Each time a new disease arises, and even more so when it becomes an epidemic or, as in the case of the Coronavirus infection caused by COVID-19, in a pandemic, the versions, hypotheses, theories and rumors that it is a biological weapon – intentionally used or accidentally disseminated from some dark laboratory – they run like wildfire.
In the last decades, it happened with the pandemic of the infection by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), causing the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and then with the so-called avian flu and swine flu. In all these cases, the most rigorous scientific investigations ruled out the possibility, although the beliefs remained active.
In the case of the Coronavirus, fear and uncertainty added to the vast amount of information that is circulating these days about the virus, part of it from unreliable sources, have been generating a breeding ground conducive to creating assumptions, conjectures, and conspiracy theories.
The nature of the coronavirus
Confusion regarding the cause of COVID-19 – often intentionally enhanced in the context of political and economic conflicts that have nothing to do with health – has expanded at the same rate as the pandemic, leading to the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn about the dangers of what has been defined as an “infodemic”, that is, a current of disinformation that is spreading faster than the virus itself.
Scientific research says something else about COVID-19 and has shown the natural origin of the virus that causes it, the Coronavirus. In a work published on March 20 by the prestigious journal Nature, an international team of scientists made it clear that the characteristics of the virus “rule out laboratory manipulation as the source” of the disease.
The authors of the publication point out two possible scenarios for the origin of the virus: In the first, the pathogen evolved to its current state, being transmitted between animal hosts before infecting patient zero; the other, instead, assumes that the coronavirus evolved directly in the human body before the outbreak began.
The surprising theories about the origin of the Coronavirus
Faced with the results of the research published in Nature and the statements of the Scientific Committee of the World Health Organization, one can find hypotheses and theories that speak contrarily.
The most relevant, due to the prestige of its proponent, is the one presented by Luc Montagnier, winner of the Nobel Prize for his work on HIV-AIDS but at the same time a highly controversial figure in the scientific community.
The French researcher maintains that the coronavirus
“was created. The virus has been tampered with: at least part, not all. There is a model, which is the classical virus, which comes mainly from bats, but to which HIV sequences have been added. In any case, it is not natural. It is the work of professionals, of molecular biologists. A very meticulous job. For what purpose? I don’t know.”
In this sense, there are those who insist that the virus came out of a Chinese laboratory, more precisely from the Microbiology Laboratory of Wuhan, the city where patient zero of the pandemic was detected.
Supporting that theory, the president of the Population Research Institute, Steven W. Mosher, wrote in The New York Post: “how many “microbiology labs” are there in China that handle ‘advanced viruses like the novel coronavirus”? It turns out that in all of China, there is only one. And this one is located in the Chinese city of Wuhan that just happens to be … the epicenter of the epidemic.”
The documentary “The origin of the Wuhan Coronavirus”, by the journalist Joshua Philipp, points in the same direction, in one part of which is based on the theory of the Chinese scientist Shi Zhengli, who has been working with synthetic viruses since 2015. According to Philipp, this research “strongly proves or supports the hypothesis that [the coronavirus causing COVID-19] could not have been generated in natural zoonotic transmission, but had to come from a hospital, laboratory setting, almost certainly biosecurity level 4 research facilities in Wuhan.”
Virology in political key
Most theories about the artificial origin of the Coronavirus can be read in the context of the growing confrontation between the United States and China on the economic and geopolitical sphere.
Just a few days ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again targeted China for the origin of the new coronavirus. “there is significant evidence that it came from a laboratory.” he told ABC Network about the Wuhan Laboratory. He added that China “did everything possible to ensure that the world did not find out in time. It was a classic communist disinformation effort.”
China’s response was immediate, though indirectly, in an editorial in the state-run Global Times newspaper. Since Pompeo said his claims are backed by ‘enormous evidence’, then he should present this supposed evidence to the world, and especially to the American public that he continually tries to deceive. The truth is that Pompeo has no evidence, “he said.
The belief that the COVID-19 could be a biological weapon is reinforced in the social imagination by the very history of humanity, throughout which there were armed conflicts in which “the plagues” were used as weapons of war.
Hittites and rabbit fever
The earliest record of a biological agent that was used to harm the enemy during a war comes from a series of Hittite texts dating back to around 1,500 years before Christ.
In these tablets, found in the ruins of Hattusa, it is related how, during the imperial expansion, people victims of tularemia, known as rabbit fever or wild hare fever, a disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, they were sent to the enemy lands to spread the disease to the locals.
It is the first documented biological weapon in history.
The Hittites’ (Israelite clan) innovative ingenuity in the art of war was not limited only to the use of a biological weapon. Around the same time, they invented the two-wheeled light combat tank. Its occupants fired arrows before loading, during which they used spears.
The Assyrian precedent
Although there are no documents to prove it, some historians maintain that a thousand years before the Hittites, the Assyrians, another Israelite clan, used a toxin, ergotamine, to contaminate the water wells where their enemies supplied themselves.
Ergotamine causes ergotism, a disease that many years later would be called San Antonio Fever or San Antonio fire, whose clinical picture begins with hallucinations, seizures, and contraction of the arteries. The victims begin to feel intense cold in the extremities, which soon turns into a burning sensation.
The picture leads to necrosis of the tissues, the appearance of gangrene, and intense abdominal pain. If the affected person does not die, he is generally mutilated, often losing all his limbs.
