In the post that went up earlier today, I added an update that briefly explored the idea that the virus was indeed a bioweapon. That is something that deserves a fuller treatment than was possible this morning.
I’ve argued that the R value and the death rate are too low for a WMD bioweapon. That is based off severely incomplete (and false) information from the Chinese government plus what little has been observed in patients outside of China. There appears to be a trend towards COVID19 having a R3 level, but again the data is incomplete and it will still be several weeks before we can develop better data.
But, there are two cases where the spread rate and death rate could actually be the sign of a bioweapon. But first, some background.
A couple of decades ago, there was an effort to develop a series of weapons that could be used to temporarily disable enemy troops rather than kill them. This non-lethal force initiative had some very good ideas and looked at a number of systems that could disrupt, disorient, and disable both humans and mechanical devices. This led to a some serious thought, and some re-adjustment in terms of how a number of parties came to view weapons/systems development. NOTE: I am not saying anything now comes from this, but that knowledge of the effort is a necessary link in the chain.
If memory serves (and it may not) there were also some other programs by various parties to develop weapons that were not necessarily world-enders or otherwise function as weapons of mass destruction. Rather, they were designed to incapacitate an enemy without totally destroying them.
The key point here is that there was some serious examination of finding weapons that would either not kill at all or not kill everyone, but would make it impossible for an enemy to fight/resist. It was and is a radical change of mindset from Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and the idea of wiping entire populations off the planet.
For a MAD bioweapon, you would be looking at something highly contagious and with as high a death-rate as possible. You would also want it to be something your own side (and friends) could be vaccinated against. Also, in a perfect world, you would want it to spread easily and fast before symptoms appeared.
Typical development would start with something promising, work through a number of stages where it is “improved” over time, then result in the production of a final product. The number of intermediate stages would vary based on technology, refinements, and success/failure in testing.
Now, with a change in mindset from wiping everyone out to more controlled damage, it raises a possibility. And, yes, the U.S. has said any chemical or biological attack is the use of a WMD and would be treated as such. Yet, under the previous administration, there were reports of chemical and biological attacks by Syria against rebels (and others) that were not dealt with as promised. That was noted by many parties.
Now, there are two possibilities for a bioweapon that is either not very transmissible or potentially as transmissible as the flu and has a solid but not huge death rate. One comes from efforts to develop a WMD weapon, the other from a more targeted economic attack.
The first is that what we see spreading is an intermediate-stage WMD bioweapon that was accidentally released. Being intermediate-stage it does not have the transmission rate or death rate that an end-product weapon would have. It could even be a fizzle: a project that looked promising but didn’t deliver what the developers wanted to get.
The second is that what we have is the accidental release of a bioweapon being developed for targeted economic attack. The weapon itself has a spread rate and a death rate that require it to be taken seriously by public health officials and other government agencies where released. It can’t just be ridden out like the flu, but takes quarantines, active treatment, isolation, and suspension of normal work and related activities. It would be devastating to a national economy and tie up quite a bit of total national resources (food, medicine, etc.). In short, pretty much what we are seeing happen in China right now.
In both cases, the accidental release means there are no vaccines yet developed for the weapon. Which means the disease has run rampant since there was considerable delay in effective reaction to the virus.
Again, this is simply a mental exercise. Does it tie in with some of the evidence? Yes. But, there are a number of areas where it does not/may not match. The two big labs in Wuhan both have a history of protocol problems/breaches. So, the theories are not improbable; but, that does not mean they are yet probable based on current data.
They are, in my opinion, mental exercises that should be held up to the data along with other theories to see what pans out.
I also want to thank Alberto De La Cruz of the excellent Babalu Blog for letting me bounce some things off him today. His comments were most helpful, as always.
Now, a challenge to the reader: shoot holes in these mental exercises. Or, if you prefer, show where they correlate to actual data.
For now, I remain neutral on if COVID19 is man-made. While there are two scientific papers claiming to show that it is, there is no peer-review and frankly the peers that understand things on the levels being discussed seem to be divided on the issue. Until more is known, there simply is insufficient data for me to make a useful and informed decision about it.
Other COVID19/COVID-19/2019-nCoV articles:
Some Quick Thoughts On Coronavirus 2019-nCoV
Coronavirus And Practical Preparedness
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