Fake and foul news aggravates virus

AS WE deal with this global emergency on the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, any slight insinuation of foul play, unless substantiated, does not help at all.

Health professionals from the United States have expressed outrage over the uniformed remarks of Republican Senator Tom Cotton saying that the 2019 novel coronavirus in China was a biological weapon leaked from a laboratory in its epicenter, Wuhan.

Cotton made the remarks during the US Senate Armed Service Committee hearing with US military leaders, and described coronavirus as the "biggest and most important story in the world." He said it was worse than Chernobyl.

He also said that Chinese officials misled the public on the origins of the n-CoV that has killed at least 362 people and infected more than 17,400 others, saying it may have originated in a "superlaboratory."

Cotton’s remarks was called “ignorant,” “ridiculous” and “non-sense” and earned the ire of top health experts in the US, including a medical professor of Harvard University.

"All signs point to a pathogen that has been circulating in animals and jumped to humans. It's pretty common for these viruses and there's no good reason for him to be saying something like that," according to Dr. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology and immunology at Harvard University, reacting to Cotton’s remark posted in online news portal The Huffington Post.

Citing an article of The Huffington Post, Cotton suggested the coronavirus could have come from a Chinese "superlaboratory that works with the world's most deadly pathogens," boosting a debunked fringe theory, which has circulated among tabloids and conservative media outlets, including The Washington Times.

But the newspaper was quick to ask reactions from health experts, who dismissed Cotton’s claims.

Richard Ebright, professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, said that “based on the virus genome and properties, there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus."

Tim Trevan, the Maryland biosecurity specialist, also commented that “the vast majority of new, nasty diseases come from nature.”

While Milton Leitenberg, an expert on chemical weapons at the University of Maryland, said he and other analysts around the world had discussed the possibility that weapons development at the Wuhan lab could have led to the coronavirus outbreak in a private email chain but that no one had found convincing evidence to support the theory.

“Hypothetically, a bioweapon would be designed to be highly targeted in its effects, whereas since its outbreak the coronavirus is already on track to become widespread in China and worldwide,” Elsa Kania, the researcher of at the center for a new American security ,said for her part.

The said medical experts have asserted and urged American officials to keep their mouths shut because such false accusation might inflict severe repercussions and misinformation, especially on social media.

Furthermore, the virus has also led to anti-Chinese sentiment in numerous countries, prompting local officials and community organizations to denounce surging racism against Chinese communities.

"Misinformation around these outbreaks is definitely a problem. When we undermine trust and get in the way of a public health response, those things can be really dangerous and really bad for trying to stop an outbreak," said Dr. Tara Kirk Sell, senior scholar at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Nevertheless, foreign health experts say China has actually been fairly quick to address the virus and to alert international officials to the problem, and has shared information on the virus that has helped epidemiologists study and track it.

Luis T. Arriola is a businessman and a publisher of AseanTimes Magazine.

Topics: NVCov , 2019 novel coronavirus. China

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