President Donald Trump has suggested that he has seen evidence that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese laboratory.
Dr Joshua Moon, research fellow in sustainability research methods in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said:
“President Trump’s comments strike at the heart of issues inherent in the US and global responses to covid-19. Firstly, the claim is false. However, more importantly Trump’s comments undermine trust in the US Government. This lack of trust between people and their governments and between different world leaders has and will clearly negatively impacted responses to covid-19.
“In the first instance, Trump’s erratic and unreliable behaviour makes predicting policy support much more difficult. This not only affects the ability for responders to be assured of resources in the midst of a crisis, but has reduced the trust that resources would also be made available for preparedness too.
“On top of this, the outlandish claims that President Trump makes completely undermines the authority of the US Government in communicating science advice effectively to the public. This has a hugely detrimental impact on national responses. We’ve seen before, in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, what fear, a lack of government trust and an epidemic can lead to; riots and a heavily hindered response.
“Second, Trump’s comments and actions around China and the WHO during this outbreak signal a US which is abdicating its role in the international community. When building a global response to a pandemic, countries around the world look to one another to control the disease within their borders to stop international spread.
“If countries are unable to trust one another to contain the spread of the disease, then we will see hoarding of PPE, ‘races’ for vaccines, and competition between countries for resources that will harm the most vulnerable populations.”
Dr Jennifer Cole, Associate Fellow, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, said:
“Whenever there is a new disease outbreak, be it AIDS, Ebola, Zika or now SARS-Cov2, there are always conspiracy theories about deliberate bioengineering or laboratory escapes, and a jump to apportion ‘blame’ for the disease. There is often particularly a push to point the finger of blame at actors with whom the accuser has existing tensions: political rivals, for example. Since the beginning of the outbreak, scientists have been very clear to explain the scientific reasons why the virus that causes COVID19 does not look to have had a laboratory origin, but is instead much more likely to be a very unfortunate but natural event. Articles in scientific publications such as Nature have explained this, as has a response by the Director of the US National Institutes of Health.
“It is important to note that as soon as Trump made his comment, it was counteracted by the US intelligence services – in an almost unprecedented move – who have been reported as being under immense pressure to come to a conclusion the scientific community does not support. Trump has continued to call the disease ‘The Chinese virus’ against WHO recommendations that using the name of the location where cases originated is racist and inflammatory while his advisors, scientists and US intelligence chiefs continually play down the likelihood of a laboratory origin – whether bioengineered or an accidental leak of a natural virus.
“The danger in his approach is that it very hard to prove a negative – if there is evidence that the virus was ever present in the Wuhan laboratory, which as far as we know is not the case, it would ‘prove’ Trump’s claim. While there continues to be no such evidence, Trump seems to be using this vacuum to fill the gap with the narrative that best suits his political position – that China is somehow responsible for the disease and the deaths it is causing, and is covering up its culpability. This is a dangerous political precedent that does nothing to support the international cooperation that is needed at this time to deal with the pandemic as best we can.”
Prof Brendan Wren, Professor of Medical Microbiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:
“Having been to Wuhan a number of times and having had infectious disease researchers from Wuhan working in my labs in London I don’t believe that there have been any deliberate or nefarious activities with the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Wuhan is an advanced city of over 10 million population with excellent state-of-the-art infectious disease facilities. It is generally accepted that the virus has mutated naturally and it has been very difficult to contain within the human community. It should be noted that pandemics occur throughout history and indeed we have them every year. These include other viruses and bacteria, for example antibiotic resistant bacteria that we know through human activities, such as travel, spread rapidly worldwide. Pandemics happen naturally and it is unnecessary to invoke a conspiracy theory.”
Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said:
“We have good evidence from the genomics research that the virus is not man-made, and the scientific world has very much moved on from this idea. It is unhelpful for high-profile individuals to repeat the debunked conspiracy theories, as it undermines the public health response.
“For relevant genomics research, see for example – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0820-9, and specifically their quote – ‘Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.’”
All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink: www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19
Prof Brendan Wren: None