Time was when a popular history of our modern world would begin: “In Sarajevo, a fatal shot from a Serbian nationalist rang out, killing the Archduke Ferdinand…”
Future histories of the 21stcentury will no doubt open with: “In a Wuhan wet market, a bat shat on a pangolin..”
No, really. It’s been reported from the beginning that the Chinese don’t eat bats, at least not in Wuhan. And that the bats in Wuhan are the wrong sort of bats. The virus comes from a horseshoe bat, which lives hundreds of miles away, and is only found in Wuhan in a secure laboratory… And there are no pangolins in Wuhan, because selling pangolins is illegal in China, and severely punished, and anyway they’re the devil to hide in a market, even a wet one:
– “What’s that beast you’ve got there sir? It wouldn’t be pangolin by any chance?”
– “No officer, it’s a giant badger.”
– “Badger? It’s got scales.”
– “Nah. It’s having a bad hair day..”
Nigh to the Wuhan wet market, where pangolini and the right sort of bat have never been known to coexist, is a biological warfare research laboratory where the right sort of bat virus may or may not exist, but where the right sort of bat virus researcher certainly does, beavering away researching viruses, ably aided by Western NGOs like the EcoHealth Alliance, of which more later.
Suggesting that a virus generally admitted to have been derived from a bat might possibly have escaped from one of the very few establishments in the world where bat viruses are being studied, which happens to be a few kilometres from where the virus was first identified, has long been treated as a sign of tinfoil hat bonkerdom. Mark Lynas includes it among his ten great conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, thus demonstrating that he has no idea of what a conspiracy is.
No-one in the world has ever suggested that Chinese scientists conspired to release a virus from a lab. Sometimes things happen, without anyone conspiring to make them happen. Only conspiracy theorists like Mark Lynas think that the fact that people think that something might have happened is a sign that they are conspiring to construct a conspiracy theory about it.
A scientific paper from a team of Indian scientists suggesting that the virus had man-made features was published and suddenly retracted. ZeroHedge was banned from Twitter for propagating false news for merely reporting the existence of the theory of an accidental escape of the virus. Now Mike Pompeo, US secretary of State, and Richard Dearlove, ex-head of the British secret service, are suggesting precisely the same thing, and what was once a batshit crazy conspiracy theory has suddenly become an official possible explanation. What’s going on?
There are conspiracy theories surrounding the current pandemic of course, for instance that the numerous papers trashing the effectiveness of chloroquine and its derivatives as a prophylactic have been instigated and financed by Big Pharma to protect their future profits from the invention of a vaccine. But these theories are so obviously true that they hardly deserve comment, except insofar as belief in a true conspiracy is still evidence that you are a tinfoil-hatted paranoid incapable of rational thought, according to the definitive research of Professor Lewandowsky.
So let’s consider a real conspiracy theory, one which fulfils all Professor Lewandowsky’s conditions of bonkerdom, and examine what evidence it has going for it. It’s one I invented myself when the pandemic first started, and which has since received support from Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry.
It is that the virus was concocted by members of the Western establishment, and deliberately planted in Wuhan to weaken the Chinese economy and the influence of China in the world, in order to save the West from an otherwise inevitable decline due to the coming crash of Western economies, whose arrival was semi-officially announced in September 2019 by the Fed’s panic intervention in the overnight repo markets.
According to one of the world’s top experts in conspiracy theory, Professor Lance de Haven-Smith, the way to evaluate the truth of a conspiracy theory is to proceed as would a policeman investigating a crime – identify the prime suspect, and observe his behaviour.
Take, for instance, the murder of John Kennedy. Forget the grassy knoll and the incapacity of the myopic prime suspect Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot a rabbit at five feet with a crap rifle and ask yourself: “who profits from the crime?” Obviously, Vice President Johnson. And what did he do following the murder? Steal the corpse from the legal authorities at the Texas morgue and bundle it into the back of his jet, where he left it and its widow for an hour or two while he got himself sworn in as President of the United States. Case solved.
Let’s apply the same logic to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. Who stood to benefit from the lockdown of the Chinese economy and the consequent economic chaos provoked by the outbreak of the epidemic? Obviously, the West, scared shitless that China would inevitably displace the USA as prime world power in the near future, as it is already displacing the old colonial powers in Asia and Africa as the main source of investment and political influence. So who started the pandemic? The evidence points to the Western powers.
When I first concocted this theory, it seemed to me to suffer from two major defects:
- It is not at all clear how Western agents could spread a virus in the middle of China, right by a biological research laboratory which could be blamed as the source. How would you get such a lethal product through Chinese customs, and then distribute it? It took two colonels in the Russian secret service to poison five people in Salisbury, according to British investigators. How many Western spies would it take to poison millions of Chinese, and how likely would it be that they could move through a wet market, batting off bats and patting pangolins, without being noticed?
2. Surely the conspirators must have realised that the West would suffer as much as China as the epidemic inevitably spread? Who, in the West would be willing to inflict such suffering on their own populations? What would be the point?
