The world needs a lockdown on politicizing COVID-19 origin-tracing

By Mohammad Saiyedul Islam (People's Daily Online) 16:57, October 08, 2021

Firemen disinfect a wetland park in Xiamen, southeast China's Fujian Province, Oct. 5, 2021. Outdoor public places in Xiamen started to reopen from Oct. 5, as the results of the sixth round of citywide nucleic acid testing all came out negative. (Photo by Ye Yiheng/Xinhua)

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most serious issues has been the origins of COVID-19. Normally, it takes many years to resolve this kind of scientific question. However, some Western politicians have been fanning the flames by politicizing the origin tracing of COVID-19 and slandering China.

The US has apparently spared no effort to continue politicizing the issue. According to a White House statement released on May 26, US President Joe Biden directed the country’s intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough inquiry into COVID-19 origin-tracing. On the eve of the G7 summit, on June 10, Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a joint statement indicating that the US and the UK support the work plan for the second phase of the investigation into the origins of COVID-19 (the plan) that was circulated by the WHO secretariat. During the NATO summit that took place on June 14 and 15, the organization, led by the US, also issued a joint statement which claimed that its members would support the plan.

The WHO-China joint study report on the origins of COVID-19 was officially released on March 30 by the WHO. It concluded that a laboratory leak from a Chinese lab was extremely unlikely. Moreover, researchers were to continue looking for possible early cases in a range of places around the world, and learn more about the cold chain and frozen food link. This investigative report provided a scientific and authoritative set of results that were to serve as the foundation for future worldwide origin-tracing efforts.

At the very beginning of the outbreak, the US government ignored the warnings issued by China and the WHO. It missed the ideal time horizon for implementing epidemic prevention and control measures. When the epidemic spread to the US, the country’s leaders deliberately referred to the new unknown virus as the "Chinese virus" or the "Wuhan virus", and launched a public relations campaign directed against China.

The "laboratory leak theory" was proposed by former US President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others. Afterwards, the Biden administration not only maintained the outgoing Trump administration's anti-China strategy, but has even gone further to continue building on top of that original foundation. The US failed to fight the epidemic on its own accord and became the country with the largest number of infections and deaths worldwide, which was an approach that was truly tantamount to “America First”. Unfortunately, in the face of the rebound of the pandemic and its negative impacts, the focus of the US is still not squarely on the prevention and control of the global pandemic, but instead relies on continuing to play the blame game against China.

Government officials, experts, and scholars from many countries all around the world have expressed their disapproval of the efforts to politicize COVID-19 origin-tracing as put forward by some US politicians. They urged that the international community should unite together to fight against the pandemic and oppose the stigmatization, labeling, and politicization of the virus. They underscored that viruses are a common adversary of all of humankind. Furthermore, research on COVID-19 origin-tracing should be conducted in a scientific and objective manner.

Margareth Dalcomo, a researcher at Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, said that politicizing COVID-19 origin-tracing is neither scientific nor helpful for the origin-tracing process. It is actually more like perpetuating a conspiracy theory rather than engaging in sound science. Politicization will further hinder the prevention and control of epidemic diseases as such an approach creates a greater sense of insecurity in public opinion.

Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University in the US, has pointed out in an article published on July 26 that the true purpose of COVID-19 origin-tracing should be to prevent future pandemics on the basis of international cooperation. In other words, COVID-19 origin-tracing should not be regarded as a geopolitical issue.

At a briefing on COVID-19 origin-tracing for diplomatic envoys on August 13, 2021, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu noted that more than 70 nations had recently expressed support for the WHO-China joint study report and opposed politicizing origin-tracing after submitting letters to the WHO Director-General. More than 30 nations have expressed opposition to or reservations in response to the WHO Secretariat's plan. Over 300 political parties, social groups, and think tanks from over 100 countries and regions signed a Joint Statement delivered to the WHO Secretariat, urging the WHO to undertake COVID-19 origin-tracing research objectively, equitably, and without politicizing the process. Having made use of a variety of methods to get their message across, groups, professionals, researchers, and media agencies from different countries around the world have stated their opposition to politicizing the COVID-19 origin-tracing process.

The international community’s attitude towards this incident is very clear. It supports the WHO-China joint study report. Political manipulation is unpopular in the face of truth, science, and justice. The international community has also shown its concern regarding the Fort Detrick biological laboratory in the US, which was abruptly closed in July 2019, before the onward spread of COVID-19. The Fort Detrick biological laboratory was shut down when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a cease and desist order. Since then, relevant US departments refused to release more information on the grounds of national security concerns.

Obviously, if COVID-19 origin-tracing is to be effectively promoted, the Fort Detrick biological laboratory must be included in the list of targets for further international investigation. However, the US has remained silent up until now. Chinese netizens recently began a large-scale joint signature campaign, urging the WHO to examine the Fort Detrick biological facility. The joint petition saw the participation of more than 25 million people.

The US has blatantly ignored the scientific conclusions of the WHO-China joint study report on COVID-19 origin-tracing and has launched a campaign against China based on a "presumption of guilt". The political calculations behind such maneuvers are clear.

The process for conducting COVID-19 origin-tracing requires solid scientific evidence. Virus tracing is solely a scientific endeavor. We need to give scientists more time to figure out where the COVID-19 virus came from. We, as laypeople, are unable to determine whether the COVID-19 virus originated from abnormal conditions generated in a laboratory setting; or channels found in nature associated with animal-to-human transmission. Hence, attempts to politicize scientific issues will surely cause great harm. We will only get closer to the truth when results from scientific studies continue to emerge after resolving many of the remaining puzzles. We hope that all parties will respect facts and science on face value.

So, please stop seeking out ways to engage in political manipulation for the sake of narrow self-interest at this critical moment in time. Otherwise, the truth about the origins of COVID-19 may remain forever shrouded in mystery.

The opinions expressed in the article reflect those of the author, and not necessarily those of People's Daily Online.

The writer is a Doctoral Fellow with the School of International Trade and Economics at the Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, and a Bangladeshi journalist based in China. 

(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)


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