samples collected from patients who were infected before the big outbreak associated with the wet market are positive. The epidemic was probably amplified by crowding at the wet market, but it did not originate there.

5. The virus spread from a bat somewhere near Wuhan to an unknown person who then spread it within Wuhan.
There is no evidence for or against this hypothesis.

We do not have a definitive answer to the origin of SARS-CoV-2. However, we can reject hypotheses 1 and 4. Hypotheses 2, 3 and 5 are still possible. The currently available evidence most strongly points to hypothesis 3, although this is entirely circumstantial.

Regardless of the origin of SARS-CoV-2, there can be no doubt that Dictator Xi Jinping deliberately, and with malice aforethought, spread the virus both within Wuhan and to the rest of the world. He is personally responsible for every death in China and outside of China. This does not excuse other world leaders for their response to the virus, but the blame for starting the pandemic lies with Xi Jinping alone.

Multiple strains

All viruses mutate and SARS-CoV-2 is no exception. Most mutations have no impact on the biology of the virus. However, there is increasing evidence that there are multiple strains of SARS-CoV-2 with different biological properties. A new strain first appeared in Europe and has since spread to New York City. This strain appears to be more infectious. It is possible that it is also more lethal than the strain that first emerged in Wuhan. Calculations about the lethality of SARS-CoV-2 based on the early strain may not apply to the new strain. It is also possible that vaccines developed against the early strain will not work against the new one.

The future

There are still many things we do not know about SARS-CoV-2. So, any attempt to predict the future has a high probability of being wrong. Nonetheless, the range of possibilities is starting to constrict. Will the virus miraculously disappear from the world this summer? This is still possible, but seems increasingly unlikely. Although some countries in the Southern Hemisphere have done a great job, thus far, in controlling the virus (Australia, New Zealand), others are struggling (in South American and Africa). Can the virus be contained in countries where it is currently spreading? Yes, but this requires very tight travel restrictions which are currently not being used to any significant extent in large countries like the US. Whether the US and other countries change their policies on travel depends on political decisions, not scientific knowledge. Will a vaccine save us? Not any time soon and perhaps never. The virus is mutating too quickly to have any confidence that a single vaccine will work on all strains. Will herd immunity save us? Many more  people would have to be infected and many more would have to die before we have any chance  to develop herd immunity. But even this may not be enough because the virus is mutating so quickly. This is the same problem with developing an effective vaccine. Will an anti-viral save us? We have effective antivirals for HIV and Influenza. Lots of people still die from these diseases every year. I think it is possible that an antiviral will be developed that will be helpful, but it won’t stop the pandemic by itself. Will testing and contact tracing save us? Possibly, but not until our testing capacity has greatly increased from what it is now. This approach will fail unless it is combined with travel restrictions.

There are countries which have reduced their COVID-19 cases to nearly zero. We should study them and adopt their strategies. Many countries will not be able to control the virus within their borders due to incompetent politicians and public health officials. I hope the US is not on this list, for long.

Reference

Spike mutation pipeline reveals the emergence of a more transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2. Korber et al. (2020) bioRxiv.