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Uncomfortable precedent of Covid-19 coronavirus

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A plastic model of the Covid-19 coronavirus at the Quality Control Laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. AFP

Uncomfortable precedent of Covid-19 coronavirus

US President Donald Trump and various US officials, citing invisible “evidence”, have been demanding an international investigation of China’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, and even threatening a lawsuit over China’s alleged failings. They might want to think first about some precedents.

AIDS, for example.

AIDS was initially diagnosed in a cluster of five men in the US on June 5, 1981. However, despite further cases arising in short order, it was not until May 1983 that a US scientist first published a description of the disease in a reputable international journal (Science).

Today, in the absence of further research, we can only speculate as to how many lives were lost unnecessarily because of the failure of the US government to provide a timely warning to the rest of the world. When it first appeared, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was as unknown as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was last November.

Imagine what the impact today might have been if the Chinese government had followed the US example and waited two years to provide the world with scientific information about Covid-19.

Again, further investigation will be necessary to confirm or refute the likelihood that the US government’s delay in alerting the world was not accidental but a deliberate political decision, based on the initial mistaken belief that AIDS was a disease affecting only homosexual men. The first AIDS diagnoses occurred during the early months of the presidency of the ultraconservative Republican Ronald Reagan. Since Reagan was a believer in astrology, it cannot be excluded that the decision to remain quiet about AIDS was dictated by his and his wife Nancy’s astrologer’s reading of the stars, but it seems more likely that Reagan would have wanted to suppress any suggestion that homosexuality was widespread in the US.

In any case, it is clear that any country whose citizens have been affected by HIV/AIDS has good reason to demand an investigation by the WHO or the UN of the origin of HIV and how it was allowed to spread from the US after its first discovery.

It is unclear whether there is an international statute of limitations that might apply in this case, but such an investigation might provide many countries with grounds to sue the US on behalf of their injured citizens. If the US government refuses to submit to judicial accountability, it could be punished by tariffs on imports from the US.

Allen Myers
Phnom Penh

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