DANIEL VAUGHAN: Yes, it’s important to know China’s responsibility on COVID-19

Regarding the origins of COVID-19 in China, Biden administration advisor Zeke Emanuel said  in an interview on MSNBC: “The real issue is not how did this happen, the real issue is how do we protect ourselves from the next pandemic.”

He described all the issues about which China has not provided any information regarding its role in spreading the virus. Still, the overarching message remained: that’s not important.

That stance comes after President Joe Biden was forced to walk back an earlier decision to end an investigation started under President Donald Trump to investigate the origins of COVID-19, including the theory that it originated in a Wuhan lab. After increasing news items detailing and supporting the lab leak theory, Biden now claims the U.S. is “redoubling” its efforts to investigate those origins.

But in listening to Emanuel, the answer doesn’t matter to some Biden administration officials. They’re going with the line, “The real issue is how do we protect ourselves from the next pandemic.” You can’t protect yourself from something if you don’t know why it happened, though. To create vaccines, we sequenced the entire virus and designed a vaccine that attacked this novel coronavirus.

It matters where this virus came from and how it went from non-existent to the human population. From there, we can respond accordingly. And suppose China was doing gain-of-function research on increasingly more dangerous coronaviruses, with the potential that U.S. funding was involved. We need to know that, too. It is impossible to design future defenses against a pandemic without knowing if the threat comes from incompetent Chinese laboratories.

Claiming that it doesn’t matter is the laziest way to approach the end of a pandemic and shows a unique incuriosity to the causes of an event that could have been prevented, presuming the lab leak theory is true. 

The first question, of course, is whether or not the lab leak theory has any merit. Everything centers around the Wuhan Institute for Virology. A Wall Street Journal report revealed that three researchers from that facility got sick in November of 2019 and ended up hospitalized with symptoms similar to what is reported with COVID-19. The timeline, the symptoms, and characters involved, along with other information from U.S. intelligence, suggests strongly that the virus emerged from this facility.

And that doesn’t mean those three researchers caused the spread. If we’ve learned one thing from this virus, it’s that asymptomatic spread is the most dangerous component. This brings us to the most concerning aspect: China was possibly researching novel coronaviruses in a facility not equipped to handle such danger.

In other words, China was cutting corners, which could have provided a prime opportunity for the virus to spread without anyone’s knowledge.

If all this pans out, then the world has to bring China to task for these actions, and they must be monitored more heavily. The lab leak theory has a history in China. The first version of SARS, the genetic precursor to COVID-19, escaped from the Chinese Institute for Virology lab twice.

The notion that any scientist could have debunked the lab leak theory without ever having seen a single piece of evidence from China is ludicrous on its face, but so-called journalists fed us this for over a year.

And in the end, that’s why China’s role in this matters. If SARS and COVID-19, two of the most dangerous pandemic diseases of the first 20 years of the 21st Century, both emerged from bad Chinese labs, that deserves investigation and an answer. That’s an issue a strong and competent foreign policy program would seek to combat because it is within the direct interests of the United States foreign policy and national security to prevent such pandemics.

Pretending that we can prepare for “the next one” without understanding why we’re suddenly facing lethal coronaviruses out of China with connection to their labs is the height of incompetence. And it suggests more that the Biden administration doesn’t want to face the fact that they’ll have to be more hawkish and Trump-like toward China than they want to admit.

The second question, which is more uncomfortable, asks whether any lab should be researching increasingly more dangerous forms of viruses that don’t exist in nature. This point is especially true if we’re not equally creating vaccines and answers for these novel viruses when they emerge. If we’re only increasing the danger involved and never realizing the benefits, the world needs to ask whether this kind of research should exist.

That’s not Luddism. It’s risk control. If these labs are engaged in research, and we’ve already experienced two pandemics from them in 20 years, these questions have to get asked. To not ask them is toying with lives. Millions have died from COVID-19, and if a careless CCP lab is at the center of that, answers must be sought.

Either you’re looking to prevent another COVID-19 pandemic by exploring all avenues, or you’re an unserious hack like Zeke Emanuel. I hope Biden administration officials seek these answers diligently, but as with so many issues right now, it seems they’re well out of their depth in the White House.

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