Pass the blame - it's easier than fixing the problem!

in #coronavirus2 years ago


All of the following statements are true, to my knowledge:

  • There are virology labs all around the world that study deadly viruses.
  • Sometimes these labs have security breaches
  • Smallpox accidentally escaped from a lab in the UK that was studying it in 1978.
  • SARS accidentally escaped from a lab in China that was studying it in 2004
  • SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) has not historically been found in other species, but is very similar to a virus found in bats as well as another one found in pangolins
  • There is a lab in Wuhan that studies bat coronaviruses, and there were concerns about some of the security procedures at the lab
  • China has restricted research into the origins of SARS-CoV-2

However, this still doesn’t make it likely that the SARS-CoV-2 leaked from a lab, and none of this is evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is a bioweapon. In-fact if you want reasons for why SARS-CoV-2 is very likely NOT an artificially engineered weapon, please read my more detailed post about that here.

... but the most important point of all is that NONE OF THIS MATTERS RIGHT NOW.

What matters is that the US and many European governments are not doing the things they need to stop the pandemic. This is what people should be focused on. The hubbub about China’s mistakes or possible deliberate actions is just a smokescreen to redirect anger about the current situation at an external party. We should be focused on demanding increased test capacity, the development of a contact tracing program, a requirement that people wear masks in public spaces, and a crash program to research treatments and vaccines. We should be asking why this didn’t start in January, when the risk of a pandemic was already obvious. Our institutions are broken, and they won’t get fixed unless we demand it.

Check out my post COVID-19 Where we are, and where we should be going

Conspiracy theories about COVID-19 being a Chinese bioweapon don’t stand up to even a basic sniff test. If it was a Chinese bioweapon designed to attack the rest of the world, why would it have been released in central China within a few miles of a bat coronavirus research facility, in a city that sees a lot of mostly domestic travel, and just a couple of weeks before one of the busiest domestic travel periods of the year?

The theory that SARS-CoV-2 accidentally escaped from a lab doing bat virology research is possible, but unlikely. The genome is new -- there haven’t been any studies that published the virus’s RNA sequence, and a genetic analysis of the virus shows clear indications that it evolved to target human ACE2 receptors. Thus, the virus likely either needed some period of evolution (via mutation and recombination) in humans or a period of evolution in an intermediate host species in order to become infectious to humans.

Furthermore, the portion of the virus’s RNA sequence that codes for the spike protein that binds to human ACE2 receptors is different from the one found in the 2003 SARS virus (SARS-CoV), yet still quite effective. If someone were researching a bioweapon (say, one that then accidentally leaked), it would be much easier to work from a known-good solution than to come up with a new one. Now perhaps there could have been an extremely clever bioweapons research facility that managed to come up with an engineered virus that looks like it evolved naturally, but this is much harder to pull off. At this point we are just building mental landscapes of improbable possibility in the sky.

What remains far more probable is that the virus naturally made the jump from bats or pangolins to humans, picking up some mutations and possibly recombinations along the way. This is what happened with SARS (bats, via civet cats) and MERS (bats, via camels).

The truth is simpler, more mundane, and much sadder than the conspiracy theorists would like to believe. It’s much easier to blame someone else for a problem than it is to fix it, and that’s what our government is doing. I’d be excited for the people pursuing conspiracies to refocus on why our own government is trying so hard to distract us right now, and what missteps they’re trying to hide.

[Note: to avoid confusion, smallpox and SARS evolved naturally; the labs that leaked them were studying them after their outbreaks had been eliminated]


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