More than a century later, we still do not know the origin of the Spanish flu, with at least three currently scientifically supported origins out there: North America (possibly Kansas), China, and British soldiers in France. This will not be resolved. I suspect that this may become the outcome of the current debate over the origin of our current pandemic. While mostly this seems to have become a matter of random infection from animals versus an accident in a lab in Wuhan, upon further study this seems more complicated on all sides of this, with crucial data missing forever. I fear the outcome of this debate will be no more resolved a century from now than the matter of the Spanish flu is now.
I also note before proceeding further that this discussion has become highly politically charged, with some regular readers here having strong views on this. I want to be as careful and clear in my further discussion here as possible, withot getting dragged into the hot politics that indeed are adhering to this matter.
Upfront I shall take off from two columns in the Washington Post, 4/24/20, one by David Ignatius and the other, just below it, by Josh Rogin, both on this issue. Given firewalls and all that, I shall indulge by quoting extensively from both of their columns:
Ignatius’s is titled, “China puts even the truth on lock down.” I follow with selected quotes:
“Top scientists I contacted over the past week were skeptical about theories that are spinning about deliberate Chinese attempts to engineer the toxic virus. But many said it’s possible that a pathogen that was being studied by researchers in Wuhan could have leaked accidentally from two virology labs there, setting off the chain of infection.”
“Chinese researchers did some careful research in January and February, when the virus was spreading. But research was subsequently tightly controlled, and in at least one case with scientists in Guangzhou, suppresed.”
“The recent commotion about conspiracy theories comes partly from an unpublished paper by several maverick European scientists that was privately circulated last week. The authors argued that covid-19 was a ‘purposefully manipulated’ virus created partly through ‘gain of function’ research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. A 2015 paper by Chinese and American scientists had described such an effort to enhance the potential infectivity of the bat coronoviruses so they could be studied and treated better.
Both U.S. and British intelligence analysts are skeptical that covid-19 resulted from deliberate human engineering. The claims about ‘engineered origins’ in the paper were ‘not substantiated’ by British government scientists, a British official told me. U.S. intelligence analysts are also confident that the virus wasn’t created in a laboratory, but they haven’t ruled out the possibility that a natural organic virus that was enhanced for scientific reasons may have leaked accidentally in Wuhan.”
Just below Ignatius’s column is the one by Josh Rogin entitled, “The risks of collaboration with China.” Following are selected quotations from it:
“The Chinese government won’t share actual virus samples from the earliest cases. The Shanghai lab first released the coronaviurs genome was shut down for ‘rectification.’ All research on the virus origin in China is now restricted. Critics have disappeared.”
“Jonna Mazet , professor of epidemiology at the University of California at Davis, was director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s $200 million Predict program, which spent 10 years trying to anticipate the next viral pandemic, before the Trump administration cut almost all of its funding last September. Shi [lead scientist at Wuhan Virology Institute handling bat coronovirus research] was Predict’s principal investigator in China.
Mazet told me she did not believe it was likely the coronavirus escaped the Wuhan lab, but she acknowledged, ‘Absolutely, accidents can happen.'”
So there we have the argument that it might have come from a lab in Wuhan, of which there are two, the other being the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention. with most of the claims of an accidental source for the world coming from the other lab, WIV.
The main alternative to the above (which absolutely does not include any claim that it was bio-weapon consciously cooked by the Chinese govt as some, such as Sen. Cotton have claimed, a view now accepted by no one outside the US) is that it came from animals directly to humans, not from a lab.
I am not an expert on the underlining science of this, but there are several serious possible sources for an ultimately animal rather than accidental lab, source of this pandemic. There are several possible alternatives here, and while now most think an animal source is it, the disagreement and uncertainty over just which of these is ir is striking. I see at least three theories, of all which have problems,
1) It came from snakes, either as the original source or as an intermediate transmitter from bats in Yunnan, a southwestern province of China, several hundred miles from Wuhan, with at least two Chinese candiates out there, the kral and cobra. Something supporting this theory is that snakes may have been sold at the Hunan Seafood Market in Wuhan, the definite site of the major original outburst of the virus in late 2019. As of now this theory does not have much support, but…
2) It came from pangolins, not bats or snakes.The snake theory dates back to January, but the pangolin theory has more recent academic support, if not yet accepted in a peer-reviewed journal, More Evidence Suggests Pangolins . While that was a fairly recent serious scientific report, it has convinced near nobody among serious scientists. This theoy has not been generally accepted among most relevant scientist, although it is possible that either snakes or pangolins might have been intermediate species from bats. For the possible theory that pangolins were not the originators but the transmitters from bats, it is an unresolved debate over whether or not pangolins were sold in the Hunan wet market of Wuhan, with the weight of current eviidence leaning to they were not.
3) That it ultimately came from horseshoe bats in caves in Yunnan province, several hundred miles south of Wuhan, is probably the most widely accepted theory. It is accepted that bats were not sold im the wet market of Wuhan. So if the mutation that created this virus happened in those bats rather than in one of the labs in Wuhan only 300 yards from the notorious wet market, shut down and scrubbed on Jan. 1.
4) It may not have come out of the wet market in Wuhan. Of the first 41 identified cases, 13 of them were not from there, with exactly where the earliest officially recognized case on Nov. 17 was precisely from remains a state secret of the the Peoples’ Republic of China.
5) Both Ignatius and Rogin, and a vast number of others think that what should happen is that the US and China should stop playing games with each other and be fully open about relevant information, which they should share with the whole world.