The Covid pandemic: broadening the discourse
Posted on November 11th, 2020

By ASOKA BANDARAGE Courtesy Asian Times

It is time for a more balanced way of living that respects the environment and upholds bioregionalism

Technicians prepare for large-scale production of the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222. Photo: AFP / Vincenzo Pinto

SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, has been spreading exponentially across the world over the last 10 or so months. More than a third of the global population has been placed on lockdown. The global economy is experiencing the deepest recession since World War II and massive numbers of people are losing their livelihoods and suffering serious effects on their physical and mental health.

The pandemic has allowed states and corporations to tighten technological surveillance and authoritarianism, curtailing privacy and democratic protest. As virulent second and even third waves of the pandemic speed across countries, people are gripped with fear and despair over their own survival and what the future holds for humanity.

The origin and prevention of the virus are mired in controversy and conflict between conventional and conspiracy” theories. This unprecedented, multifaceted global crisis, however, calls for deeper exploration and broader discourse on its causes and long-term solutions. Biomedical science, social science and ecological and ethical perspectives need to be integrated to overcome this pandemic as well as other pandemics predicted in the years ahead.

Controversy over origin and prevention

Given the lack of media coverage, there is scarce public awareness of the likely laboratory origins of previous pandemics like the H1N1 outbreak of 1977-78. Scientific and media establishments attribute the origin of Covid-19 to an animal-to-human (zoonotic) transmission at a seafood market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

While US intelligence sources also originally asserted this, they conceded in March 2020 that the pandemic may have originated in a leak from the lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.

The Wuhan Institute is linked to the US Army’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which does research and testing involving bats and coronaviruses and gene-editing bioweapons.” The Wuhan Institute also has a close, decades-old partnership with the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Maryland, the leading US military laboratory for biological defense” research. USAMRID is known for periodic shutdowns due to its problematic record on safety procedures.

Gain-of-function research (GOF) involves manipulating viruses in the lab to explore their potential for infecting humans.” This type of research is criticized by many scientists on ethical grounds because of the risks GOF viruses pose for human health from accidental release.

Because of public health concerns, in October 2014, the US government banned all federal funding for efforts to weaponize three viruses: influenza, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). In the face of this ban in the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), reportedly outsourced in 2015 the GOF research on bat coronaviruses to China’s Wuhan lab and licensed the lab to continue receiving US government funding.”

In early 2018, US Embassy officials in China raised concerns about inadequate safety” at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. US science diplomats warned that, in part because of a lack of adequate safety personnel, the research that the lab was conducting in relation to bats represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.” Yet action was not taken and despite the controversies, Dr Fauci was appointed as the leading doctor in the US Coronavirus Task Force and continues to function in that position.

Hollywood films like 2011’s Contagion presented eerie premonitions of the Covid-19. In 2015, billionaire and global-population-control proponent Bill Gates warned of a huge threat of a global pandemic. A pandemic simulation called Event 201 was conducted in October 2019 by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Economic Forum projected up to 65 million deaths due to a coronavirus.

However, the biomedical, political and business leaders who were well aware of the impending Covid pandemic did not take the precautionary action needed to safeguard people. The United States, Europe and other regions found themselves without adequate testing kits, respirators, hospital beds and medical personnel when the virus started to spread.

A failure of leadership lies behind the massive destruction of human life, livelihoods and social life that we are experiencing today.

Controversy over mitigation

While lockdowns, curfews and the isolation of entire communities and regions seem to be the norm, the effectiveness of this approach and its enormous negative consequences on the economy, society and mental health are coming into question. The success of the mainstream approach depends on a host of local socio-economic factors, such as the age of the population, health infrastructure, leadership, and mobilization of people, as well as just, uniform and compassionate enforcement of preventive measures.

Double standards in enforcing Covid health protocols can contribute to resentment and weaken overall conformity jeopardizing the health and safety of entire populations. Apparently, under strict guidelines in Australia, some individuals have been prevented from visiting dying family members while at the same time VIPs and celebrities have been exempt from strict quarantine measures.

Likewise, in Sri Lanka, high-powered delegations from China and the United States (the latter led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo) arrived in the midst of the worsening second wave in October, seemingly forgoing national Covid guidelines.

Many countries in the Global South such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Senegal and Rwanda have contained the pandemic more successfully than the United States and the rich European countries. As of November 1, Rwanda and Senegal reported 0.28 and 2.04 Covid deaths per 100,000 people respectively, whereas the corresponding number for the US was a staggering 70.4.

The vast majority of those infected recover easily and only the elderly and those with other pre-existing illnesses are the most vulnerable. As of November 6, of the total confirmed 49,195,581 cases, 32,368,883 had recovered. Given this reality, many epidemiologists are suggesting focused protection” of the most vulnerable groups, allowing the rest of the population to develop herd immunity,” the point at which the majority of a population becomes immune and limits the spread to those that are not immune.

Sweden is the leading example of a country that went against the global norm of mandatory lockdowns, social distancing and use of face masks. Sweden experienced a much higher numbers of cases and deaths than its Scandinavian neighbors during the first wave of the pandemic.

However, Sweden has had relatively fewer deaths during the current second wave while other Scandinavian and European countries that imposed strict lockdowns early in the pandemic are facing massive spikes in infections and deaths. Given the relative failures of the mainstream lockdown approach and its negative socio-economic and psychological impacts, alternative long-term approaches like that of Sweden warrant consideration.

A report in May from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in the US suggested that the Covid-19 outbreak will not end until 60% to 70% of the human population becomes immune to the virus, which could take anywhere from 18 to 24 months. Meanwhile, many virologists and global leaders argue that the only way to eradicate the virus would be with a vaccine delivered to every human being as quickly as possible.

2 Responses to “The Covid pandemic: broadening the discourse”

  1. aloy Says:

    The writer is trying to compare the effect of Covid-19 on two different sets of people: the Africans vs all others. I have lived in Africa for some time and have come across some strange practices for which there seems to a rational basis. Some of them deliberately remove the permanently sick people like those suffering from Autism and various other phisical disabilities etc at their young age itself. They take them to the jungle and make them disappear. Then they deliberately expose their children to measles. They say the young ones become strong to fight deceases when they get measles where as westerners give their children vaccines against measles. Perhaps this sort of thing give them autism.

    It appears that the John Hopkins uni of US (mother of all medical colleges?) has quite recently come out with a rational view of the Covid-19 and is the same sort of thing our Tissa sir has ben trying to explain. According to them, this virus is a material (in-animate) and its behaviour can be gleaned from that fact. However they have not attributed the periodic behaviour of that material such as emergence of a pandemic exactly in every 100 years.

    It is well known that large volumes of cosmic material/rays bombards our atmosphere and things like ozone layer cut off some of them while others pass through us each second. For example they say billions of neutrinos pass through our heads each second. Perhaps every hundred years either these are blocked or more are reaching our earth either making it possible for these materials to multiply in living organism or cut off others that blocks them.

    What ever it is, it seems to me that we Sri Lankans are having advantage over others and it is up to our leaders to take advantage out of it for the benefit of the entire nation, but not for them only.

  2. aloy Says:

    Sorry even to suggest that other medical colleges follow John Hopkins; it is only one of the top five according to Wikipedia.
    However, they seem to have found that Covid-19 is a protein.

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