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Editorial: The lab leak theory: a deliberate and dangerous delusion

IT IS no surprise that days after US President Joe Biden resurrected the “Chinese lab leak” theory on Covid origins, British spooks fall into line.

Forget the conclusions of an international team of scientists who travelled to Wuhan just a few months ago, and who complained then that their findings were being “twisted” by journalists to suit political agendas.

Scientists who were on that World Health Organisation (WHO) mission like British zoologist Peter Daszak and Australian microbiologist Dominic Dwyer are in no doubt that the return of the “lab leak” theory is political.

For all the US claims that its motive is to protect the world from future outbreaks, its actions – trying to discredit a WHO team, defunding joint US-Chinese scientific projects – do the opposite.

The flexibility of British intelligence when it comes to finding “evidence” to support the political agendas of its masters should be well known following the role the “dodgy dossier” played in creating an excuse for the Iraq war.

Now the spooks are being drafted into service again as the notion of a virus escaped from a communist lab, once almost uniquely associated with Donald Trump, is seized on eagerly by the right-wing press.

Trump’s crude fantasy of Covid as a weapon deliberately unleashed on the world – he called it an attack on the US “worse than 9/11” – was too unhinged to be taken seriously. A leaked German intelligence briefing famously dismissed it as an obvious bid by Washington to distract attention from its appalling handling of the virus.

Biden’s more collegiate approach is in many ways more dangerous. There is no more evidence to support a lab leak than in February when the WHO team deemed it “extremely unlikely.”

But the politics has changed, as some even on the right acknowledge. We read in the Telegraph, the only British broadsheet that was consistently sympathetic to Trump, that “professors have shown just how political they can be” in changing their minds on a lab leak, because we should have trusted Trump on this all along.

It is also in the Telegraph that we see the dangerous implications of going along with the right’s “blame China” narrative.

High priest of Thatcherism Charles Moore takes aim at Dominic Cummings’s testimony last week, shooting down the ex-adviser’s suggestion that a scientist should have been given control of the pandemic response. We might have ended up like Wuhan, he shudders.

Yet China’s swift lockdown in Wuhan is one of the most dramatic success stories of Covid containment anywhere.

It kept Chinese deaths below 5,000, while Britain’s government has presided over 150,000 deaths. It allowed China to fully relax restrictions on economic and social life within a few months.

The attempt to blame Covid on China serves two purposes. One is simply to ratchet up hostility to Washington’s new Public Enemy Number 1.

But the other is to distract from our own governments’ records. MPs and the mass media take great pains to avoid international comparisons that show up how appalling the death toll has been in Britain: in all the hours of Cummings’s questioning by MPs, nobody raised what we might have learned from foreign countries that had handled the pandemic more successfully.

That’s because the conclusions might go beyond temporary tools like lockdowns to a comparison of social and economic systems and the adverse impact of decades of neoliberalism on our ability to meet a public health crisis.

Covid has exposed the huge shortcomings of privatised NHS supply, outsourced public health contracts and a workforce stalked by poverty and job insecurity. Its rapid spread raises questions about the risks inherent in our globalised economy.

Answering those questions could pose a profound challenge to the capitalist order. 

Far better to pretend that Covid-19 was a dastardly plot which reflects badly only on the country it struck first. Far better to blame China.

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