By- Madhushree Paul
The Novel Coronavirus.
Termed as a “Pandemic” by the World Health Organization.
And where did it start?
- First human coronavirus was identified in 1965.
- In 2002 the first SARS-Cov2 case emerged in Southern China. Nearly 8,000 people were infected within July 2003.
- Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Being less contagious than its kin the SARS-Cov2, but deadlier, it took nearly 858 people and infected almost 2,500 people back in 2012. MERS, unlike SARS-Cov2, can cause kidney failure.
Knowing that it has happened (not globally, but it did nonetheless) before and terming it as a “pandemic” was what a sane mind would do. Backing such categorization was the fact that the viral news about the virus being created and leaked in a laboratory in Central China was fake. It started in Wuhan in 2019 and it did emerge from a bat, much like the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome.
Plot lines based on Pandemics
When something as contagious and unexpected as COVID-19 happened, for a moment, a nano second even, people (mainly teenagers and the youth) did entertain the idea that the dooms day is near. The idea of “humanity ending” was playfully circulating in everyone’s heads. To watch it happen in movies likeContagion (2011, Steven Soderbergh), which, while aired in 2011, depicts the COVID-19 pandemic in a holistic,eerily similar way.
The mainstream cinemas have, over the decades, compiled and created amazing enunciations on various pandemic diseases spreading all through human kind. But whether realistic or dramatized, one thing remains common in most of the movies.
Humans turning their backs against humanity.
The possibility (or rather the inevitability), of the end of mankind.
Be the movie about a real pandemic or a possible Bio-Weapon to disarm a country or even a community, the fear is real.
(My favorite one so far is WORLD WAR Z, because it stars Brad Pitt, obviously! Also, because it doesn’t end with dooms day, instead it shows that there’s always a solution, sometimes even camouflaged within “mere plain site”.)
Even though the SARS-Cov2 did not leak from a laboratory, there are various mainstream movies suggesting the possibility of such situations. Movies like Resident Evil, very specifically depicts such possibilities and even suggests genetic engineering in the wake of the humans.
So, it goes without saying that while we have become comfortable with the idea of the pandemic starting out in a small town, out of a bat, it wouldn’t be so surprising to suggest that leakages from laboratory might happen sometime in the future and, yet again, may affect people globally.
Will it be way too naïve or gullible to suggest that sometime in the future (possibly any day now), such virus strains could be used as a bio-weapon to dismantle a community altogether?
Precedents of Bio-terrorism.
Yep! You read that right!
Precedents of Bio-Terrorism.
Bio-Terrorism is a real thing.
Not unheard of, not unexpected at all.
First time bio-terrorism struck mankind was not massive as one might imagine (thanks to the mainstream zombie apocalypse movies.) It was merely poisoning the rival army. And other times it was “poisoning water wells with human bodies”. Spanish mixed wine with blood of leprosy patients to sell to their French foes, Naples, Italy. British distributing blankets from smallpox Patients to Native Americans, and so on. It’s there. None of these are large scale in nature, but they have happened before. There is no solid evidence of proving that these incidents are an example of bio-terrorism since historian still can’t prove with ironclad strong evidence that these are biological attacks and not natural epidemics. (Althoughnearly 90% of the Pre-Columbian population of Native Americans died due to theact.)
The “Hittite Plague” was probably the first ever documented instance of the usage of Biological Warfare. This was back in the 14th Century BC.
The most widely known plague, the first one to encourage the infected to get quarantined was none other than the Bubonic Plague in 1346. In fact, the term “Quarantine” or “Quarantino” actually means 40 days. The plague was brought by one of the vessels in the docks and was sent in by the rival party.
As for the modern era, the biggest example of Biological warfare is, no doubt, the First World War, where the Germans, (and the French) were alleged to have made secret research centers to study the pathogens. In fact it was also alleged that the Germans had inoculated sheep and horses with disease producing bacteria:- such as Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) and Pseudomonas pseaudomallei (glanders), to the USA and other countries.
Due to the horrors of World War I, the horrors posed by Bio-Warfare along with Chemical Warfare as Weapons of Mass Destruction, concerns were taken upon internationally. As a result, the Geneva Protocol (1925) was signed by all 108 countries including the five permanent members of the United Nations. The protocol was a prohibitory step of the use in War of Asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and of Bacteriological methods of warfare.
Yet several countries after the ratification to the Geneva Protocol began developing Bio-Weapons. The United States of America ratified to the protocol much later in 1975.
As a matter of fact, during the Second World War numerous countries that has signed the Geneva Protocol had shown a quite ambitious, if not obsessive interest in the research and development of Biological Weapons. Belgium, Canada, France, Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Japan and the Soviet Union displayed their passion towards such research.
The one country that stood out was Japan. During such researches that also included human trials, nearly 600 humans were put up as scapegoats annually. Unit 731, officially known as Army Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory conducted large-scale researches to develop bombs infused with infector pathogens, contaminating water bodies with deadly pathogens (notably B. anthracis, Vibrio cholerae,Yersina pestis, Shigella species, and Salmonella species.)The Japanese army dropped plague infected fleas, infected food and clothing in different areas of China. Several Chinese civilians including numerous Japanese soldiers had been victims of such heinous acts. They were also accused of waging Biological Warfare against Soviet Union and Mongolia.
