India had finally shaken off its hesitation in joining others in demanding thorough investigation into the origin of the virus. This time the demand is direct, unlike last year when 62 countries moved a resolution in World Health Assembly, the apex organ of WHO to study the origin and implications of Covid-19 virus on the lives and economies in the world. Then, neither Wuhan nor China was mentioned. Now, the investigation may require China to give access to Wuhan laboratory, its records and employees etc.
The Resolution last year suggested that the Director General of WHO should contact the World Organisation of Animal Health to conduct scientific and collaborative field missions and identify the zoonotic source of the virus and its entry into humans including the possible role of intermediate hosts. The WHO came out with its report in March 2021. It suggested that the virus came from the bat to humans via other animals. It is ‘extremely unlikely’ that the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology accidentally.
The needle of suspicion points towards the lab-origin of the virus as Beijing has been withholding facts, and diverting attention. Initially, for a couple of weeks, it did not share the nature and extent of the infection in Wuhan area. At the same time, Beijing blamed USA and Italy for spreading the virus, and said they were the first sites of the infection.
Furthermore, ridiculously, the Chinese Academy of Sciences conjectured that the SARS-COV-2 virus may have originated in India in the summer of 2019. There was acute water scarcity in the Indian Sub-continent which would have led the monkeys’ fight amongst themselves. Due to the unhygienic conditions and poor sanitations existing in this part of the world, the virus from the monkeys would have come to humans and infected others in an undetected state.
However, 13 countries led by the US had disregarded the WHO Report of 30 March done at the behest of Beijing as inconclusive and insufficient without using original data and samples in China. WHO Director General Dr Tedros himself admitted that his team had difficulties in accessing raw data. He added that “he did not believe that this assessment was extensive enough. Further data and studies would be needed to reach more robust conclusions.”
The statement was revealing as Tedros Adhanom, a Chinese nominee to this post made it implying that China was not transparent. These 13 counties asserted that there was need for a follow up investigation that was a “transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In the meantime, as the dust settled after the horrific shock of the virus wore off after the countries went through second and third waves etc., virologists and Intelligence personnel have come up with more circumstantial evidence as well as scientific elements that merit a comprehensive and transparent investigation. Two noted scientists Angus Dalgleish of the United Kingdom and Birger Sorensen of Norway have stated that the SARS-COV-2 had no credible natural ancestor and is most likely a lab-creation.
In the US, former President Donald Trump had been insisting that the virus originated in the Wuhan lab. A State Department factsheet released near the end of the Trump administration had said “the US government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
As many as 18 scientists, including one of Indian origin, Ravindra Gupta, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, and Jesse Bloom, who studies the evolution of viruses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, David Relman, Professor of microbiology at Stanford said, “more investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic and theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spill over both remain viable.”
They added, WHO’s investigation into the origins of the virus had not made a “balanced consideration” of the theory that it may have come from a laboratory incident. Director of Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Dr Rochelle Walensky also said in his Senate testimony that a lab-leak origin certainly was one possibility.
Armed with the above expert opinions, US President Joe Biden has ordered an enquiry on 26 May 2021 by the American Intelligence to give him a more comprehensive and definitive report on the origin of the virus. He has given them 90 days to complete the investigation. Biden said his Intelligence Committee (IC) has too coalesced around two scenarios on the origin of the virus, one from the animal, and another from the lab. But neither of them is conclusive. The President asked his IC to redouble their efforts and come up with a more robust and concrete finding.
The American leadership wants to get to the bottom of this issue, the origin of the virus as it is so far shrouded in suspicion and conjectures. White House Senior Covid Advisor Andy Slavitt said. “We need a completely transparent process from China, we need the WHO to assist in that matter, and we don’t feel like we have that now.” But will they ever get that cooperation from China? Beijing has been calling the call for investigation an act of vendetta, manipulation and diversion. The common sense perspective is if China has nothing to hide, why should it not open the WIV lab and the records?
Now the moot question is how far would New Delhi go in demanding accommodation of investigation and accountability for the findings, should the source of the virus turn out to be the laboratory? At the time of writing, Indian Foreign Minister is attending the virtual meeting of BRICS. I have argued in this column if BRICS will serve any meaningful purpose for India as Beijing and Moscow lean more towards Islamabad than Delhi? That apart, foreign policy experts would argue that the time has come for naming and shaming China on spreading the virus, which took 3.5 million people so far and destroyed the economies across the world.
New Delhi cannot hold back any more in regard to Beijing. The second wave was heart-wrenching and devastating killing over 0.3 million, the foreign press like NYT puts it at 1.6 million. The trauma and shock of people, including doctors, dying that India went through could not have been worse even in a war. Therefore, the Indian leadership owes it to its people to find out the truth about the origin of the virus and demand retributive action against the perpetrators of such a deadly crime.
Some say we should remain neutral and non-aligned as before as it is tug-of-war for supremacy between two big powers, USA and China. That is really political gobbledygook at its worst and diplomatic fantasy at its best. India must put an end to its prevarication on China and take positions. That is the call of the times and in its national interest.