Covid-19, where did it begin?

I been asked a few times where I think everything started with Covid-19. The main favourite for this is Bats, probably Horseshoe or Pipistrelle. Viruses very similar to SARS, MERS and Covid-19 have been found in bats, and only a few in other types of creatures, at least not closely related ones. With MERS, very similar viruses were found in Egyptian Tomb bats, and very similar viruses have been known in bats for many decades.

SARS, MERS and Covid-19 all use the human ACE2 enzyme as their mechanism for entry into the human body.

So how did it jump? The prime candidates are through intermediary species that we have close contact with in some form, viruses that pass from type of animal to another being luckily quite rare. Pangolins and camels have been implicated with previous types, but in the 28/11/2013 issue of Nature, a Chinese doctor, Dr Ge, published an article after studying coronaviruses in bats, and found that there was evidence that at least one type of coronavirus, strangely being similar to Covid-19, could pass from bats to humans without intermediary species being required, directly using the human ACE2 enzyme. It seemed to have the capability of jumping directly across species.

Bats are everywhere, and in every country, so not a thing that removing them would solve as a number of government departments think. The best protection is simply not to go where there is a risk. But, it’s a problem not just confined to bats, when everywhere off the beaten track has a potential disaster waiting to occur. It’s possible to get bitten by a tsetse fly and get sleeping sickness in the old forests of the UK. With the warmer climate it wouldn’t take much for malaria to reappear in UK’s southern areas, and almost guaranteed in southern Europe if standing areas of water are neglected. Malaria has become a war of escalation between the disease and treatments in the world in a similar way to things like MRSA and antibiotics. Before treatments were found, the human body just evolved and adapted itself to reduce the effects of the disease, a number of discovered ‘diseases’ probably being a way of mitigating things like malaria. Malaria itself changing as the parasite involved evolved to combat treatments.

Where did the original strain of Covid-19 begin? Despite people trying to find evidence through very shaky and very unreliable indirect methods, this current outbreak almost certainly started around the Wuhan area of China. Was it from the level 4 biolab there? Probably not, unless it was simply from low-level transport and holding pen for bats, so wouldn’t really count as an escape from the lab. It’s not unknown, there being probably 3 such labs in the UK and over a 100 in the US, often right in the centres of population, and governments would hide such an event, but unless the people were pretty incompetent it wouldn’t happen, and there’s no evidence whatsoever they are any level lower than their UK or US counterparts in skills.

Half of the original cases were related to the wet market there, people disputing that it started there simply on the basis that not all of the cases had a direct link, but it would be unusual for a belated investigation to discover all the indirect links too, and this is where the majority of people showing symptoms occurred.

So, what happened? Wild and domestic doesn’t mix. It might be nice to go into areas very few people have been before and come back with examples that you find. But the world is covered in reservoirs of viruses, bacteria and parasites, especially the less travelled and more inaccessible ones. Somebody brought stuff out of one of those areas, probably live, mixed it with the common market, and people were slow to realise what was happening. Add initial suppression of the fact that anything was happening in an over ordered and highly inflexible system, together with a major holiday event where people were freely travelling in and out of the area in large numbers, a mortality level that was just beneath the radar, but very infective, and populations that refused to curtail their business and travel, and you have the recipe for this current disaster that occurred.

Whose to blame? There isn’t really any country or organisation. China was very slow to react, a problem that also occurred with SARS, and a World Health Organisation that is politics first, and doing their job second, having no teeth, unwilling to remedy a lack of the required fast reporting because it might upset people. The first thing they did was to rename it in an innocuous way, to take away any apportionment of blame, rather than for demanding information for a second serious breach of reporting rules, supported by less performing countries who took political advantage of the situation even though the repercussions on their own countries became obvious later. The key for them was politics and not to give embarrassment, rather than to sort the problem out.

But invading and raiding the wild isn’t just one area of the world, it happens all over to a lesser extent, China just being a bit more efficient about it in larger numbers, and this is why in a highly distributed and highly mobile world it will happen again and worse. H1N1 and H3N2 we were lucky, BSE we were lucky, HIV/Aids we were lucky, SARS we were lucky, MERS we were lucky, Covid-19 we were unlucky, XXX we will probably be lucky, XXY we will probably be lucky, and forget the problems even existed, …………..XXZ we might be very unlucky. There were more than those listed, and all within the past 70 years. It isn’t new, and isn’t novel, and in a world where the wild is seen as an exploitable asset, it’s going to happen again.

It isn’t a fluke that the world has had so many close shaves within the past 70 years, probably more in number than in the previous 7,000, and scientists playing around with ‘guaranteed no risk to the public technology.’ That is ‘no risk that they can currently work out or think of.’ Shame nature can think of and show us so many extra things that are deemed impossible, or ‘how were we to know.’ It’s just down to people not being as clever and intelligent as they think or say they are.

We are inundated in the modern world with examples of risk, being one of the most risk-adverse sets of societies in history, but being swamped with people who see their particular area as being the most vital, using emotive and sensational claims to promote themselves, the general population tending to psychologically equate all of the claims as being equal, distorting the risk, when they’re not, claiming large numbers of sufferers when many other factors produce those numbers. Some risks are big, some are small, some are likely, some are not, some are immediate, some are a long way down the line, some are trivial, some are civilization ending, and humans, although we think we are good at predicting outcomes, something that sets us aside from most other creatures that usually live for the moment, we’re pretty poor at assessing them.

From the middle of January 2019, it was obvious this new virus was a big risk, likely, immediate, and civilization changing; all the bells ringing. Nothing was done.

The wildlife trade seems to be going on as if nothing has happened, and after a short time will become legendary and deemed irrelevant again, and the risks to the population taking second place to business again.

It really comes down to ‘this was predictable, this was expected, and this was avoidable.’ But with so many players who were employed to notice such things ignoring the obvious warnings, people whose job in government it was to protect its people from such things ignoring all advice as it was deemed ‘not cost effective and profitable,’ and a propensity to play a game of politics with the information, or hide it from public view, no other result was likely.

You could almost imagine an asteroid heading for the earth like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, and not being deflected in time simply on the basis of ‘what sponsorship advertising should the rockets have printed on them,’ and ‘who gets the contract to supply the coffee to the workers building them.’

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