Just when you think the news on COVID-19 can’t get much crazier, there comes this from the Chinese media:
“Great clue! Suspicious US seafood received at Huanan Seafood Market before the outbreak.”
“In mid-November 2019, a batch of seafood from Maine, USA was shipped to Wuhan South China Seafood Market through the cold chain,” reports Sina, a Chinese government news site. “In just a few weeks, employees of many merchants in the South China Seafood Market experienced symptoms of pneumonia of unknown origin one after another, and they were infected with new coronary pneumonia.”
Correlation, as all scientists know, is not causation, but it is certainly grounds for speculation and theorization. The global warming theory is built on the correlation between the staggering increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the corresponding increase in the average temperature on a planet that has been both far hotter and far colder than it is today.
So the Chinese have as much right to as anyone to speculate on the origins of the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 virus, and boy, do they speculate, complete with a very detailed timeline:
“On November 11, 2019, at 4:4(0) in the morning, China Eastern Airlines Flight MU298 landed at Shanghai Pudong International Airport.
“A batch of American cold chain cargo carried on board was unloaded from the cabin of the North Airport Cargo Terminal and transported to the international cargo arrival area to wait for entry. Among them are 55 boxes of 823.4 kilograms (1,815 pounds) of chilled American Boston lobsters.
“The goods arrived quickly because of air freight. Only 3 days have passed since the time when Wang, an employee of company X, placed an order on the fresh food cross-border trading platform. But they have to act quickly and send the goods to Shanghai, Hubei, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Henan and other places as soon as possible. Twenty-six customers have ordered this batch of lobsters with a total value of $1,6483.5.
“Before shipping, they will open the box and inspect the goods as usual, then pack them in the original packaging, ice packs and water and temperature control sponges, and ship them to subscribers everywhere.
“Zheng is also one of the subscribers of this batch of lobsters. He is the owner of merchant A of Wuhan South China Seafood Market. On November 11 and 12, 2019, he placed an order for a total of 140.08 kilograms (310 pounds) of lobster on the X company network platform. In recent years, Zheng has a group of regular hotel customers, and he also provides aquatic products to other merchants in the South China Seafood Market.
“‘I am afraid it was this batch of American lobsters that opened the Pandora’s box of the epidemic in the South China Seafood Market,” the report says.
It goes on to link COVID-19 infections to various employees of merchants who marketed the lobster with added claims that “environmental positive sample was also collected on the ground of the merchant.
“Not only that, the employees of merchants C and D of the South China Seafood Market, Ming, Cai, Xu, Hu, etc., after borrowing the packaging materials of American cold chain products purchased by merchant A, also appeared in the earliest infected persons in Wuhan in the list.
“It can be seen more clearly from the stall map around merchant A. There are many infected persons and positive environmental samples in nearby businesses. Among the 13 merchants and employees in the surrounding area, seven merchants were found to have positive seroantibodies, and one of the merchants also detected positive environmental samples.”
U.S. and Maine officials are denying any responsibility.
Tom Adams, the president of Maine Coast Shellfish, also told the newspaper that “he doesn’t know why his company was singled out, but suggested it could be an attempt to ‘deflect some of the bad publicity’ from China for being the first place the virus was reported.”
That’s also likely true, but one should not forget the “Spanish flu,” the globe’s last great pandemic, wasn’t tracked back to a likely origin in Haskell County, Kansas, USA for almost a decade.
And the globe was far less interconnected in the early 20th century than it is in the early 21st century. Potentially contaminated lobster from Maine, or potentially contaminated Mainiacs flying to China with it, can now be in China within hours.
Far-fetched but not impossible
So while the Chinese speculation is crazy, the idea the virus was born in Maine is not impossible given that its birthplace remains unknown.
“There is no scientific evidence to support these nonsensical claims,” Robert Long, a spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Press Herald, although the lack of evidence and “nonsensical claims” are not synonymous.
Pythagoras claimed the earth was round in 530 BC, but no evidence emerged until Aristotle observed the round shadow of the planet on the moon during a lunar eclipse a couple of hundred years later, and the idea wasn’t really “proven” until Christopher Columbus sailed into the Bahamas in 1492, instead of sailing off the end of the earth, and returned to Spain to talk about it.
