By Avi Selk
The mysterious origin of the novel coronavirus is now a matter of international dispute. The U.S. intelligence community concluded the virus is not man-made in a new report, but would not rule out the possibility that it was accidentally released from a virology lab in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began late last year.
President Trump has seized on that idea, which aligns with a Republican Party electoral strategy to blame the pandemic on China and avoid discussing the U.S. government’s belated efforts to confront the outbreak, which has spread to more than 1 million Americans and killed nearly 65,000. The Washington Post on Thursday reported that in private, the White House is considering extraordinary punishments against China, including suing the country or refusing to pay outstanding U.S. debt. Trump suggested to reporters on Thursday he had seen confidential evidence the virus escaped from a Wuhan lab. But the president offered no details, and he has a well-documented habit of making false or misleading claims.
Scientists who spoke to The Post are overwhelmingly skeptical of the lab-escape theory. “The balance of the scientific evidence strongly supports the conclusion that the new coronavirus emerged from nature — be it the Wuhan [seafood] market or somewhere else. Too many unexpected coincidences would have had to take place for it to have escaped from a lab,” we reported in our latest Fact Checker analysis.
We also have a fascinating story on the research complex at the heart of this intrigue, where for nearly a decade virologists “crisscrossed southern Asia in a high-stakes search for bats and the strange diseases they harbor” in a risky effort to head off exactly the sort of pandemic that now exists. Read it here.
The outbreak could go on for another two years, and the U.S. should prepare for a resurgence of infections this fall or winter that might dwarf the current wave, according to a new report by the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota. “The idea that this is going to be done soon defies microbiology,” said the center’s director, Mike Osterholm.
Meanwhile, many states continue to roll back quarantine measures after the federal government’s social distancing guidelines expired on Thursday and were replaced by less stringent advice. People are now dining out in states such as Georgia, Tennessee and Alaska — albeit sometimes with gloved waiters, disposable menus and “a faint whiff of bleach in the air,” we reported. And there is a bizarre dynamic in Iowa, where businesses are reopening in the suburbs and countryside, but Sioux City remains shut down with the fastest-growing infection rate in the United States. “How do you convince people that if you live on one side of a line, you can’t leave your home, but if you live on the other, you can?” a skeptical epidemiologist asked.
Meanwhile in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) extended business closures for another month despite GOP lawsuit threats and an armed anti-quarantine protest at the state capitol. “Republican lawmakers are putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk,” Whitmer said, dismissing the furious opposition.
More important reads:
The Federal Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for health-care providers to administer remdesivir, an antiviral drug that had shown promising effects in diminishing recovery time.
People are setting fire to cell towers across Europe, apparently because they believe a false conspiracy theory that 5G mobile networks spread the virus.
The United States is pressuring Mexico to keep some factories that supply American companies open, despite deaths at some of them and a rapidly rising infection rate south of the border.
Workers at dozens of Amazon warehouses planned to join May Day walkouts in protest of their treatment during the outbreak. Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called the Senate to return to work Monday, despite complaints from Democrats that the risk of disease is too great.
Federal prosecutors investigating coronavirus scams are looking into a New York family doctor who promoted the drug hydroxychloroquine as an unproven treatment to the White House and on Fox News.
Source: The Washington Post