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Origin and Causes of Covid-19

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Part of the Economic and Financial Law & Policy – Shifting Insights & Values book series (EFLP,volume 7)

Abstract

The Chapter 1, entitled “Origin and Causes of Covid-19” of the book titled “Covid-19 and Capitalism - Success and Failure of the Legal Methods for Dealing with a Pandemic”, aims to probe, by way of introductory chapter, the causes of the Covid-19 pandemic and of its immense impact on the capitalist, Western world. To this end, this chapter aims to provide a synthesis of the findings of a number of prominent international organizations and academic authors whose views and factual information have been relied upon for working out said in this chapter. The author of the book “Covid-19 and Capitalism” is not himself a medical academic and hence not in a position to conduct first-hand research into the medical causes of a pandemic, for which it has been necessary to rely on other people’s research findings to which reference is made. In addition, this chapter also seeks to explore the characteristics of the prevailing socioeconomic order, in particular capitalism, which help to explain why the Covid-19 virus has been so successful in creating a pandemic. This search, which will be explored in greater depth in the subsequent chapters of the book, at the same time allowed the author to test the research findings of some of his previous work (referenced throughout the chapter) against this new research.

1.1 Origin of Covid-19

1.1.1 The Covid-19 Epidemic: A Basic Chronology

It appears that the virus responsible for “Covid-19”, short for “coronavirus disease 2019”, namely “SARS-CoV-2”, short for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”, began infecting people for the first time in December 2019 in Wuhan, a city of about 11 million people located in Hubei province, China.Footnote 1

The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 was first observed when cases of unexplained pneumonia were reported in Wuhan. Within the first few weeks of the outbreak in Wuhan, an association was noted between these first cases of Covid-19 and the Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market (also known as the “Huanan Market”). Authorities therefore decided to close the market on 1 January 2020 in order to clean up and disinfect the environment. The market, which sold aquatic and seafood products, as well as farmed wild animal products, was soon suspected to be the epicentre of the outbreak, which also suggested a human-animal interface event. However, retrospective investigations later identified additional cases with onset of illness as early as December 2019, but not all of these early cases were associated with the Huanan market.Footnote 2

On 9 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) was still in doubt about the roots of what would become the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet the WHO noted from the outset that the wave of pneumonia cases in Wuhan could have been caused by an unknown coronavirus. There were, at that time, fifty-nine known cases of Covid-19, and travel precautions were already at the forefront of experts’ minds.Footnote 3

The Chinese government and the WHO initially downplayed growing concerns that the disease could be easily transmitted between humans. At a press conference in Geneva that took place on 14 January 2020, Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of the WHO’s emerging diseases unit, was quoted by Reuters as saying that there had been “limited human-to-human transmission” in Wuhan.Footnote 4 Another 6 days passed before Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese epidemiologist and government adviser, finally confirmed in an interview with state media on 20 January 2020 that the virus could indeed be transmitted between people.Footnote 5

As the Covid-19 outbreak coincided with the approach of the Lunar New Year, it is suspected that travel between Chinese cities prior to the start of the festival facilitated the transmission of the virus within China. In this way, Covid-19 quickly spread to other cities in Hubei province and then to other parts of China as well. Within a month, the virus that caused Covid-19 had spread to all 34 provinces in China.Footnote 6

On 20 January 2020, three new cases of Covid-19 were reported in Thailand and Japan, prompting the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to start screening for the virus at JFK, San Francisco and Los Angeles International airports. These airports were chosen because most passengers flying from Wuhan to the United States make use of these airports.Footnote 7 By the next day, Covid-19 had killed four people and infected more than 200 in China, before Dr. Zhong Nanshan finally confirmed that the disease could be transmitted from human to human. However, the WHO was still not convinced of the necessity to declare a public health emergency.Footnote 8

