~The behavior of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has drawn diligent research and studies to focus on the risks of bioterrorism~
The resurgence of COVID-19 globally in October and November 2020 has revived questions on whether biological weapons define the future of warfare, and if their use would render conventional and nuclear forces obsolete. According to latest figures, 1.64 million COVID-19 deaths have been registered globally.
The pandemic, which originated and epicentered in China, has destabilized global economies. World poverty and hunger have reached unprecedentedly disturbing levels, thus highlighting a socio-economic impact more devastating than the pandemic itself.
COVID-19’s Genetic Mutations
One aspect that contributes to the resurgence of the novel coronavirus in autumn is its picking up alterations to its genetic sequence since it was first reported by China in late 2019.
One mutation near the beginning of the pandemic has apparently helped the virus to spread easily from person to person, and thus render this pandemic nearly impossible to stop all through 2020. This mutation is known as 614G, and was first spotted in eastern China in January 2020. From there, it spread globally.
According to research by the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory, the 614G variant probably evolved the ability to infect people more efficiently and rapidly as compared to the original variant detected in Wuhan. According to geneticists at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona, “[It] could be that this mutation is what made the pandemic.”
The original variant spotted in Wuhan in late 2019 was already highly contagious, but the 614G mutation appears to have made the pandemic spread further and faster since then.
Origins of COVID-19
The first known case of COVID-19 came in September 2019. However, the disease was reported by China to the United Nation much later. China withheld detailed and complete information as well as news of the COVID-19 virus from reaching other countries — or even the U.N.
Chinese authorities reportedly allowed press reporters into the Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory in August 2020. This appears to be a belated attempt to disprove theories that the COVID-19 virus originated in the Wuhan lab, as the world was increasingly tilting towards believing. However, this move, almost a year since the first cases began being reported in Wuhan, was very little, and too late.
China is yet to come clean on how this virus originated. No data has been shared publicly.
Understanding the origins of the COVID-19 virus holds the key to preventing another pandemic. The WHO accepts that it has had assurances from China that an international field trip to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 virus is likely to take place “soon.” There are ample questions being raised about the delay. There should be a timeline set up for this experts’ visit that seeks to look at results and verify the data on ground.
Perhaps, the most important question is: Will reliable evidence still be available in Wuhan?
Lack of Transparency About a Global Crisis
If China is — as it espouses — fully transparent about the virus, why is it not forthcoming to an independent international inquiry into the origins and spread of the virus?
More importantly, any lack of transparency in naming the international members could dangerously undermine this panel’s findings.
The experience and fallout of COVID-19 will not be forgotten in history. The behavior of the virus has drawn diligent research and studies to focus on the risks of bioterrorism. It has also put a spotlight on potential biological threats, which should be a top priority, including testing and deploying systems needed to prevent such attacks.
Sanctions, which are an option, often are a multilateral effort. However, certain states have legal provisions to impose sanctions.
The United States, for instance, has the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991. Section 307 directs the U.S. President to stop “foreign assistance, arms sales and licenses, credits, guarantees, and certain exports” to the governments of states that have “used or made substantial preparation to use chemical or biological weapons.” Penalties could include both criminal and administrative sanctions, such as imposing new and tougher tariffs, non-tariff barriers, relocation of manufacturing, and multiple other policy decisions.
India’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health has come out with a key report in November 2020 titled “The Outbreak of Pandemic COVID-19 and its Management,” which states:
The adverse effects of COVID-19 pandemic have taught the lesson on the importance of controlling biological agents and the need for strategic partnerships among different nations. The committee, therefore, feels that the present time is the most appropriate for the government to formulate effective laws to counter bioterrorism.
The report further suggests that the health ministry should engage with agencies and actively participate in ongoing international treaties: “The committee strongly recommends the Ministry to conduct more research and work towards training and capacity building for management of public health emergencies arising from the use of bio-weapons.”
While COVID-19 has forced the human race to put on masks, let it not allow masking the reality of the origins, passage, and thought behind this virulent epidemic that has slaughtered 1.64 million lives.
Author: Monika Chansoria
Dr. Monika Chansoria is a senior fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The Japan Institute of International Affairs or any other organization with which the author is affiliated.