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This article, written by me, first appeared in The Locus on May 9. Many of us with MS, people with disabilities, and others who are otherwise vulnerable, are asking where COVID-19 originated. Is Trump right, was it a laboratory? What is the truth?
Allegations and denials surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic take me back 19 years to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that decimated farming and tourism in the UK.
US president Donald Trump says he has seen evidence that gives him a “high degree of confidence” this strain of coronavirus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
Trump’s views were backed by secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Interviewed on ABC’s This Week, on May 3, he claimed that there is “enormous evidence” the outbreak began in a Chinese laboratory.
Pompeo said: “I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”
However, these comments contradict a public statement the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued just hours earlier, which said no such assessment has been made and that it is continuing to “rigorously examine” the origin of the outbreak.
What to believe? I’m not sure. Allegations, denials, conspiracy theories and more denials are all to be expected, and the truth is not so easy to uncover.
Looking back to the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic that ravaged the UK in 2001, there was a similar series of allegations, conspiracy theories, and denials. But even now, the truth has not been unveiled – at least, not to my satisfaction.
A year after the outbreak, a number of inquiries were set up by local councils frustrated with the government’s decision to order private investigations only.
One of these inquiries, organised by Northumberland County Council and chaired by Professor Michael Dower, raised questions about reports that a phial containing the disease had gone missing from the Porton Down research laboratories.
Porton Down is the government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).
Professor Dower, who led the inquiry, announced that he was waiting for a government reply to a letter he had sent. He said he had asked rural affairs minister Lord Whitty several questions based on information the inquiry had received.
There were also swirling reports that the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) had possible advance warning of the outbreak.
Professor Dower, according to the BBC, said there had been word that the disease was present before it was admitted, as well as reports that officials had been taking preparatory steps to combat the outbreak before it was announced to the public.
A statement from the DSTL says: “The UK’s chemical and biological weapons programme was closed down in the 1950s. Since then, Porton Down has been active in developing effective countermeasures to the constantly evolving threat posed by chemical and biological weapons. To help develop effective medical countermeasures and to test systems, we produce very small quantities of chemical and biological agents. They are stored securely and disposed of safely when they are no longer required.”
As for the supposed missing phial of the virus, a Porton Down spokesperson said: “We have never worked on foot-and-mouth.”
But that is not a denial that phials of the virus were stored there – or that one went missing.
The government answered Professor Dower’s questions in writing. Lord Whitty said in the House of Lords that he had given the Northumberland County Council inquiry “substantial” information and “replied to specific questions from the inquiry chair, Professor Dower”.
The exact information given by the government remains unknown to me, almost 20 years later.
Back in 2001, I worked as the rural affairs editor of a regional group of newspapers. In that role, I was fully involved in the coverage of the disease, its handling and the politics involved. That experience leads me to believe that the foot-and-mouth outbreak did originate from a laboratory, not from contaminated pig swill as the government claimed.
And so, from the combination of my experience and knowledge of the UK outbreak, I tend to believe President Trump – on this occasion.
The fact that Wuhan, where the virus first took hold, is home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology creates a significant possible source.
It opened in 2015 and is mainland China’s first biosafety level 4 (BSL–4) laboratory, meaning it is intended for work with agents that could easily be transmitted through the air, cause potentially fatal disease in humans and for which no available vaccines or treatments have yet been created.
It’s important to emphasise that my stance is not accusatory. On the balance of available evidence, I don’t believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is intentional – rather, that it was released accidentally.
However, accidents still require explanations. As nearly 4 million confirmed cases of the virus are reported worldwide, there is too much at stake here to leave any stone unturned.
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Please note that being born in the UK, all my posts, are written using British English spelling.
Centre not center (except in names, Centers of Disease Control) Colour not color Diarrhoea not diarrhea Haematology not hematology Haematopoietic not hematopoietic
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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. More recently, he was a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.
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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Ian is not a doctor, so cannot and does not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely his own unless otherwise stated.