‘It Just Get Crazy’: How the Origins of Covid Became a Toxic US Political Debate corona virus

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wWhite House official John Kirby, standing at the podium where Donald Trump once railed against the “Chinese virus” and praised the healing powers of bleach, faces questions Monday about the origins of Covid-19 Did. He had no choice but to be humble. “There is still no consensus within the US government on how exactly Covid started,” Kirby accepted, “There just isn’t an intelligence community consensus.”

The renewed interest in a genuine scientific mystery followed a report in the Wall Street Journal that the US Department of Energy had determined the coronavirus most likely leaked by accident from a Chinese laboratory.

This startling assessment had a solid foundation: According to the Washington Post, it was based on an analysis conducted by experts at the national laboratory complex, including the “Z-Division,” which is considered to be some of the most secretive of the US government and closely guarded by adversaries such as China and Russia. Technically challenging investigation of security threats.

But the claim was not officially confirmed by the Department of Energy or Kirby, and it came with a caveat: The department had “low confidence” in its assessment, which the White House and some members of Congress provided. It was, the Journal said.

Still, gleeful Republicans seized on the findings to claim confirmation in their pursuit of the lab leak theory, triggering a new round of toxic debate in Washington and on social media.

opponents say that Still no solid evidence As for a lab leak, many scientists still believe the virus probably came from animals, mutated and jumped to people. They note that even the most vehement champions of the lab leak hypothesis are often also smuggling in right-wing conspiracy theories, for example about top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.

But it is not necessary that both go together. Some scientists and other observers argue that the lab leak theory cannot be ruled out and should be set aside from the racist propaganda that often accompanies it. It demands careful scrutiny, not permanent dismissal or acceptance, they contend.,

It is the latest chapter in a protracted battle over the origins of a virus that has killed close to 7m worldwide, stifling efforts to pursue a neutral, fact-based investigation. In its strongly opinionated, blue v red certainty and lack of specifics, the melee echoes pandemic clashes over lockdowns, masks and vaccines, as well as the investigation into Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia.

Bill Galston, a former policy advisor to Bill Clinton, said: “Isn’t it like everything else in American politics, where a partisan position on one side invites a partisan response by the other? There is something that can be called reactive thinking. Charges without basis invite reactions without basis.”

Calling for a public hearing on the matter, Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, warned: “If it is not removed from the crucible of political debate now, it will only get worse.”

Bleach runs out of stock at a Walmart in Alexandria, Virginia, on March 12, 2020. Photograph: Sean Thew/EPA

Studies by experts around the world have indicated that COVID-19 most likely emerged from a live animal market in Wuhan, China. The hypothesis that it resulted from an accidental laboratory leak was initially dismissed by most public health experts and government officials.

In February 2020, The Lancet The medical journal published a statement signed by 27 scientists rejecting the lab leak theory and expressing “solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China”. It stressed: “We stand together in strongly condemning conspiracy theories that suggest Covid-19 does not have a natural origin.” (The magazine later revealed that the organizer of the letter had ties to the Wuhan lab at the center of the controversy.)

That the lab leak theory was being pushed by Trump, who played down the virus at length and used xenophobic language such as the “China virus”, and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, spurred some people’s instincts to dismiss the hypothesis. Curiosity may have contributed. – and to ostracize scientists who question mainstream orthodoxy.

“From the outset, the lab leak theory was not properly formulated and parsed,” David Relman, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, wrote in an email. “The hypothesis of a lab-linked origin has become synonymous with deliberate attempts to engineer viruses and malevolent intent, and it has not been helpful. Emotions, assumptions about motives, obstruction by the Chinese government, and poor vetting of evidence have only made things worse. made worse.”

Jackson Lears, a history professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, echoed this view: ,People who consider themselves Democratic Party sympathizers and liberals have turned themselves against it. It was a kind of lockstep reaction against Trump, as has been the case in so many cases.

An investigation into the lab leak hypothesis began after Joe Biden ordered an intelligence investigation in May 2021. The 90-day review was intended to prompt US intelligence agencies to gather more information and review the information they already had.

But the review proved inconclusive. A report summary said that four members of the US intelligence community believed with low confidence that the virus was first transmitted from an animal to a human, and a fifth believed with moderate confidence that the first human infection was linked to a laboratory . The two agencies – including the CIA – are undecided.

Without the equivalent of a special counsel delivering a final report, the White House is left in a haze of uncertainty that satisfies no one. Lears commented: “There should have been a more carefully orchestrated investigation, more centralized, more high profile, with more legitimacy. Splitting this up and into multiple agencies is just a way of screwing up the whole situation.”

Others agree that the multiple investigations give Biden a political headache, especially at a time of rising tensions with China over trade, Taiwan, Ukraine and most recently a spy balloon that crossed US airspace In.

Laurie Garrett, a columnist for Foreign Policy magazine who spent time in China during the SARS outbreak, observing how animal markets operated, said: “The president said, ‘I want the relevant agencies in the government to Take a close look at it. Well, every agency has its own prism, its own skill set.

“In the UK if you asked the Home Office, MI5, the Metropolitan Police, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the British Medical Association to take a look, you would get seven different answers and this is the position the Biden administration has created. to get. By trying to silence all the outcry and knee-jerk right-wing Republicans on this, they have essentially opened a Pandora’s box because every single agency has a different way of looking at the problem.

Several scientists, including Fauci, who served as Biden’s chief medical adviser until December, say they still believe the virus most likely emerged in nature and jumped from animals to humans, an established phenomenon known as the spillover phenomenon. is referred to as. But reports of dissent in the intelligence community will give enough oxygen to those who are skeptical, well-intentioned or otherwise.

Jeremy Kondyk, president of Refugees International and former USAID chief official for COVID-19, compares a rorschach test, He said: “The preferences you come up with are going to shape a lot of how you interpret the evidence, because ultimately, the evidence may suggest one way or the other, but it’s going to be positive one way or the other.” Not sure.

“If you want to create a narrative that justifies the lab leak theory, you can do that. If you want to create a narrative that justifies a natural origin, natural spillover, market amplification theory , So you can do that. Certainly not enough on either side to rule in or out.

But that doesn’t make them equally admirable, Konyndyk said. “The preponderance of evidence points strongly to a natural spillover occurring in the market and certainly amplified.” Konyndyk notes how the online debate about the issue has turned toxic, with proponents of the lab leak issuing death threats to scientists. “There has been some really irresponsible behavior and They’re not trying to turn down the temperature,

“This has inspired very strong views from some of the more vocal people who believe in the natural origin theory as they are attacking Twitter with a larger and larger army of trolls. It’s just gotten crazier.,

Earlier this month, Republicans in the House of Representatives released letters to documents and testimony from current and former Biden administration officials, exploring the hypothesis of a lab leak. Congressman Brad Weinstrup, chairman of the House Oversight Panel’s virus subcommittee, has accused US intelligence of withholding key facts about its investigation.

Garrett, author of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, said: “My concern about where we are right now with this whole Wuhan origin question is that several very serious, real issues are intertwined. And they are being manipulated for political purposes by people who don’t understand the issues at all and don’t care.

“What we’re not hearing in these congressional hearings is that this is what we should be doing to strengthen the chemical, biological warfare pacts and make laboratory research safer in the world. No one is saying that. They couldn’t care less. It They don’t have an agenda. Their agenda is to tear down a man who was seen on camera at a live press conference holding his face and nodding as President Trump said, ‘Maybe Bleach cures Kovid.,

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