The Less Known, the More Certain
Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 3, 2021
It is unlikely that yet another inconclusive report on the origins of the covid pandemic will satisfy anyone, meaning that we will continue to ask these questions into the air for an eternity — rather than focusing on preventive measures.
We may as well recognize that lack of agreement on the disease origins will echo through U.S. elections next year, as if an American political party is somehow responsible for hiding any belief that the pandemic was man-made in a Chinese lab. In that regard, we’ll be hearing and re-hearing an entire slate of irrelevant debates that seek to pin domestic partisan responsibility for any number of international and natural disasters.
Even among more pressing matters, we will be hearing mostly Republican calls for immediate hearings in Congress on covid origins that essentially will provide a stage for anti-Chinese haranguing and calls for the Biden administration to punish China more aggressively — none of which really will answer the questions about how covid started or what to do about it.
If you want to vote for a Republican Congress majority based on this report that says China is not sharing enough information to allow us to reach a conclusion, so be it. No fact is going to sway your vote. If you care whether covid came out of an errant test-tube or arose in the animal world, release of this week’s government review is not particularly going to help.
The Unclassified Report
The unclassified version of the Joe Biden-ordered review of what is known by U.S. intelligence agencies is now available. It’s short and easy to understand: Basically, it says that U.S. intelligence agencies, and information from allies, remain split about the origins, but believe China’s leaders did not know about the virus before the start of the global pandemic.
In summary, four agencies say with low confidence that the virus was initially transmitted from an animal to a human, while a fifth believes with moderate confidence that the first human infection was linked to a lab. Analysts do not believe the virus was developed as a bioweapon. Everyone agrees that China’s refusal tocooperate fully by providing scientific information is intentionally troublesome. China “continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information, and blame other countries including the United States.”
Clearly, the origin remains a public health and security concern worldwide, among other things for clues about how to stop future related diseases, though the far bigger issue continues to be what to do about the current spread. Among Republican leaders, it is far easier to blame China for developing the disease than deal with mandates for vaccines and masks and helping to literally inoculate their populations.
The call for personal liberty from mandates is simply, um, masking a spiraling rise in covid cases, and is spreading far more confusion than necessary for young students, parents, small businesses.
Most scientists, meanwhile, continue to believe that the disease mostly likely arose in the animal world, specifically among bats in that region in China, before infecting other animals whose meat was sold in “wet markets” in Wuhan. Again, what is missing are clinical samples and data from the earliest cases of covid.
Biden in May ordered a 90-day review of what the White House said was an initial finding leading to “two likely scenarios”: an animal-to-human transmission or a lab leak. The White House said then that two agencies in the 18-member intelligence community leaned toward the hypothesis of a transmission in nature and another agency leaned toward a lab leak.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday did not identify which agencies supported either hypothesis. But it noted some of the same hurdles facing the World Health Organization and scientists worldwide — a lack of clinical samples and data from the earliest cases of COVID-19. Beijing’s cooperation would most likely be needed to make further progress, the office said.
In conducting the review, intelligence agencies consulted with allied nations and experts outside of government. An epidemiologist was brought into the National Intelligence Council, a group of senior experts that consults the head of the intelligence community.
So, where does this leave us, as covid cases continue to rise almost exclusively among the unvaccinated, hospitals are again overwhelmed, and we’re already talking about booster shots that look to be endless as covid mutations likely become a permanent feature of modern life?
It seems a sure bet that we will hear calls for yet more investigations, including by the World Health Organization, even as they demand confrontations between China and the rest of the world. After all, if we knew the origins and whatever information that carried, we might be in a better position to control the disease, say people who do this for a living. And we’ll hear plenty of Chinese pushback that will get increasingly muscular alongside unrelated aggressiveness in military, economic and strategic policies.
Among those who don’t do science for a living, certainty is far easier to find on both covid origins and the inability of Team Biden to force China’s cooperation (as if Donald Trump could or did). Here is House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.: “There is no mystery: Overwhelming evidence indicates the covid-19 virus originated in the Wuhan lab in China. The failure of the Biden administration to reach a definitive conclusion on the origins of covid-19 shows this was not a serious, objective effort.”
Trump continues to make public claims that the virus leaked from the Wuhan, and Democrats insist that Trump simply seeks to evade responsibility for mismanaging the response.
A Politico-Harvard poll last month found that 59 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats say they believe the virus emerged from a lab. Who needs facts?
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., who this month convened a bipartisan briefing on the origins with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, noted that there are 15 inquiries into Jan 6, but none on covid origins.
Maybe the origins can be found in the American need to find partisan politics in virtually anything. Maybe we can take up hurricanes and wildfires next — as long as we don’t mention climate change caused by humans.