Another case very little documenting but that some historians consider, probable, was the use of tarantulas by Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, a Hellenic kingdom from the 2nd century BC located in the mountainous region of what is now the north and west of Greece.
The story tells that after a fierce battle against the Romans, where he lost almost all of his army (hence the expression “Pyrrhic victory”), Pyrrhus returned to Epirus ready to take revenge on his enemies. He did this by sending hundreds of agents carrying poisonous spiders to different cities of the Roman Empire, including Taranta, who was practically invaded by those arachnids, whose bites cause, among other symptoms, uncontrollable tremors in the legs. The poison, in many cases, is fatal.
From these movements caused by the poison comes the name of the traditional Italian dance known as “the tarantella”, since it was believed that moving “wildly” limited pain and counteracted the effects of the sting.
The bombings of the medieval “plague”
For almost a century, until the beginning of the 14th century, the Mongol leaders of what was called “The Golden Horde” allowed Italian merchants – especially Genoese – to settle in the south of the Crimean peninsula, in present-day Feodosia, then called Caffa, a city that quickly became a commercial hub.
However, soon a religious phenomenon would modify the peaceful coexistence in the region. Conversion to Islam of much of the empire’s population made the presence of Christian merchants and warriors undesirable.
In 1343, Yanibeg, the Khan of Kipchak, ordered the expulsion of all Europeans from the peninsula. He managed to occupy the city of Tana (on the Azov Sea coast, where the Italians had built a consulate and abundant trading posts) but failed in his attempt to surrender Caffa.
The city held out for three years, and the plight of the Mongol troops besieging it became critical when many of its warriors were plagued. According to the story of the Italian notary Gabriel de Mussis – locked up in Caffa, the Mongols had bruises on their skin and died like flies, fever, and putrid buboes that grew on their groins and armpits.
In the midst of that plague that seemed to force him to lift the siege of the city and flee that region of death, the Kan Yanibeg found a solution that allowed him, even at the cost of continuing to lose his troops, to break the defense of the city.
The notary of Mussis tells it this way:
“The Central-Asians, exhausted by that pestilential illness and knocked down everywhere as struck by lightning when verifying that they perished without remedy, ordered the bodies to be placed on the siege machines and thrown into the city of Caffa. Thus, the bodies of the dead were thrown over the walls, so that the people, despite taking as many dead as possible and throwing them into the sea, could not hide or protect themselves from that danger. Soon all the air was infected and the water was poisoned, and such a pestilence developed that barely one in a thousand managed to escape.”
The effect was devastating, since the populations of the Middle East, although they continued dying from the plague, had formed natural defenses after centuries of living with the disease.
Instead, Europeans, without natural defenses, died like flies. In the following years, the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe, killing one-third of the population.
Bubonic plague in France too
At almost the same time that the Central-Asians were besieging Caffa, in northern France, the troops besieging the castle of Thun L’Eveque in Hainault also did not find a way to break the resistance of its residents.
After months of fruitless attacks with the conventional weapons of the time, they decided to make the troops of the castle sick by throwing over the walls dead horses and cows, and even some corpses of soldiers, for which they used catapults.
After a few days, the unbearable smell and an infectious outbreak made the French open the castle doors and the central-Asians (Tatar) did not invade the castle instead offered a peace treaty which they consider to be a disadvantageous treaty.
Almost a century later, in 1422, in Karlsten, Bohemia, the resistance forces attacking the castle used the same resource, using the corpses of soldiers fallen in battle. The bastion lasted almost five months but finally had to surrender when there were very few guardians left to protect the Christian castle.
Smallpox and yellow fever
From the Middle Ages onwards there are also many cases in which armies used biological weapons to defeat their enemies. During the war for independence of the United States, the British tried to disperse smallpox among American troops. They were unsuccessful because the infected were quickly quarantined.
Years later, during the Civil War, the Confederates used two biological resources, also with little luck.
On the one hand, they infected the water wells with corpses; on the other, through agents operating behind the enemy ranks, they tried to contaminate the clothes and sheets provided to the Yankee army with smallpox and yellow fever.
Japan vs. China
Cangshan, a tiny city in southeast China, is the only place where the use of a biological weapon has been documented during World War II, committed by secret units of the Japanese invasion forces that occupied much of China between 1931 and 1945. There were tests with the intention of using them on a larger scale.
In August 1942, a plane dropped “a kind of smoke” over the town, as described by the local Jin Xianglan. Two weeks later, the rats began to die en masse. The fever spread among the population, as the first sign of a bubonic plague outbreak that killed 392 of the 1,200 residents.
When the Japanese took the place, on November 18, they burned down all the houses touched by the plague.
“You buried the dead knowing that the next day they would bury you,”
said years later, Wang Peigen, one of the few survivors of the attack, who was then 10 years old.
The facts and the infodemic
Among others, these historical facts where biological agents were actually used as weapons of warfare are those that today serve to support the false belief that the current COVID-19 pandemic is the result of a laboratory product.
There is no scientific evidence that this is the case, but quite the contrary the coronavirus is a product of nature and its dissemination has not been manipulated. However, the coronavirus infection infodemic fuels its credibility in stories like these and makes the most surprising theories.
The views and opinions expressed in this opinion article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eastern Herald.