Monday, May 10, 2021
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Covid – the cock-ups and the cover-ups

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NEARLY two hundred years ago the Times acquired a reputation as ‘The Thunderer’. That mantle today belongs to Lord Sumption, one of a tiny handful of commentators consistently calling out ruinous decisions surrounding Covid-19. 

From ‘Sage’s garbage Covid models’ to a government ‘treating us like caged animals or inert specimens in some ghastly sociological laboratory’, the former Supreme Court judge says we have jeopardised ‘our mental health, our social organisation, our leisure activities and our economy’. 

Here’s a hypothetical question. 

Suppose we had no armies of geneticists, virologists, microbiologists, track and trace experts, psychologists, vaccine czars, publicists, ‘nudge’ artists and politicians to tell us about SARS-COV-2, but just knew we were suffering a bad year or two from a very nasty infection doing the rounds: would the world have been worse off?

Spikes in deaths would have taken us by surprise, but they would have come and gone. Minus the panic, we wouldn’t have been rushing so many of the frail and elderly into – and out of – hospital, spreading infection along the way, and condemning care home residents to months of utter loneliness as well as swathes of deaths. 

If instead of mortgaging our futures on vaccines we had provided nutritional supplements, social support, and sunshine for those most vulnerable, the burden of disease might well have been less.     

And life would have gone on without lockdown-induced increases in domestic abuse, suicide, drug deaths and government debt. Cancer and heart patients, dental patients – everyone – would have been able to continue to take their place alongside others in need of health care. 

There would have been no mask mandates, no epidemic of fear. Businesses and schools would have remained open. Contrary to what the Prime Minister wishes to believe, study after study has shown that while lockdowns may postpone loss of life from Covid-19, they don’t prevent it. 

Truly, as Jonathan Sumption wrote, ‘Human beings are social animals. Interaction with other people is not a luxury. It is a basic human need. It is also the foundation of our mental health, our social organisation, our leisure activities and our economy.’  

The ministers and scientists responsible for flouting this basic need have seemed deaf to entreaties to change course. That is despite expert appeals such as the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), signed at time of writing by 13,985 medical and public health scientists, 42,519 medical practitioners, and 778,427 ‘concerned citizens’, calling for an end to Covid-19 lockdowns because of their devastating effects on public health. They are ‘the biggest public health mistake we’ve ever made . . . The harm to people is catastrophic’, says GBD co-author Dr Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford University Medical School in the USA.

This raises another question. Most governments globally, not just in the UK, pressed the ‘self-destruct’ lockdown button causing such havoc, and in many cases continue to do so. The fear is near-universal. How, and why, did that come about? 

In the absence of any authoritative explanation, conspiracy theories abound. Some see an elite group of technocrats, backed by big money, as having planned a viral outbreak and associated propaganda to fulfil long-held dreams of global control, and even population reduction. Others blame the Chinese Communist Party, seeing Covid-19 as part of a successful plot to destabilise the world. 

As a veteran medical correspondent, experience leads me to favour cock-up over conspiracy. That was certainly the case with the ‘HIV’/AIDS theory which I covered in the 1980s and 90s, and the baseless idea that a new, lethal, sexually transmitted disease was surreptitiously putting at risk the entire sexually active population. It took decades before the World Health Organisation finally admitted that was not the case. Even today the BBC, in particular, seems to regard it as its duty to try to keep the virus theory alive.

But with SARS-COV-2, one single and simple explanation for its arrival among us, and the hysteria surrounding it, stares us in the face:

This is at root a naturally occurring animal virus, genetically engineered at the research laboratory in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, to see what changes might make it more of a threat to humans. The intentions were good: the work was part of an international effort to counter the threat of a pandemic of animal origin. But the ‘chimeric’ virus produced as a result escaped accidentally, sparking a wildfire of panic locally which then spread globally. 

Once alerted to the threat, authorities around the world believed the worst as outbreaks occurred in country after country, so they brought in policies aimed at defending their populations. 

Despite many lives lost, the pandemic turned out to be less severe than anticipated. But governments and their advisers have been slow to change tack accordingly, and continued scientific failings lie at the root of these shortcomings. 

Leading scientific and medical journals such as Nature and the Lancet, despite their generally well-earned reputations for reliability, have let us down badly in their coverage of the pandemic. They have uncritically published reports which supported Chinese governmental authorities in promoting the idea that the virus ‘jumped’ from a wild animal and had nothing to do with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Examples are hereherehere and here

With the reputation of science itself at stake, journals are not alone in throwing up a cloud of confusion around the issue. The World Health Organisation has been one of the biggest offenders. In a high-profile report, its investigators absurdly gave more credibility to a theory that the virus arrived in China in frozen food from abroad than that it leaked from WIV.

The Wall Street Journal  succinctly dismissed the report as a whitewash, heavily influenced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and by western members of the WHO team with conflicts of interest. 

These conflicts include long-term involvement with the laboratory itself. WIV became a focal point for international coronavirus research after a 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak, and received millions of US taxpayer dollars, including from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) headed by the powerful Dr Anthony Fauci. 

Also see here. 

Commendably, despite Dr Fauci’s involvement, the US Government has been forthright in refusing to take CCP accounts at face value.  In mid-January, just before the end of the Trump presidency, the State Department issued a ‘fact sheet’ in which it declared: ‘For more than a year, the CCP has systematically prevented a transparent and thorough investigation of the Covid-19 pandemic origin, choosing instead to devote enormous resources to deceit and disinformation . . . Nearly two million people have died. Their families deserve to know the truth. Only through transparency can we learn what caused this pandemic and how to prevent the next one.’

Among the facts presented:

·       Starting in at least 2016, WIV researchers experimented with a bat coronavirus identified in January 2020 as closest to SARS-COV-2.  The virus was sampled from a cave in Yunnan Province in 2013 after several miners died of SARS-like illness.  

·       WIV altered and then removed online records of its work with this virus. 

·       WIV researchers became sick in autumn 2019 with symptoms consistent with Covid-19, as well as common seasonal illnesses, despite assurances to the contrary by senior staff. 

·       The CCP blocked independent journalists, investigators and global health authorities from interviewing WIV researchers, including those who had been ill.  

·       Accidental infections in labs have caused several previous virus outbreaks in China and elsewhere.

·       Despite presenting itself as a civilian institution, the WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017. 

US Right To Know, a non-profit research group focused on promoting transparency for public health, has gone further, challenging the validity of four studies by Chinese government-supported scientists – one of them published by Nature – promoting the idea that the virus came from a wild animal.  

The group has also documented embarrassing links between Dr Fauci’s NIAID and a project begun in 2019 at the Wuhan lab to investigate how bat coronaviruses could mutate to attack humans. The project description refers to experimentally enhancing the ability of bat coronavirus to infect laboratory animals and human cells. 

Apart from a bold Mail on Sunday investigation by Ian Birrell into ‘all the mounting evidence’ of a WIV leak, UK media and indeed intelligence agencies – in contrast to the US – have been remarkably quiet on the issue.

Could this be because of a ‘cover-up of epic proportions’, as Birrell put it, that, if proven, would have huge consequences not just for the Chinese Communist Party, but for the global practice of science?

The US Government’s January statement declared: ‘The CCP’s deadly obsession with secrecy and control comes at the expense of public health in China and around the world.’ 

Let’s hope a similar obsession has not been exported, along with the virus, to infect our own institutional protections against such secrecy and control, including a functioning Parliament, independent media, and researchers free of government interference. 

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Neville Hodgkinson
Neville Hodgkinson is a former medical and science correspondent at the Sunday Times and the author of AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science, published in 1996 by Fourth Estate.

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