Canadian Security Magazine

COVID-19 Updates News Public Sector
Murky mystery of COVID-19’s origins takes back seat in Canada to easing crisis

The federal government will focus on navigating Canada out of the COVID-19 crisis before turning to the origins of the novel coronavirus


WASHINGTON – The federal government will remain focused on navigating Canada out of the COVID-19 crisis before turning to the murky mystery surrounding the origins of the novel coronavirus, says Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

While it will be vitally important in the coming days to learn the true origin story of the virus, Canada’s priority right now needs to be the health and safety of Canadians, Hajdu told a news conference Monday.

“There will be time and a lot of interest and importance to understand how this virus became prevalent in the human species,” Hajdu said. That understanding will better inform efforts to help protect people from becoming infected in the future, she said.

“Although those questions are important, because they will help us prevent future outbreaks and understand what we can learn from this particular virus, what’s even more important right now is to stay focused on Canadians’ health and helping Canadians get through the outbreak that we’re in now.”

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What sounded several weeks ago like a garden-variety conspiracy theory appears to be gaining traction in the U.S. intelligence community: that the outbreak, although not the virus itself, could have emanated from a virology lab in Wuhan, China, the city where COVID-19 was first detected in late December.

In a statement last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said U.S. agencies were actively investigating “whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

The U.S. agrees with the “wide scientific consensus” that the virus is neither man-made nor genetically modified, it added.

Still, the notion of the Wuhan Institute of Virology being the source of the pandemic – a tempting one given its location and relative proximity to the so-called “wet markets” long presumed to be ground zero – dovetails nicely with the blame-China narrative being pushed in recent weeks by the White House, as well as by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others.

Indeed, there’s “enormous evidence” not only that the lab is to blame, but that the Chinese government went to lengths to cover it up, Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week” – an allegation Chinese officials have strenuously denied.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said she’s not seen any specific evidence to point to the lab as the culprit, but she acknowledged the world has more questions than answers at this point about outbreak’s true origins.

“I don’t think we’ve seen any specific information to say this is a laboratory accident or release, but at the same time we don’t know the exact origins of this virus,” Tam said.

Though the novel coronavirus is widely believed to have originated with bats, a different animal would likely have had to be involved as an “intermediate host” in order to allow the virus to jump to humans. The identity of a likely host hasn’t been confirmed, but preliminary research has pointed to snakes as well as pangolins, a scaly, nocturnal creature that lives in Asia and Africa.

“The natural history, the evolution of the virus may be found in the upcoming months, but sometimes you may actually not find that until many months later,” Tam said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2020.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2020