Considering these two objections, instead of obeying Lewandowsky’s Law of Self-Sealing and interpreting evidence against as evidence for, as I should have, I accepted that the objections were solid, and dropped my conspiracy theory as unworkable.
Then, funnily enough, events and Google searches provided answers to both insuperable objections, and my theory suddenly became as self-sealed as an Extinction Rebel’s bottom superglued to the floor of the Shell Building.
1) It turned out that in late October 2019, just before the outbreak of the pandemic, the World military games had been held in Wuhan, with participants from more than a hundred countries. Suddenly, the problem of how an agent might smuggle a dose of bad bat juice into central China was solved. In a soldier’s hockey stick, for example. Suddenly, the idea of Western spies slipping a sample virus into a wet market seemed thoroughly plausible.
2) However, there was still the “cui bono?” argument. Who in the West could possibly wish for the inevitably disastrous economic and political fall-out from the spread of the virus, let alone the deaths and suffering of the population?
To which one can oppose the “cui malo?” argument, [translation: “what’s not to like?”] OK, many people died, but they were mostly elderly. In most countries, the authorities took action to protect their population as best they could. Some screwed up, including Iran, whose failure to kowtow to US policies is just another sign of their unrealistic take on the world and general incompetence. And Italy, which hasn’t done much of note in the past few months except to be the only EU country to sign up to the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, much to the dismay of their NATO partners. Perhaps the biro they signed the Sino-Italian accord with was infected.
Furthermore, in most countries the survivors tended to increase their support for the government in place. In most countries, but not all. What western leaders saw their popularity fall because of the coronavirus? Only Trump and Johnson. Who in the West could possibly wish ill of the US President who has sworn to drain the swamp and withdraw US troops from foreign engagements? Or of the popular newly-elected British Prime Minister leading Britain out of Europe?
If it was precisely the US and the UK, rated by the WHO as the two countries best prepared to face a pandemic, who showed themselves, by their infection and mortality rates, to be the most incompetent, well, there must be a reason. Cummings’ flight to Durham? Trump’s insistence on taking a drug which millions of Africans have been using as a prophylactic against viruses for decades, with no ill effects? Probably.
There are objections to this theory, of course. What evidence is there that the West has obtained any advantage over China from the pandemic? Very little. But what advantage did Lyndon Johnson or the CIA obtain from the murder of Kennedy? None. They went on to kill 50,000 Americans in Vietnam, and lose the war. Conspiracies rarely achieve their long-term ends. But neither do regular non-conspiratorial political actions.
But if the West has obtained no advantage over China, but rather the opposite, it can be argued that Trump and Boris Johnson have obtained political advantage over their opponents. However much of a shambles Brexit turns out to be, it can be blamed on the virus. And the collapse of the Western economies made inevitable by ten years of fantasy economics can be blamed on the virus, and partly compensated for by even more insane monetary policies, in time for the November election. The leaders of the USA and UK may have obtained some advantage, but their bumbling suggests a grasp on events somewhat less than Machiavellian, almost as if they were playing some child’s playground game: “O’Grady says do this.” “Now do this.” Ooops.
But who, in that case, is O’Grady? Let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Let’s leave the “cui bono” argument as undecided, and turn to the details of what happened.
According to Dimitar Dilkoff at Web24 News
Fencing Olympic champion Matteo Tagliariol already suspects the military world games held in Wuhan, China last October, as a hotspot of the corona pandemic. “When we arrived in Wuhan, we were all sick. All six people in my apartment were sick, including many athletes from other delegations,” the 37-year-old Italian told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. “I had a severe cough, many other athletes had a fever,” said Tagliariol, who won gold in epee fencing in Beijing in 2008. The worst awaited him when he returned to Italy.
“I had a very high fever and could not breathe. Antibiotics did not help either. I was sick and very weak for three weeks. Then my two-year-old son Leo fell ill. He coughed for three weeks. My partner also got sick, but in When I started talking about the virus, I thought: I was infected. I recognized the symptoms of COVID 19.
According to L’Equipe, French pentathlete Elodie Clouvel and Valentin Belaud are also likely to have been infected at the Wuhan games.
And from the Daily Mirror:
Fears members of the French Army could have been infected with covid-19 back in October after competing at the World Military Games, have been called “completely plausible”, by an infectious disease expert. The French Army has denied any of its athletes were contaminated at the event held in Wuhan, China, which has since been declared as the epicentre of the pandemic.
This revelation came after it was discovered that a Frenchman, Amirouche Hammar, 43, had been infected with the coronavirus in the Paris region as early as December 27. French media reported that investigations into the origins of the coronavirus revealed there is a possibility it emerged in Wuhan as early as October 2019 when the games took place.
According to French news channel BFMTV, a number of athletes returned to France with unusual symptoms, including fevers and body aches. The news channel says none of the returning athletes were tested and the French Army, who were responsible for organising their athletes at the military games, reportedly confirmed that they had not wanted to test any athletes either.
However, when news began to emerge of an epidemic in Wuhan, many athletes on a WhatsApp group reportedly began to openly wonder if it was possible that they had contracted the disease too.
