When Lia Jianlun, a 64-year-old medical professor from Guangdong Province in Southern China, made a trip to a relative’s wedding in Hong Kong in March 2003, he had no inkling that within a few weeks he would be dead. Or that he would be accused of being the angel of death responsible for the spread of the killer virus SARS. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome became the first pandemic of the 21st Century. A viral, pneumonia-like illness, it spread quickly to more than 30 countries across almost every inhabited continent, infected thousands and killed at least 10 per cent of those who caught it. The great difficulty in breathing caused by the disease meant that the majority of the deaths were drawn-out and painful.
While at first many were reassured that the number of SARS cases was small when compared to the world population, panic began to grow as scientists placed it among the ranks of mysteriously mutating “super-germs”. They also voiced concerns that it could be the “Big One” – an influenza virus that would produce a super flu that would kill billions of people, as the “Spanish flu” did between 1918 and 1919. The World Health Organisation began to advise against travel to cities like Toronto, where SARS had broken out and the economic impact of the disease rose into multi-billion figures. As scientists began to study it, the origin of SARS was traced back to Guangdong and its movement out of China to the visit of one unfortunate wedding guest.
Scientists also discovered the SARS coronavirus arose when the genes of an animal and human virus swapped genes and that there was no known cure. When it became established that the Chinese military had known about SARS and had covered up its existence since November 2002, the virus caused political as well as medical havoc. China’s health minister and the Mayor of Beijing were forced to resign. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, along with President Hu Jintao, criticised the military for its non-co-operation and initial cover-up. This allowed them to make veiled criticism of former president Jiang Zemin, who had refused to relinquish chairmanship of the Central Military Commission.
Surprisingly, a retired Chinese military doctor, who helped reveal the SARS cover-up in Beijing, was not silenced and given unprecedented coverage in the Chinese media. This may mean the whole exposé was part of a set-up engineered by Chinese President Hu Jintao as part of his power struggle against opponents controlling elements of the military.
It has also been suggested that Hu Jintao encouraged rumours of Western plots to create SARS to attack China to focus anger about SARS away from government cover-ups and mishandling of the SARS crisis. As SARS was seemingly brought under control, a barrage of explanations from authorities across the globe came out, trying to convince the world that the virus had its origins in the animal markets of Guangdong province. However, the official version left a lot of questions unanswered.
Many scientists in Russia believe that SARS is manmade. Nikolai Filatov, head of Moscow’s epidemiological services, made the initial claims over this idea and was soon backed up by Professor Sergei Kolesnikov, whose research showed the virus could only be produced in laboratory conditions. The Siberian bio-weapon expert also believes that SARS probably came from an accidental leak from a laboratory somewhere in China.
The utrecht mice
Peter Rottier of Utrecht University in the Netherlands led a team of Dutch scientists who transformed a coronavirus that was lethal to cats into one that infected mouse cells by replacing a single gene from a mouse coronavirus. He admitted that his work strengthened the idea that the SARS coronavirus might have arisen when an animal and human virus had been engineered to meet and swap genes. Michael Lai of University of Southern California confirmed this, “It’s a very plausible explanation; coronaviruses are unusual in that their genes can be reshuffled easily.”
If there is one thing that travels faster than a new virus across the globe, it is a conspiracy theory about the virus. Stupid and risible stories about super-bugs almost certainly pose a danger to those who take them seriously and to the pocket-linings of anyone making surgical masks or creating quack cures. Of course, stories like these do not harm certain governments who are all too happy to see the conspiracy theories run amuck, all the while helping deflect some of the anger that should rightly be aimed at their national leadership.
The main suspects
Given that China’s most important bio-weapon research centre is based in Guangdong, the Province where SARS originated, it is not surprising that the fi nger of suspicion has turned towards Chinese bio-weapon scientists and their bosses in the Chinese military. This is only heightened by the fact that the virus started to spread out from China’s ilitary hospitals. It is conceivable that hard-liners in the military hoped that SARS would isolate the country, bring about martial law and give them an excuse to reverse China’s liberalisation policies.
While SARS cost more than $16 billion alone to the Chinese economy, one group certainly benefited financially from its trail of death – the medical sector. SARS led to a huge boost in the budgets of medical, pharmaceutical and companies involved in virus research. It also benefited those involved in security and law enforcement. Would certain sections of the scientific establishment have been amoral enough to create and release SARS, and then play up its potential danger to enhance their profits?
The height of panic over SARS occurred at exactly the same time that Anglo-American military forces were invading Iraq. An Anglo-American Cabal may have created a deployed of interests SARS to provide not only a global media distraction to the war but to harm the interest of China – one of the most important countries to oppose their invasion and one of their most powerful economic rivals.
Or could it have been…
Al-Qaeda are well known to be investigating the use of bio-weapons in their campaign of terror. SARS could be an early test of their potential, not only against the West, but also against communist China, which has earned their wrath for the crack down in the activities of Islamic separatist factions in some of its remoter provinces.
World Health Organisation
SARS was a minor virus released by the World Health Organisation as part of a mass social experiment to see how a virus could spread across and between countries, and judge how people react ahead of the “Big One” – a biological agent that will wipe out up to half the Earth’s population.
The Bilderberg Group
Some of the more paranoid conspiracy researchers believe that global industrialists and members of the ultra-rich, who regularly come together under the guise of the Bilderberg Group, released SARS as a test-run for a population control programme. And the ultimate aim? To reduce the number of poor people, who use up shrinking global resources, and consolidate their control of those who remain.