Indian intelligence is investigating reports and chasing ‘leads’ that points to the second wave of Covid-19 in the country being possibly engineered by hostile elements.
Some agent reports received by Indian spy agencies suggest new versions of the virus might have been released by hostile elements in crowded urban clusters in Mumbai and Delhi in March.
“But we have to cross-check these reports very thoroughly with medical researchers and state authorities in areas where the second wave started. This is not going to be easy but the trouble is worth taking because if the allegations are true, they point to a scary future security scenario,” a top intelligence official told this writer but on condition of strict anonymity.
He said teams of researchers from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and other relevant institutes have to be drawn in to check out incidence patterns in areas hit hardest at the beginning of the second wave India.
” Even if we cannot get definite evidence, India has cause for suspicion if the surge of infection was suddenly and sharply rising,” he said.
India has been hit by a huge second Coronavirus wave, with infections surging sharply and suddenly since mid-March
On 30 April, the second wave peaked with more than 400,000 recorded daily cases in India.
Over subsequent days the numbers fell, with just under 360,000 on Monday, 3 May – leading to speculation that a peak had been reached.
But in the past few days, they have started to rise again, in line with a weekly pattern of fluctuations that shows the numbers usually dipping on a Monday.
A new “double mutant” variant of the coronavirus has been detected from samples collected in India.
Officials are checking if the variant, where two mutations come together in the same virus, may be more infectious or less affected by vaccines.
Some 10,787 samples from 18 Indian states also showed up 771 cases of known variants – 736 of the UK, 34 of the South African and one Brazilian.
The second wave has unsettled India’s economic recovery with 3.4 million salaried jobs lost in April alone.
Worse , it has torpedoed India’s rather successful vaccine diplomacy earlier in the year, when Delhi was supplying more vaccines to foreign countries than the domestic level of vaccinations.
Official Chinese media had severely critiqued that and blamed India for blocking entry of Chinese vaccines in countries like Bangladesh.
Bangladesh officials said the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, at $36 per dose, was 7 times more expensive than Made in India Astra Zeneca vaccine that Bangladesh purchased for 5 USD.
Strangely though Bharat Biotech’s proposal for producing their vaccines in Bangladesh in October last year remains swept under the carpet.
India is now unable , due to huge domestic pressure, to fulfil vaccine supply commitments in countries like Bangladesh , allowing scope for entry of the highly expensive and poor efficacy record holding Chinese vaccines.
“It is a huge loss of face for us after our PM Modi boastfully and somewhat prematurely claimed India is the pharmacy of the world,” said former IB official Benu Ghosh.
“But how can you rule out machinations after a recent report about the Chinese considering weaponisation of the coronavirus.”
A report in ‘The Australian’ weekend edition two days ago cites a paper titled (in Chinese) “The Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons”, which was written by People’s Liberation Army scientists in 2015. It will feature in the upcoming investigative book “What Really Happened in Wuhan” by Australian journalist Sharri Markson.
The 2015 document, secured by the US State Department during its own investigation into COVID-19’s origin, claimed China approved the construction of the country’s first biosafety level-4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institue of Virology after the 2004 SARS outbreak.
Due to the WIV’s proximity to Wuhan city, where the first-known outbreak occurred, the lab was at the heart of allegations that the virus was man-made.
The paper says the SARS coronaviruses opened prospects for a “new era of genetic weapons” that could be “artificially manipulated into an emerging human-disease virus, then weaponised and unleashed in a way never seen before”.
It discusses new advancements like freeze-drying micro-organisms that allow biological agents to be stored and later aerosolised them during attacks.
The authors include several senior Chinese public health and military figures, including the former deputy director of China’s Bureau of Epidemic Prevention, Li Feng, as well as scientists and weapons experts affiliated with the Air Force Medical University in Xi’an.
The Australian says the document was verified by digital forensics specialist Robert Potter.
The Australian’s report said the chairmen of both the British and Australian foreign affairs and intelligence committees, Tom Tugendhat and James Paterson, noted that the document raised major concerns about China’s lack of transparency over COVID-19 origins.
Australia , along with few other countries , has vigorously pushed for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus, since the first outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019.
While a WHO investigation led to a team of experts visiting Wuhan, its conclusion that the laboratory incident hypothesis was extremely unlikely was hotly contested, specially because of the limited access China provided to the WHO team.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken accused China of “falling short” of providing adequate access to scientists conducting the investigation.
A group of international scientists called for a new investigation into COVID-19’s origin. China, in turn, has called for an origin tracing study of the virus centred in the US, which in a tit-for-tat move, it had also accused of being a possible origin point for the virus.
Chinese virologist Dr Li-Meng Yan was among those who claimed the virus was man-made, and told media last October that scientists who reject the lab origin theory were lying, and criticised scientific studies that proposed a natural origin.
As one of the leading advocates of the lab-origin theory, Dr Li-Meng Yan has faced harassment from the Chinese government. The same month that her second paper on COVID-19’s origin claimed the virus was made by merging two bat-relate coronaviruses, her 63-year-old mother was detained by the Chinese government.
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, only 16 countries have or have had biological weapons programmes: Canada, China, Cuba, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Libya, North Korea, Russia, South Africa, Syria, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Subir Bhaumik is a veteran Reuters and BBC correspondent in India, a former fellow at Oxford, Frankfurt and East West Centre, and an author of four books on South Asian conflicts and one on regional media. He has also worked as senior editor in Dhaka-based bdnews24.com and Yangon’s Mizzima Media