He was later given credit for discovering the New World, though he would go to his grave claiming he had discovered the edge of the Far East to which the financiers of his voyage had sought a shorter sailing route.
And later still, Colombus would be vilified as the man who origianted pestilence, war and death on an idyllic American continent although the history of his voyage reflects that the 39 crewmen he left behind in paradise were massacred and their village – “La Navidad” – burned to the ground.
The world – even what we now call the “Western World” – was a very different place in the 1400 and 1500s than it is today.
And in some ways not.
Anchorage Dr. Benjamin Westley, trained in infectious diseases, gambled on visiting a restaurant in August and caught COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, and now he mainly blames others for not wearing masks, although how one is supposed to eat through a mask is unclear.
The evidence says masks might help a little, but staying away from others and staying out enclosed spaces full of others will help a lot.
Despite these realities, it would appear Alaskans are back to focusing their emotions on masks – pro or con – and against that backdrop, it’s difficult to be too hard on the Chinese for their self-serving speculation:
“Whether the early epidemic in the South China seafood market was imported through the cold chain of these U.S. seafood products has become the biggest doubt. The traceability results of the epidemic in Xinfadi in Beijing in June 2020, Dalian in Liaoning in July, and Qingdao in Shandong in October all point to imported cold chain products.
“Therefore, it is entirely possible for the virus to attach to the cold chain packaging of this batch of seafood products in the United States and enter the South China seafood market.
“This possibility is also supported by the ‘China-WHO Joint Research Report on the Traceability of the New Coronavirus’ released by the WHO in March this year. The report states:
‘Research shows that the new coronavirus can survive for a long time under the conditions of frozen food, packaging and cold chain products. The index cases in the recent epidemic in China are related to the cold chain; in some other cold chain products provided to China the virus was found on the country’s packaging and products, indicating that it can be spread over long distances through cold chain products.'”
And there you have it. SARS-CoV-2 jumped from someone infected in Maine (there is no evidence of the virus ever being found in lobsters) to the packaging on Maine seafood to the seafood market in Wuhan.
Is it possible?
The evidence to date would indicate this is unlikely, hugely unlikely. But given that the origin of SARS-CoV-2 has yet to be firmly established, it is not impossible.
So put the Chinese claim in the context of an observations by a young, Alaska journalist questioned about a nebulous claim in a story she wrote years ago:
“It might not be the truth, but it’s her truth.”
All of which pretty much sums the epicenter of the COVID-19 debate in Alaska today whether you’re a believer or a non-believer, a masker or an anti-masker, a vaxer or an anti-vaxer.
For the record, the author can claim to be all of the above.
COVID-1`9 is very real, but the threat to fundamentally healthy people is limited and especially to those who have the sense to avoid others when infection rates are high, as they are now in Alaska, and stay out of enclosed spaces full of people.
The vaccines are proving themselves amazingly effective, and the side effects and risks – at least as concern adults – appear small. I got vaxed early.
Despite that, it’s only common courtesy to wear a mask in places where it makes others feel more comfortable even if they might be fooling themselves.
The Bangledesh study suggests a decrease in infections of less than 10 percent for masking; a University of Vermont study suggested the opposite.
It found that masking increased close contacts and as a result infections increased nstead of decreased. There is no doubt the best way to avoid infection is to stay the hell away from others.
One cannot help but wonder if Westley might have avoided the restaurant where he believes he became infected with SARS-CoV-2 if there had been an Anchorage mandate banning masks.
The public policy issues surrouding the pandemic are complicated. A lockdown now, for instance, would make far more sense than it did in early 2020 based solely on the rates of infection, but public’s attitudes are much different now than they were then.
For many, COVID fatigue has replace COVID fear. For others, the idea that “if we can only save one life” has become tantamount. And the tribes on both sides are thus warring.
Only history will tell if this do
worse than the disease, but the tribalism that has been brewing in the U.S. for at least a decade seems now to push Americans farther apart day by day.