After weeks of surveillance, on 23 January 2020—when the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in the United States (cf. Sect. 2.5.1) and Europe (cf. Sects. 2.3 and 2.4)—Wuhan was quarantined; the city was locked down to contain any further contagion, with curfews and extremely restricting movement for a period that would last another 11 weeks.Footnote 9 By this time, another 13 people had died and 300 were ill. China took the unprecedented step of not only closing Wuhan and its population of 11 million, but also placing a restricted access protocol on Huanggang, 30 miles to the east, where residents could no longer leave without special permission. This meant that up to 18 million people were placed under strict control.Footnote 10

The Covid-19 epidemic in China is said to have reached its epidemic peak in February 2020. According to the National Health Commission of China, the total number of cases continued to rise sharply in early February 2020, at an average rate of over 3000 new confirmed cases per day. To control Covid-19, China resorted to unprecedentedly stringent public health measures. As a result of these measures, the daily number of new cases in China would soon begin to decline steadily.Footnote 11

In February 2020, a joint WHO-China mission on Covid-19 was convened to discuss planning in China and internationally on the next steps in response to the Covid-19 epidemic:Footnote 12

The official death rate in Wuhan was 1147 per 100,000 over the period 1 January to 31 March 2020. Outside Wuhan, the death rate was 675 per 100,000, lower than the expected rate of 715, after lockdowns reduced deaths from other causes, such as ordinary pneumonia or road accidents. Further research suggested that there were around 6000 additional deaths in Wuhan over the period January–March 2020 (compared to the same period in 2019), of which 4573 were caused by pneumonia, most of them related to Covid-19.Footnote 13

In the Western world, events in China could be followed through broadcasts and publications on the news and social media; however, at that time, the West did not take the threat posed by Covid-19 all too seriously. Given the severe containment measures that China used, one should have known better.

With a global death toll of more than 200 and an exponential jump to more than 9800 cases, on 31 January 2020, the WHO finally declared a “public health emergency”, for only the sixth time in its history.Footnote 14 On the same day, Joseph Wu—together with his colleagues Kathy and Gabriel Leung—published in “The Lancet” the results of a study he had been conducting since the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, in which he warned that countries should already start preparing for a possible pandemic:Footnote 15

Given that 2019-nCoV is no longer contained within Wuhan, other major Chinese cities are probably sustaining localized outbreaks. Large cities overseas with close transport links to China could also become outbreak epicenters, unless substantial public health interventions at both the population and personal levels are implemented immediately. Independent self-sustaining outbreaks in major cities globally could become inevitable because of substantial exportation of presymptomatic cases and in the absence of large-scale public health interventions. Preparedness plans and mitigation interventions should be readied for quick deployment globally.

From February 2020 on, the highly transmissible Covid-19 virus gradually spread to various other countries, including many European countries and the United States, as well as Asian countries such as Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan.Footnote 16 The Covid-19 virus rapidly surpassed SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in terms of the number of people infected and the spatial extent of epidemic areas, posing an extraordinary threat to global public health.Footnote 17 Indeed, already by 10 February 2020, the number of deaths caused by Covid-19 in China had surpassed that of the SARS epidemic 17 years earlier, with 908 deaths reported in China in the previous month, compared to (“only”) 774 deaths during the SARS crisis.Footnote 18

On 25 February 2020, Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, explained that the Covid-19 outbreak already met two of the three conditions required for qualifying it as a pandemic: (1) a disease-causing death, and (2) sustained person-to-person spread. (3) Global spread was the third criterion, but it was not yet met at the time.Footnote 19

On 11 March 2020, the WHO declared Covid-19 a “pandemic”.Footnote 20 In making this declaration, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, told at a briefing in Geneva that the agency was deeply concerned about the alarming levels of “spread and severity” of the Covid-19 epidemic. Mr. Ghebreyesus also expressed his huge concern about the alarming levels of inaction.Footnote 21

In the words of the WHO Director General:Footnote 22

We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.

Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It does not change what WHO is doing, and it does not change what countries should do.

We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.

And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time.

WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases.

And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action.

We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.

