Coronavirus COVID19 test swab close-up anon 260420 CREDIT MOD
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Coronavirus: Where Did COVID-19 Come From?

From a biosecurity perspective, coronavirus has blind-sided us all, writes biological security expert, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE.

Coronavirus COVID19 test swab close-up anon 260420 CREDIT MOD

The world is still coming to grips with the enormity of the COVID outbreak; the biggest global shock since the Second World War.

The beginnings of the last world war are perhaps clearer than the origins of this pandemic.

What is clear is that China bears the majority of the responsibility for the global spread of coronavirus, be it an accident, which appears most likely, or not.

It is without doubt the virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, either from the wet animal markets where bats, the apparent culprits, are traded as a delicacy, or from the level four containment laboratory in Wuhan, as US President Donald Trump suggests.

We are unlikely to get a definitive answer for some time, but it is clear that China’s suppression of data for seven days related to the original outbreak allowed the virus to spread exponentially.

From a biosecurity perspective, the impact of a 'not very toxic' pathogen has blind-sided us all, axiomatically more than a very toxic one, due to its rapid global transmission and lack of medical counter measures.

Biosecurity has been the poor relation of the 'other' securities, especially cyber, for good reasons as it appeared an unlikely threat especially on a global scale, but COVID has changed all that.

Not least because of the psychological impact of a chemical or biological event.

From my experiences in Syria, people are far more frightened of chemical attack than a conventional one, but less than 0.5% of casualties are caused by chemical attack.

This ratio is not dissimilar for coronavirus, compared to other diseases and illnesses.

COVID19 Coronavirus test kit is posted through the car window at the Mobile Testing Unit in Kendal 250420 CREDIT MOD
Coronavirus has changed the perception of biosecurity, says Hamish de Bretton-Gordon (Picture: MOD).

The economic impact alone requires us to mitigate this threat.

Until now, the risk has been considered as 'likelihood low, but impact massive', and with these odds, most thought it was a risk worth taking. Not now.

The COVID-19 type of pandemic is thought as a one in 100-year event.

Perhaps compared to Spanish flu at the beginning of last century, but did we just get away with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Ebola?

Global connectivity, with millions 'usually' in the air at any one time, means spread and transmission can be anywhere on the globe in 24 hours.

There are now more than 70 level four biological containment facilities where the deadliest pathogens are stored and worked on, and there are plans for many more.

This is a massive increase over the last 30 years and is a definite Achilles heel which now requires much greater scrutiny to prevent further pandemics or accidents.

The terror threat must not be ignored, as biological weapons are the ultimate terror weapon and their massive impact, if successful, is what terrorist are about.

I investigated so-called Islamic State trying to introduce plague to refugee camps in Syria.

German security services interdicted vast amounts of weaponised ricin, a biological toxin, from jihadists in Germany last year.

Combining the terror threat and the continued increase of level four containment facilities, the prospect of an 'I Am Pilgrim' scenario is not as far-fetched as it first appears.

For those who have not read this epic fiction novel by Terry Hayes, it is where a terrorist tries to infect the United States with a vaccine-resistant smallpox virus.

COVID19 Coronavirus test kit is posted through the car window at the Mobile Testing Unit in Kendal 250420 CREDIT MOD
The British military has played a major role in the UK's response to COVID-19 (Picture: MOD).

Some will remember the Amerithrax, biological attack in 2001, where letters laced with anthrax, a biological pathogen, were posted in the US.

Five people were killed and 17 injured.

The clean-up cost was more than $200 million at 2003 prices, and it has sporned 69,000 copycat threats in the US alone to this day.

The control and use of data is key to preventing and subsequently managing a pandemic or biological attack.

The protection and prevention of manipulation of that data is sacrosanct.

The loss of at least seven days of data and dis-information following the initial COVID cases in Wuhan, allowed the virus seven days to spread globally.

It is clear that under the fog of coronavirus much malevolent cyber activity is happening to weaken security and medical structures across the globe.

China seems to have weathered this storm better than most and only some areas of the country were affected, which is unique. 

The country has supplied most of the globe's personal protective equipment (PPE) and there is allegedly a leaked report from Five Eyes security services that cyber attacks, believed to originate from China, Russia and Iran, are trying to affect medical research and vaccine production.

Whatever the origins of the virus, China has not been a good global neighbour and must be held to account, if a similar pandemic is not to bring the world to its knees in future.

Equally, we need to dust off, or more likely write biosecurity strategies and plans to ensure the next pandemic or bio attack does not stop the world turning?

By Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE, biological security expert

Cover image: A test for coronavirus being carried out (Picture: MOD).