It has been more than two years since the first case of a person infected by Covid-19 surfaced in Kerala. Around the same time, the Kusuma laboratory of Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi found four unique inserts in spike glycoprotein of Cov-19, which bizarrely were similar to HIV virus.
The scientists of the laboratory did not find this matching of the four inserts in the Cov-19 with the HIV virus fortuitous. In other words, it was deliberate and smelled of bioterrorism; the kind government agencies have encountered in the past.
Indian intelligence agencies that watch the threat of bioterrorism, also informed the political leadership about the imperative to probe the new deadly virus. Nothing happened. The National Investigating Agency (NIA), which has been tasked to fight terror, failed to file a single FIR on how people got infected and died in millions.
WHO estimates that 4.7 million died in two years in India and The Economist believes it could be as high as 9 million. Many grassroot level activists believe the numbers could be cataclysmically higher as no one in the national population of 1.4 billion people came unscathed from this scourge.
What did the Indian government do? Instead of finding the origin of the virus and identifying the guilty, it contested media investigations into the number of people who died due to Covid-19 to help burnish the claims of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his government did a stellar job of vanquishing the pandemic and tending to the impacted.
What was forgotten were the repeated caution emanating from the country’s intelligence establishment that the coronavirus could be a manifestation of bioterrorist attack, which may have emanated from the US or China. Also ignored was the Kusuma laboratory report of January 2020, much before a quiet buzz began to sweep in the scientific community that the virus could have a lab origin.
A Freedom of Information query in the US revealed a data leak where it shows how the expose by Kusuma Laboratory made Dr Antony Fauci and other epidemiologists nervous.
As the Delhi laboratory did not have the backing of the Indian government, the institute seemingly succumbed to pressure and the paper was hastily withdrawn, even when many early patients in 2020 were successfully treated with HIV-AIDS medication. The institute or its scientists found it difficult to get their findings published in any publication. Worse, other Indian government laboratories did not reassess Kusuma findings before they were trashed. Why?
The fact that the police are better qualified to ascertain the origin of the coronavirus was recognised by US President Joe Biden when he asked his intelligence agencies to look into this ticklish issue. His administration was cognisant that this quest would have serious implications on the drug lobby, China and the World Health Organisation (WHO), whose experts failed to crack the mystery behind the origin of the virus, perhaps under pressure of powerful vested interests.
Expectedly, the Intelligence Report was ambivalent about the cause, which has prompted demands in the US for an independent investigation into the outbreak in Wuhan and also the role of the US in licensing this research in China through gain of function (GOF).
Investigations by individual science journalists like Nicholas Wade in ‘Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ brought in greater clarity than anything the experts have produced.
Similarly, a probe in ‘Vanity Fair’ further gave credence to the lab leak theory and highlighted how many scientists that suggested a leak got death threats. Bewilderingly, a lobbyist, Ecohealth, collected signatures of some top scientists that lent their weight to the belief that the deadly virus had a natural origin. This letter that appeared in one of the scientific journals was meant to discourage scientists from exploring this crucial issue and right-wing politicians in the US to debunk any scientific inquiry in the issue.
To some extent this lobby succeeded in steamrolling any contrarian view on Covid-19 virus or its treatment.
More recently, Nobel Prize winner Jeffrey Sachs, building on the report of the intelligence agencies, found merit in the fact that the virus could have been created in the laboratory as part of the (gain-of-function) research funded by the US government in Wuhan laboratory.
Sach’s illuminating article used the ambivalence of the US intelligence agencies about the origin of the virus to highlight some indubitable facts about Covid and about its easy infectivity due to the unique presence of Furin cleavage site (FCS) in the Cov-19 genome sequence.
Even the Kusuma lab, along with other research institutions, had found FCS, but the government summarily dismissed it. The other conclusion that Sachs drew from one-page summary of the report was that if the virus indeed emerged from the laboratory, then the US had a role to play in providing biotechnological inputs and know-how to the Chinese Wuhan laboratory. The Intelligence report kept quiet on the US role in funding the gain of function (GOF) experiments on bats. Sachs article talks about how an entity, Ecohealth, which was on top of the Sars research, submitted a proposal to a US defence ministry body to “alter the genetic code of the bat coronaviruses to insert precisely the feature, which is the most unusual part of SARS-COV-2 virus”.
The defence ministry rejected this proposal, but visibly this research took place in Wuhan with the help of US funding. Furthermore, Sachs discovered that “FCS has been a target of cutting-edge research since 2006, following the original SARS outbreak of 2003-04. Scientists have long understood that the FCS holds the key to these viruses’ infectivity and pathophysiology”.
It is unlikely that Biden’s decision to get to the bottom of the truth will be replicated in India as the casualties and the circumstances of the death of people are still shrouded in mystery. There is a view that more people died due to panic, oxygen shortage, wrong diagnosis and over-medication than the pandemic. Also, there were different shades of the virus (some more virulent than the others). Was it a case of undetected bio-terrorism?
(The writer is the Editor of ‘Hardnews’ magazine)