The Army Epidemic “Prevention” Research Laboratory basically conducted researches that never really had the intention to PREVENT Biological warfare.
The book Factories of Death  by Sheldon H. Harris compiles all the steps that led up to the horrors of Biological and Chemical Warfare by the Japanese from 1932 to 1945. (Give it a read while it’s out there!)
The Nazis performed some research on the effects of various vaccinations and drugs on prisoners infected with Rickettia prowazekii, Hepatitis A Virus, or Plasmodium species, but they apparently never considered using biological weapons during the Second World War. On the other hand, the United States of America was pushed to perform Biological Warfare research by their allies, who feared that the Germans might attack with biological weapons.
So, whether a planned biological attack or a natural epidemic, it has happened before. Ruling every single situation out as a natural cause would a naïve act for both a country and its subjects. And there are numerous instances throughout history pointing towards the atrocious, yet certainly possible attempts at biological warfare. The Bubonic Plague, Black fever, Smallpox, Yellow fever and not the mention the numerous experiments done on humans and animals to research and study the effects of pathogens, its all there.
India’s stand on Bio-Terrorism.
India as of today is part of various anti-terrorism conventions and it has a history of opposing terrorists from the very beginning of its existence. India as a country, has never tried to claim lands from neighboring countries and it has been trying to keep Pakistan and China out of its borders.
In 1998 India started its first ever training to deal with Bio-Terror attacks. But till date India has not executed a Bio-Weapon program. However, the Indian Army is trained to deal with biological attacks, they maintain defensive biological equipment at protected sites.
“India does not hold or believe in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. However, the National Disaster Management Authority has resources and laboratories to counter bio-aggression by a hostile country. Selective attacks would catch the enemy by surprise, inflict a psychological blow and impose a drain on medical resources necessary to attend the victims,” says Major General Kumar.
India’s go-to industry that studies all sorts of defence mechanisms is the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO.) It was established in 1958. Its a network of more than 50 laboratories which are deeply engaged in developing defence technologies covering various disciplines, like aeronautics, armaments, electronics, combat vehicles, engineering systems, instrumentation, missiles, advanced computing and simulation, special materials, naval systems, life sciences, training, information systems and agriculture.
The DRDO also works and focuses on countering biothreats such as anthrax, brucellosis, cholera, plague, smallpox, viral hemorrhage fever and botulism. Additionally, the government has established nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare directorates in the armed forces, as well as an inter-services coordination committee to monitor their training and preparation.
But even after so many years into research, the DRDO has still not come up with an effective Bio-Weapon programme, or even a programme that promises to keep Indian subjects safe from such terror attacks. Former Indian Air Force Group Captain Sandeep Mehta, “India’s preparedness to tackle a bioterror attack ranges from poor to pathetic, and its capability is limited to helping relief providers who are then expected to deliver.”
Standing here in 2020, with the pandemic upon our heads and the virus emerging from China (India’s newest rival) the thought of such viruses or pathogens being used as bio-weapons is not that far-fledged.
India did produce a bill- Prevention, Control and Management of Epidemics, Bioterrorism and Disastersback in 2017 that emphasized on the possibility of future bio-terror attacks and how India could deal with them. The bill that never became an Act. Infact, after the Janata Curfew with the rising rate of cases every day, talks about focusing on the bill started again, but to no good.
“I think it is the right time for the government to review the status of the Public Health (Prevention, Control and Management of Epidemics, Bioterrorism and Disasters) Bill and promulgate the Ordinance to meet the present crisis.” Mr. Moily said in the note addressing the Prime Minister about reconsidering the merits of the Bill. The Bill was to provide for the prevention, control and management of epidemics, public health consequences of disasters, acts of bio-terrorism or threats thereof and for matters connected therewith.
With the rising tensions at the border, with all the terror groups that had tried to enter the Indian lands in the past, the Pulwama attack, the 26/11 Mumbai Terror attack, and now obviously, the Chinese troops along the LAC in Ladakh, India is definitely lacking in creativity.
The whole idea of India getting its own laws that can tackle with Bio-terrorism head-on occured after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. Even though the Government is doing everything in it’s power to curb the transmission of the virus, (Asking citizens to go to their balconies and shout out to the Doctors and Front line workers, which rather ended up with hordes of people dancing together in the streets, but nonetheless) shouldn’t the Indian Government finally start it’s own Bio-Weapon programme? If we take the ethical route that India believes it, India will never use its Bio-Weapons even if it did succeed in the programme. Shouldn’t India at least be ready to consider a hypothetical, maybe even rhetorical situation where the Country is attacked by deadly pathogens? How would India protect its subjects?
Shouldn’t the Indian Government look at the Pandemic as a metaphor of war?
That’s the real question that needs to be answered.