Truth and Lies in times of Coronavirus

I like to be the voice of reason and I feel so disappointed when I see unreasonable and unreliable information thrown around as nuggets of truth. In these times of uncertainty, people have a lot of questions and the internet is full of conspiracy theories and unvalidated information. Here is my attempt to demystify some of this information. I have consulted reliable sources but you are welcome to do your own due diligence.

Let’s focus today on the origins of Sars Cov-2 virus, shortened as Coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

Coronavirus

A picture of Coronavirus on the CDC website

Was Coronavirus synthesized in the lab in China?

No, Coronaviruses are not uncommon viruses. What is uncommon is the jumping over to humans. Scientists who have studied genome sequences of this novel Coronavirus are saying that the origins seem natural and not synthesized. Please don’t believe conspiracy theory websites that claim that China synthesized it as a Bioweapon. China has been badly affected by the virus itself.

Did Coronavirus escape a lab in Wuhan China?

Wuhan has a virology lab, which is Level-4 certified, the highest Biosafety certification where viruses like Ebola and Coronaviruses are studied for the benefit of humanity so that we can avoid such pandemics. It is possible that lax lab standards could have lead to the virus escaping the lab. However, even if that happened, it was still not synthesized in the lab.

Who should be blamed for this problem?

The lion’s share of the blame goes to China (the country, it’s Government and not the Chinese people in general, it’s very important to maintain this distinction and not move into any Xenophobic territory). If the virus jumped over from bats to Pangolin (or some other animal) and then to humans in the Wuhan wet markets, then China’s practice of wildlife farming is to be blamed. If it escaped the Wuhan lab, even then the lax policies at the lab are to be blamed. 

What are other reasons China deserves some blame?

There is absolutely no doubt about it that China was extremely slow and not fully transparent about the outbreak. It does deserve blame for not being forthright and leaving the World in the dark and unprepared.

What were the safety concerns at the Wuhan lab?

The US officials, in 2018, during Trump’s presidency,  after visiting the Wuhan lab, sent back concerns to the US that the policies at the lab were lax and there were management issues. We don’t know if the US did anything about it.

Why does President Trump keep bringing up President Obama?

This one is easy.  He is probably looking for an escape goat. These virology labs in China were set up with Western help, France and United States, since China had the history of epidemics which could lead to Pandemics and the West wanted China to study this carefully to avoid future incidents. Just because the labs had received research grant money in 2015 (during Obama’s presidency)  from the US, President Trump thought of an ingenious idea of blaming President Obama ahead of time so that if the 2018 safety reports come into the picture (as mentioned above), he could say Obama funded it instead of saying I did not pay attention to the safety concerns! I am sure President Trump is working hard on fighting this virus but it doesn’t suit a US President to deflect blame to where it doesn’t belong.

Was US the first country to ban travel to and from China?

38 countries, which includes New Zealand,  did it around the same time or before the US. For eg. Italy’s ban on travel to China was more strict than the US ban and started before the US ban.  However, among the economically powerful G-20 countries, Italy and Australia were the only ones to do it before the US (good job USA). India’s and Indonesia’s travel ban to China went into effect along with the US.

Is US the worst hit country by this virus?

No. At the time of writing this, it is NOT. I made a video (which I have not shared with the public yet) on the numbers two weeks ago which will help you appreciate the per capita numbers better. Even today, USA is behind (behind is good here) at least 12 other countries when it comes to Deaths/million.  You can watch Understanding Coronavirus numbers.  US has tested 3.9 million people (population 330 million), which is the highest in the world but since it’s population is high as well, it’s lagging behind ~40 countries on tests/million. However, it has done much better than at least 150 other countries, when it comes to testing/million. Paying attention to number of cases is not very useful because that number is just a positively correlated function of number of tests.

Does it mean that we are out of danger in the US?

No. This is because we won’t be out of danger until a vaccine is available. All these precautions were taken to slow down the spread so that the medical system is not overwhelmed. Reopening the economy slowly, with a lot of precautions, testing and contact tracing is the way to go. The idea is to constrain the speed of the spread so that from today until the vaccine is available, even if we build herd immunity naturally (at the expense of a lot of deaths which is not preferable), the number of deaths will still be much lower than the number of deaths that would have occurred had we done nothing. This is because a lot of lives are unnecessarily lost when too many people need hospitalizations, ICUs and ventilators at the same time.

I hope this information was helpful and will help guide you in forming a coherent opinion on this topic instead of believing all the conspiracy theories you hear on both mainstream media and social media.

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