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Opinions of Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Columnist: Dr. Henry Asante Antwi

Coronavirus and the bioweapon dilemma {Part 1}

Dr. Henry Asante Antwi Dr. Henry Asante Antwi

Was the coronavirus manufactured in a biomedical laboratory in China or America? Is the coronavirus a biological weapon?. Do we have biomedical laboratories that create or grow viruses and why do they do so?. Which countries produce them and what happens when they leak?. Do we have examples of cases where highly contagious pathogenic viruses and bacteria have leaked from biological labs?.

I believe these are very important questions that continue to dominate headlines as the world battle COVID-19 which until February 2020 was thought to be a Chinese problem. In this write up I attempt to explore the intricate conspiracy theories that have emerged in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying catastrophic health puzzle that confronts humanity. I will also attempt to share light on the biological weaponry industry across the globe from a pure international management and public policy perspective. The political and moral undertones in these industries are the subject of other write-ups in the near future.

To begin with, the issue of conspiracy theories in the wake of an epidemic is not new. When the Ebola crisis was at its peak in Africa, there were rumours that it was a eugenic weapon, manufactured by some countries to suppress black people in general.

Similar suggestions have been made by sentimentalist about the invisibility surrounding the HIV-AIDS pandemic, the 2019 malaria outbreak in Burundi, the 2019 dengue fever outbreak in Africa and the Middle East, the 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala, the 2009 H1N1 flu virus, the 2015 Zika virus etc were all posited to have been deliberately engineered to cause human-induced harm to one group of people or the other.

These discussions fall within the purview of the development of biological weapons that dates back centuries ago. History has it that one of the first recorded cases of the use of biological weapons against enemies occurred in 1347 when Mongol forces hurled plague-infested bodies into a port in present-day Ukraine.

The diseases were then picked by Italian ships to Europe and that started the Black Death pandemic that killed 25 million people in Europe over four years. In 1717, Russian forces catapulted plague-infested corpses in Tallin (Estonia) in a fight against Swedish forces while in 1763, smallpox virus-infested blankets were passed on to Indian troops by British soldiers causing a devastating epidemic among their ranks. There are several records of deliberate use of biological weapons and their devastating effect during the two world wars.

To avert the future reoccurrence of this unprecedented humanitarian crisis caused by biological weapons, the international community negotiated successfully to halt the production of chemical and biological weapons after World War I and reinforced the ban in 1972 and 1993 by prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and transfer of these weapons.

As of 2013, a total of 180 states and Taiwan had signed the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) formerly known as Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction.

Under the terms of the BWC, member states are prohibited from using biological weapons in warfare and from developing, testing, producing, stockpiling, or deploying them. Instead, countries were encouraged to channel their biological weapon resources to productive industrial uses such as pest control, disease control, poison detection, food production etc.

For example, China started cultivating the special Chinese ducks as powerful biological weapons to fight against locust invasion of farms during the dry weather seasons. One Chinese duck can “control” a 4-square-meter of land and can eat at least 200 large size locusts in a single day. Using ducks to prevent locust plague is economically and environmentally friendly compared with spraying pesticides.

In February 2020, a reported number of 100,000 to 200,000 Chinese ducks were sent to Pakistan to help the country fight the locust invasion of their farms. Despite the ban on biological weapons, a number of states have continued to secretly pursue biological warfare capabilities, seeking a cheaper but still deadly strategic weapon rather than following the more difficult and expensive path to nuclear weapons.

…. To be continued, Watch out for Part 2

Source: Dr. Henry Asante Antwi
Centre for Health and Public Policy Research
Jiangsu University, P.R.C