Since then, both the horror of Covid-19 and the arsenal of measures to contain it have rapidly increased and have even been overtaken by a variety of complex socio-economic and cultural implications, soon triggering a capitalist crisis that was still ongoing at the time of finishing this book.Footnote 23

Already at the beginning of March 2020, the number of Covid-19-related deaths in Europe exceeded those in Asia. From mid-April 2020 onwards, the focus of the pandemic shifted to the United States where, due to the Trump administration’s lack of adequate response to the Covid-19 crisis (cf. Sect. 2.5), the number of deaths would since then remain consistently high until 2021—when the US vaccination-campaign started gradually protecting the American people from the Covid-19 virus—although the epidemic shifted from the North East to other parts of the country.Footnote 24

In May 2020, the 73rd World Health Assembly adopted Resolution WHA73.1 dealing with the response to Covid-19. In this resolution, WHO Member States requested the Director-General:Footnote 25

to continue work closely with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and countries, as part of the One-Health Approach to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions, which will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events occurring, as well as to provide guidance on how to prevent infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in animals and humans and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, as well as to reduce further risks of emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases.

As of 3 June 2020, Covid-19 had already claimed some 380,000 human lives and had infected approximately 6.4 million people in more than 185 countries worldwide.Footnote 26

Remarkably, it was only by 6 July 2020 that a group consisting of hundreds of scientists from various countries began to ask the WHO “to revise the recommendations on Covid-19 to better reflect its potential for airborne transmission”. Previously, WHO itself had kept on stating that “Covid-19 is spread mainly by small droplets from the nose or mouth emitted when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks”.Footnote 27 Finally, on 9 July 2020, the WHO announced that Covid-19 could be transmitted by air, in response to the letter of the aforementioned group of scientists asking the agency to revise its previous recommendations. In an updated scientific note, the WHO acknowledged that Covid-19 could persist in the air of crowded indoor spaces and pointed out that the virus could also be transmitted by asymptomatic people.Footnote 28 This view was subsequently confirmed by a study (based on an analysis of mobile phone mobility data in major cities) published in the journal “Nature” on 11 November 2020, which showed that most new Covid-19 cases came from indoor gatherings in places such as bars, restaurants, gyms and grocery shops.Footnote 29

In July 2020, based on the recommendations of the 73rd World Health Assembly, the WHO sent an advance team to China to agree on a way forward to better understand the origins of the Covid-19 virus.Footnote 30

On 28 September 2020, according to the New York Times, the number of Covid-19-related deaths worldwide passed the one million mark, “surpassing deaths from HIV, dysentery, malaria, influenza, cholera and measles combined in 2020”.Footnote 31

Less than a month later, on 19 October 2020, Data from Johns Hopkins University indicated that Covid-19 cases had surpassed the number of 40 million on a global scale. Indeed, in the aftermath of the 2020 summer season, the United States and various European countries then even experienced their highest rate of new cases in months, a situation soon to be known as the “second wave” of the Covid-19 pandemic. By then, more than 1.1 million people had been killed by the Covid-19 virus worldwide, including nearly 220,000 in the United States, the hardest-hit country at the time.Footnote 32

As of 3 March 2021, Covid-19 had infected more than 115,773,776 people, with 2,571,296 deaths reported. North and South America were the most affected regions in terms of cases and deaths, but Asia was not far behind, mainly due to outbreaks in India. Meanwhile, according to National Geographic, the global economy had collapsed, while containment and mitigation efforts continued to disrupt all sectors of economic life, such as manufacturing, education, the financial sector, and numerous other sectors (Table 1.1).Footnote 33

Table 1.1 Key figures for the most affected countries worldwide on 4 March 2021 [Source: Statista (2021), accessed on 6 March 2021]

