When Dr John Snow identified a Soho well as the source of a lethal cholera outbreak in London in 1854, he saved hundreds of lives and could have saved many more if public health officials had not obstinately insisted that the waterborne infection was spread by foul air. It was only twelve years later, when he was dead, that one of his fiercest opponents recognised that Snow had been right all along.
We should perhaps be grateful then that it has only taken a year and a half for establishment scientists and their media lapdogs to do a 180-degree volte-face on the origins of Covid-19. The proposition that the virus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory has suddenly gone from being a dangerous crackpot conspiracy theory, banned on Facebook, to a mainstream media talking point.
The policy pivot was set in motion by a letter written by 18 prominent scientists calling for a rigorous independent investigation of the origin of Covid-19 and stating that theories about a lab leak were ‘viable’. That had added strength given that in March Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said he backed the lab-leak theory. When journalists asked presidential adviser Dr Anthony Fauci for his views, he said he was ‘not convinced’ that Covid-19 had developed naturally and called for an open investigation into the virus’ origins. Even for Fauci, famous for his flip-flops ,this created a flap as he had repeatedly dismissed a lab leak as all but impossible.
Professor Ian Lipkin, the Columbia virologist who rose to fame for his work on the film Contagion, was one of the authors of a scientific paper on the origin of Covid that made the credulous claim that the authors did not believe that ‘any type of laboratory-based scenario’ was ‘plausible’. Lipkin now thinks a laboratory scenario is very plausible ever since he discovered that Wuhan virologists were doing dangerous research on viral pathogens in low-security labs. ‘That’s screwed up’, he told a former New York Times science reporter who also had a Damascene change of mind when it dawned on him that the Chinese government scientists might not be telling the world the whole truth.
As reporters realised that they may have backed the wrong horse, they did what they have done for the last four years and blamed Trump. Glen Kessler, the fact-checker at the Washington Post, complained that ‘the Trump administration’s messaging was often accompanied by anti-Chinese rhetoric that made it easier for skeptics to ignore its claims’.
Yet journalists went much further than simply ‘ignoring’ the facts. Politifact’s fact-checkers said the lab-leak theory was ‘ridiculous’ and rated it ‘pants on fire’. The Washington Post attacked Republican Senator Tom Cotton for peddling a ‘fringe conspiracy theory’ which National Public Radio claimed had already been ‘debunked’. Cotton tweeted wryly this week, ‘One lesson for the media is that self-interested denials from the Chinese Communist Party do not equal “debunking”’.
Trump resurfaced this week to claim vindication but what his appearance underlined was how much the landscape has changed since his departure. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have vacated the stage and what remains is a wasteland hollowed out by lockdowns. Bricks-and-mortar businesses have been decimated, the ranks of the unemployed have swollen but Amazon more than tripled its profits to $8.1 billion in the first quarter of 2021, revenue for Alphabet – Google’s parent company – soared to US$55 billion in the first quarter of this year and at Apple, profits for the quarter surged to $23 billion, more than double the same period a year ago period.
China was the only major economy to grow last year. Beijing overtook New York as the city with the most billionaires – 100 versus 99. An extra 200 billionaires were created in China last year and six of the world’s top ten cities with the highest concentration of billionaires are now in China. Indeed, if this trajectory continues China could overtake the US to become the world’s largest economy by 2028.
The pandemic had a platinum lining for the Covid billionaires, 40 people whose combined wealth soared to almost US$80 billion, and who made their money predominantly in vaccines, PPE, testing and healthcare services. The CEOs of Moderna and BioNTech, Pfizer’s vaccine partner, sit at the top, worth more than US$8 billion combined, but China’s communists with capitalist characteristics have not done shabbily. Indeed, of the 40, almost half are Chinese – 14 are from China, one from Hong Kong and four Chinese Canadians. Of the rest, nine are Americans, four from India, three from Germany and one each from Canada, France, Italy, Japan and Spain.
Flush with cash, China has used the pandemic to offer half a billion doses of its Covid vaccines to 45 countries, although always with plenty of strings attached such as de-recognition of Taiwan or the purchase of Huawei technology. In addition, the quality has been no better than the other shoddy pandemic products with which it flooded global markets.
Yet President Biden said early this month that he wants to waive intellectual property protections on vaccines –one area in which the West has excelled, to allow poorer countries, such as China, to produce vaccines. It’s hard to imagine a more damaging proposition. Western vaccines are far from perfect, with significant safety issues still to resolve, but they appear to be far more effective at reducing infections than their Chinese counterparts. Waiving intellectual property rights will not speed up the supply of vaccines, since the limiting factor is raw materials, but it will reduce their efficacy. There is no doubt that China will ruthlessly exploit the advantage the waiver offers and disregard any conditions attached. It will greatly advance the sophistication of its biotech industry and enhance its capacity to wage biological warfare.
Why would Biden adopt a policy so inimical to the US and Western interests? A left-wing desire to be generous with someone else’s money and punish the profitable? The lure of Chinese lucre? (Biden’s son still has a 10 per cent stake in a Chinese private equity firm worth US$2 billion and co-owned by the state-controlled Bank of China. The whole point of such deals is to buy influence.) For the last 15 months, the media, blinded by its hatred of Trump, has adopted a narrative that greatly helped China. Let’s hope that with their new-found insight they prompt Biden not to put the West last.
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