Over 33 lakh people have succumbed to the coronavirus pandemic in the past year and a half, but the world is still awaiting conclusive answers to the all-important questions: Is Covid-19 a man-made bio-weapon? Did the virus leak accidentally from a lab in Wuhan? Or was there no human lapse at all? Was it just a case of transmission from animals to humans? Media reports referring to Chinese documents allegedly obtained by the US State Department have turned the spotlight on sinister possibilities. The papers written by Chinese military scientists and public health officers in 2015 describe SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronaviruses, of which Covid is an example, as presenting a ‘new era of genetic weapons’. According to the reports published in the Australian and British media, the People’s Liberation Army documents seem to fantasise that a bioweapon attack could cause the ‘enemy’s medical system to collapse’.
These ‘revelations’, predictably dismissed by China’s state-run Global Times newspaper as an attempt to tarnish the country’s image, have reignited the global clamour for getting to the bottom of the matter. It’s a pity that the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN nodal agency spearheading the fight against Covid-19, has not been able to bring us closer to the truth. A probe conducted by a team of experts from the WHO in Wuhan in January-February this year had dismissed as ‘unlikely’ the theory that the virus leaked from a lab. The investigation left a lot to be desired amid allegations that the Chinese authorities did not offer ‘full cooperation’ to the visiting contingent.
China, which again finds itself under intense international scrutiny, needs to do a lot of explaining for the whys and wherefores of the 2015 documents. The WHO, on its part, has to ensure that a thorough investigation is conducted, making it incumbent on the Chinese government to keep the proceedings transparent. Reeling under the second wave of the pandemic, India should push harder for ascertaining the truth and fixing responsibility. With the Union Health Minister heading the WHO’s Executive Board, India needs to use this platform effectively so that Covid-like catastrophes don’t recur.