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Criticizing the Pandemic

Many of the trends that were visible two years ago – from aging populations and failing states to nuclear proliferation and cyber insecurity – remain acute. The pandemic will weaken and distract us for a time, but the moment is fast arriving when other challenges must again be given the priority they require.

NEW YORK – It has now been a year and a half since we started living with – and too often dying from – COVID-19. Although the pandemic is by no means over, it is not too soon to take a step back and draw some preliminary conclusions from the experience.

One conclusion that has turned out to be especially tentative concerns the source of the pandemic. Initially, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 was widely believed to have spread from a wet market in Wuhan, China, after it jumped from an animal (probably a bat) to humans through an intermediary host. But a growing number of scientists and experts now believe it is at least as likely (if not more so) that the virus emerged accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

There are many reasons to suspect an accidental leak: the institute’s location and known work with coronaviruses; the outbreak’s distance from bat populations; the inability to identify an intermediary host or any early clusters of cases outside Hubei province; some physical features of the virus; and China’s cover-up of evidence and refusal to cooperate fully with international investigators. All are fueling speculation and greater attention from US intelligence agencies, which have now been ordered by President Joe Biden to increase their efforts to identify the origins of COVID-19. If the “lab leak” narrative comes to be widely accepted, it will severely damage China’s standing worldwide and could pose a serious political problem for its leadership at home.

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