Truth, lies, and pandemics

by Alison Broinowski

(Image: Unsplash) Are we being lied to about the origins of the pandemic?
Even in the days when people used to read TIME to stay informed, it was always worth applying the home-base test. If the magazine got facts about where you lived wrong, what else in the magazine could you believe? In Pearls & Irritations (27 July) Nury Vittachi provided insights from a Twitter post people in Hong Kong the times responded to a question posted as to when they stopped trusting Western media’s ‘constant lies’.
But it’s not just the media that lie, and not only in the West either. Governments lie, If Stone used pithily to tell his students. On matters of life and death, are governments or the media any more truthful? Not if the pandemic and chemical and biological weapons research are indicators. They are connected by a long history of secretiveness, politics, and vested interests.
For two years, media reports focussed on the virus to the exclusion of much else. Many of us patiently accepted that lockdowns, isolation, vaccinations, masks, and tests were necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. But they didn’t, because as some predicted, the virus mutated faster than vaccines could eliminate it. So the Australian authorities, Federal and State, having spent billions on quarantine, tests and vaccines, subsidies for employers and employees, interest on debt, and on vaccinating 95 per cent of us (again and again), gave up.
The result is what governments feared: record numbers are infected and die, education and tourism suffer, inflation rises, and the medical system can’t cope. Infections have almost tripled from 17 per cent of the population since late February, Kirby Institute researchers found. Nearly half of all adults in Australia had caught Covid-19 by early June 2022. A million Americans had died. Meanwhile the multinational pharmaceutical industry and some investors made record profits, and trust in governments eroded. In South Australia and Federally, the virus partly cost them elections.
As for research, Science now reports the unsurprising result of an investigation of the origins of COVID-19. Members of an 18-person panel, which included a recently decorated Australian, Edward Holmes of Sydney University, are known for favouring the ‘natural origin’ explanation. Professor Holmes and his colleague at Fudan University in Shanghai are convinced that virtually every virus affecting humans comes direct from some animal. The latest report links cases of SARS2 found in locations inside or near the markets in Wuhan to ‘susceptible’ wild animals sold there in November or December 2019.
How it got to these intermediate hosts is another matter. Bats have long been suspected as virus originators, which is why work on them by Dr Shi Zhengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) led to suspicions that COVID-19 escaped from WIV’s high-security lab. After that, its relevant database was taken down. As well, COVID-19 symptoms were found in workers at WIV.
The research panel’s benign explanation in Science, which favours the WHO mission’s 2021 report, won’t satisfy those who, like Trump and Pompeo when in office, blamed Chinese institutions for the pandemic. The Trump Administration focused on the WIV as the source of contagion, citing the Gain of Function (GOF) research done there.
To achieve GOF, scientists enable a virus to infect humans, or specific human populations. A Senior US State Department official in 2021 told Sharri Markson that in the US itself, the Army had been ‘deeply involved in virus research for many years’ (What Really Happened in Wuhan, 2021). When Obama’s 2015 ban on GOF was lifted in 2017, Americans with an interest celebrated being back in business, particularly Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NAIAD) and Dr Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, who later told the National Institutes of Health (NIH) how happy they were ‘that our Gain of Function research funding pause has been lifted’. Daszak’s grant was cancelled in April 2020 but reinstated with increased funding in July.
SARS 2 has a long history, even before SARS, MERS, and HIV. The unique furin cleavage site in SARS2 makes it an efficient invader of human cells. It can only be created in a laboratory, and the precursor virus RaTG13, found in 2013 by WIV’s Dr Shi in bats, didn’t have it. In 2021, Nicholas Wade argued in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that laboratory manipulation had occurred. He revealed that Professor Holmes and two colleagues agreed, emailing their group in February 2020 that SARS2 had features which ‘look engineered’w engineered’. But within days they retracted this in favour of origins in nature.
As Katherine Eban showed in Vanity Fair in 2021, Daszak and Fauci and their colleagues supported the natural origin orthodoxy while suppressing opinions about GOF. Fauci, who controlled millions in research funding, later expressed ambivalence about the origins of COVID-19, but continued to deny that NIAID was funding GOF in China.
An American observer wrote recently, ‘While there’s no smoking gun that answers where SARS-CoV-2 originated, there’s a whole lot of evidence showing that some very powerful people have worked quite hard to shape public opinion and suppress information that runs counter to their natural-origin hypothesis’.