Politics will jeopardize inquiry into exact origin of covid-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) has in this past week released its long-awaited report on the origin of the coronavirus.

In the report, the UN agency experts laid bare their findings during their mission in China and indicated that the virus causing COVID-19, most likely emanated from animals then spread to humans.

With a great degree of conviction, those in the fact-finding mission ruled out the ‘virus leak’ from a laboratory in China noting it was ‘extremely unlikely,’

This should put to rest the numerous conspiracy theories that have been put forward from the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, insinuating that the epidemic was created and released to humans.

The fact that Dr. Peter Ben Embarek from the World Health Organization, a scientist leading the international team noted that ‘the theory that the virus was introduced into the human population as a result of a lab accident did not warrant future study,’ means this is an area that has been exhausted.

Sadly though, the report by WHO appears not to have convinced others who still believe that the UN body has something to hide and that the agency wasn’t telling the truth. The ‘truth’ in this case, it seems, was for WHO to deliver a verdict implicating China as having a hand in the virus that has since pushed humanity to the edge.

This amounts to hypocrisy as much as it is meddling. It is an attempt to politicize science. In the middle of a pandemic of such magnitude, it would be even more disastrous if we opted for politics above facts. We must give science the benefit of doubt.

This is especially so given that there is still a lot to be done and politicization of this matter will shift focus away from much-needed research to ascertain the possible origin of the virus. Precious time will be lost, making it even harder to establish the genesis of the deadly pathogen.

A total of 34 experts from the WHO, China, and ten other countries, jointly conducted this research. We may not agree with them but these are their findings for now. As a first step, all must take this verdict and agree to follow up on recommendations made in the report.

All must acknowledge that the health agency has the benefit of the expertise of a global network of health professionals and scientists, including epidemiologists, clinicians and virologists, to ensure that its findings on any given issue are comprehensive, authoritative and representative as possible.

In their own words, the experts indicated that the virus might have been in circulation even before it was first detected in Wuhan. Begging the question, was the circulating in other countries before? The experts said we should not turn a blind eye on this and should therefore be subjected to investigation in multiple localities.

Yet despite all these recommendations, critics still find it appropriate to apportion blame to China, accusing Beijing of misinformation and cover-up.

Having gained access to its territory and appreciating the magnitude of the epidemic at hand, the WHO has praised China for its efforts to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

In WHO’s own words, the Chinese side offered ‘necessary facilitation and demonstrated openness and transparency during the mission.’

“I think we were able to create a space for the science, a space for two groups of scientists to work together, we had nothing to hide, so there was no problem working in an open environment, sharing our work and our discussions as we had them.” one of the WHO researchers indicated

It will be remembered that China twice invited WHO experts in for study of origins and even co-sponsored the World Health Assembly resolution on COVID-19.

It is wrong to entrust experts with an assignment and once they come up with findings, people are encouraged not to believe them. Respect for institutions is paramount. WHO deserves that. We should not question the authority of the its report.

Regrettably, the same people haven’t spared even the head of WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who at some point was pelted with racist abuse and death threats for failing to sing to their tune.

It shows there was already a predetermined outcome. It is however so unfortunate to want to use scientific data to assign blame.

From the findings, experts admit that they have to start looking backward to find where the virus might have emanated from. To ascertain this, further studies and research is needed.

That major countries have political differences is never an issue. But redeeming time is of essence as the days are evil. It is not appropriate to go after each other now. If the last one year has taught us anything, then finger-pointing must end. A lot is at stake.

Science has spoken, and the world must therefore reject campaigns and narratives that may be motivated by anything other than facts. Priority should be given to getting to understand the virus better and how it has evolved if it must be stopped.

Covid-19 is public enemy number one and there is need for global solidarity at this time. Scientists worldwide must join hands. Politicizing this issue will only severely hinder this endeavor. More than 2.8 million people have been killed by the virus worldwide. Blame game means waste of time, and many more lives might be lost. For now, the focus should be on fighting the virus.

As the two largest economic superpowers, China and the United States must come together to work on eradicating this dangerous enemy. This is possible but the international community must remain guided by science and steer away from unfounded political statements. 

Eric Biegon is a Multimedia Journalist with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, KBC.


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