Politicising Covid-19 fight is perilous

Former president Donald Trump. Picture: Nigell Roddis/EPA

Former president Donald Trump. Picture: Nigell Roddis/EPA

Published Jul 27, 2021


By Anwar Adams

The US may have replaced Donald Trump but Trumpism continues to reign in the country.

Last week, the world witnessed the acrimonious exchange between Republican senator Rand Paul and one of the leading US scientists, Dr Anthony Fauci, who has been at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19.

As has come to characterise the Republicans these days, it was a direct attack on the science. And at one stage of the exchange, Dr Fauci, in the presence of Paul’s senate colleagues, had to say publicly: “Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly.”

The exchange between Paul and Fauci continues on the trajectory that has come to haunt the fight against Covid-19 globally. As the rest of the world tries to fight the pandemic using science, some in the US have opted to politicise Covid-19.

This has been especially evident in the tracing of the origin of the pandemic. One of the recommendations made by the international research team visiting China – on origin tracing – in January and February this year, was that future origin-tracing research should also be expanded to other locations outside China.

In particular, the Fort Detrick lab in the US has been identified as one such location where serious origin-tracing of Covid-19 should be investigated. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been urged to conduct an inquiry into this lab, a site of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases which has suddenly closed.

Reports suggest that the lab had stored various deadly viruses such as Ebola, smallpox, Sars, Mers and the novel coronavirus. Other reports even suggest that anthrax bacterium had been stolen from the lab in the past and a leakage incident in the autumn of 2019, just before the global outbreak of Covid-19.

Surely this must receive the attention from WHO researchers into origin tracing as well?

Yet despite this evidence, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in particular, has been under pressure from the US to keep the focus on China and ensure that the US narrative – that Covid-19 came from Wuhan – continues.

Despite releasing a report, compiled by 28 international scientists in March which stated that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely”, Ghebreyesus had to recently backtrack and say that it is possible that it could have been a lab leak.

Cornered by questions of international journalists at the UN health agency’s press conference, the WHO director-general is quoted as saying: “I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen.” While the Western press were quick to use the pressured answer as a means to hit back at China, it is regrettable that Washington has forced politics onto what should be a purely scientific exercise.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, now almost two years ago, the WHO has cautioned against politicising the response to and fight against Covid-19. However, it seems that it has finally started to buckle under pressure from the US.

After all, it was the US that paid more than $200 million (about R3 billion) in membership fees to the world body at the end of March this year. Little doubt, it wants a return on its investment.

It was only in April last year that Donald Trump had accused the WHO of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”.

He said the WHO was misusing the US membership funds and cosying up to China, and that was why he was pulling his country out of the WHO.

The continuous politicisation of origin-tracing, the propaganda against China and Rand Paul’s performance all point to one thing: the US has something to hide.

* Anwar Adams is a councillor in the City of Cape Town and president of the Democratic Independents.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.