Now that it has been revealed that Amirouche Hammar in France had the coronavirus back in December, closer attention is being paid to what these athletes have said. Local media notes that Elodie Clouvel, a world champion modern pentathlete, was asked on local TV channel Television Loire 7 on March 25, if she was worried about the prospect of potentially having to spend the summer in Japan for the Olympics.
She replied: “No because I think that with Valentin [her partner] we have already had the coronavirus, well the covid-19.” The 31-year-old added: “We were in Wuhan for the World Military Games at the end of October. And afterwards, we all fell ill. Valentin missed three days of training. Me, I was sick too. I had things I had never had before. We weren’t particularly worried because no one was talking about it yet.”
Local media report that since she spoke up on March 25, many athletes have been asked not to answer questions from journalists and to refer media enquiries to the head of communication of the French armies. According to French media, athletes who were in Wuhan reportedly received telephone calls from the army a few weeks ago to reassure them. One of these athletes, who remains anonymous, is quoted as saying: “We were told, there is no risk, you left on October 28, and the virus arrived on November 1.”
French media report that sick athletes were also noted in some other delegations, including the Swedish delegation, with people returning to Sweden with strong fevers. But some athletes are sceptical, with Aloise Ratornaz, silver medallist in sailing, telling Ouest-France: “I do not think there were any significant risks of being infected. We lived in isolation during these world games. We had a whole village just for the athletes. We had a restaurant for the athletes where all the food was completely filtered, controlled, in a completely sanitised atmosphere.”
Professor Eric Caumes, an infectious and tropical disease specialist at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris, said the theory that athletes participating in the World Military Games in Wuhan were contaminated with covid-19 is “completely plausible”.
Despite the French army strenuously contesting the allegations, prof Caumes has subsequently been quoted in French media as saying that “the characteristics of the illness and the symptoms that have been described” by the athletes “make one think that it is covid-19. You saw that in France, we had our first official case end January. Then a few days ago, we realised that the first French case actually appeared at the end of December at the Bondy hospital. And we will no doubt find other cases from December. So I’m not very surprised that exactly the same thing happened in Wuhan. The first official case was identified in late December in China. But in fact, it is entirely possible that the virus was already circulating in the background, and that cases actually appeared in the preceding four to six weeks, or even eight weeks.”
Say what you like about the Daily Mirror, l’Équipe, Ouest-France and Corriere della Sera, they can hardly be accused of being spokespersons for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. They are popular newspapers which report the things their journalists find out. I tested the ability of “serious” British newspapers to do the same on this subject by entering the same search terms as I had used to find the two references quoted above – “Wuhan” and “military games” – at the Guardian – the only serious paper available free on-line. It turned up just one hit – which didn’t mention the military games (but did have the word “military.”)
The article, by Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, is devoted to countering conspiracy theories about Covid 19, including “the idea that Chinese scientists deliberately released the virus,” which no-one except the author, Mark Lynas, and a few hundred other eco-journalists has ever contemplated.
Contrary to the idea that Chinese scientists deliberately released the virus, existing patterns of infection suggest that the wide spread of Covid-19 was a question of when, not if. Only a handful of people work on bat coronaviruses in labs in China, and they wear masks and gloves so as not to contaminate their laboratories. In 2018, we conducted a pilot survey of people living in rural Yunnan province and found nearly 3% had antibodies for bat coronaviruses. Expanding this data to cover the densely populated area in southeast Asia where there are bats known to harbour coronaviruses, we can safely estimate that between one and seven million people are infected with bat coronaviruses each year.
Unfortunately, this sort of logic will not deter conspiracy theorists. The dark power of the internet means that anyone, anywhere, can find evidence to echo even the most outlandish of claims… Such conspiracies play to our most base instincts and paranoias – fears that dissolve logic and reason. The details of how this virus emerged naturally are far less exciting. They’re about how humans and animals have interacted for millennia, now at an unprecedented rate. They’re about how human domination of the world’s ecosystems as we encroach on animal habitats is opening new pathways for viruses, once hidden in the depths of the forest, to be transmitted to humans.
The Guardian has apparently never mentioned the Wuhan military games, or the dozens of athletes from at least three European countries who reported Covid-19-like symptoms in Wuhan in October 2019. They prefer to give space to the president of EcoHealth Alliance to talk about “how human domination of the world’s ecosystems” is revealing “things once hidden in the depths of the forest.” Batty things revealed by his peer-reviewed research, and nothing to do with “the dark power of the internet.”
The Guardian doesn’t have journalists who find out things by reading around and talking to people. They’re more rigorous than that, more disciplined – more military – one might almost say. They leave publishing stuff found out by journalists to popular (populist, one might almost say) papers like the Mirror and l’Équipe. And when their NGO-chief/part-time journalist opines on conspiracy theories, the Guardian provides a link to a serious fact-checking site on the (dark?) internet. And woe betide any popular (or populist) journalist who might cast doubt on the Guardian and its NGO chums, because the Guardian has friends, and influence, and fact-checking sites on their side.
Comment is Fact-free, for Facts are Scarce – and for populists.