On 12 April 2021, the WHO reported that the global Covid-19 pandemic continued to grow exponentially, with reports of 4.4 million new cases in the preceding week, the seventh consecutive week of rising numbers, indicating what was being referred to as the “third wave” of the Covid-19 pandemic.Footnote 34 Covid-19 had by then killed at least 2,937,355 people since its outbreak in China in December 2019. At least 135,952,650 cases of infection had been recorded on a global scale. In its announcement of 12 April 2021, the WHO said its latest global figures represented a 9% increase in infections over the previous week and a 5% increase in deaths. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said that “confusion, complacency and inconsistency in public health measures” were prolonging the Covid-19 pandemic, and that it would take still months before the situation was brought under control, and only through concerted action.Footnote 35

According to The Guardian, on 17 April 2021, a dark milestone was reached in the Covid-19 tragedy when it was revealed that the number of deaths from the disease worldwide had exceeded three million.Footnote 36 The news was announced by the Welcome Trust’s director, Jeremy Farrar, who also warned that the actual number of Covid-19 deaths was likely much higher. More worryingly, the Covid-19 pandemic was reported to continue to grow at an alarming rate, with hundreds of thousands of people still dying every month.Footnote 37 As of the same date, according to the Covid-19 dashboard managed by Johns Hopkins University, there had already been more than 140 million cases of the disease since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, with the official death toll reaching 3,001,068. The most affected country in absolute numbers was the United States, with more than 31 million cases and over 560,000 deaths.Footnote 38 India and Brazil had also been badly hit, with the former recording over 14 million cases and 175,000 deaths, while the latter had just under 14 million cases and almost 370,000 deaths. Britain, which was also heavily affected by the disease, recorded more than four million cases and a death toll that at the time stood at more than 127,000.Footnote 39

In the week leading up to 27 April 2021, there were more than 5.8 million new cases of Covid-19 worldwide, the highest number ever. By the same date, more than three million people had died from Covid-19, with the WHO reporting that infections and hospitalizations among people aged 25–59 were increasing at an alarming rate. According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, it took “nine months to reach 1 million deaths, four months to reach 2 million and three months to reach 3 million”.Footnote 40

In April 2021, the biggest increases of the Covid-19 outbreak were seen in South-East Asia, largely in India, and in the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Pacific regions, but the situation was also very bad in Latin America, where it was reported that people who had migrated to Brazil in search for work were fleeing the humanitarian disaster there.Footnote 41 Infection rates also remained high in many rich countries, including the United States and large parts of Europe, but in these rich countries the mood was more optimistic: as Covid-19 vaccines were distributed at an increasing extent, many people felt that the worst was behind them.Footnote 42

However, the Covid-19 endemic in countries such as India and Brazil began to shape the subsequent evolution of the Covid-19 virus, and there was a growing concern that it could lead to the emergence of even more dangerous variants of the Covid-19 virus, which neither borders nor vaccines could guarantee to prevent.Footnote 43

On Saturday 24 April 2021, at least 1,002,938,540 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine were reported to have been administered in 207 countries and territories all over the world. Nevertheless, the global number of new infections in a single day still reached a record high of 893,000 on 23 April 2021, with India accounting for more than a third of these new infections.Footnote 44 On the same date, Saturday 24 April 2021, Brazil had its deadliest month on account of the Covid-19 virus, with nearly 68,000 deaths reported in April 2021 so far (with still 1 week left in the month).Footnote 45

In April and May 2021, a second horrific wave of Covid-19 hit India, home to nearly one-fifth of the world’s population. This second wave was reported to plunge the country into “death, despair and desolation”. Scenes of suffering were shown, of people dying for lack of oxygen and medical care, both hardly available while the country was in general enduring shortages of medicines and other commodities, as well as mass cremations and burials, grieving survivors of diseased, overwhelmed health workers and “sheer human helplessness”. On 8 May 2021, India recorded about 400,000 reported cases per day (although the actual number may have been eight to ten times higher). Some models even predicted that by mid to late May 2021, the actual numbers could be between 800,000 and 1 million cases per day, and 5–10,000 deaths per day.Footnote 46

On 12 May 2021, India accounted for one-third of the world’s reported Covid-19 deaths. Hospital and medical staff, as well as morgues and crematoria were completely overwhelmed, and medication and medical oxygen were in short supply.Footnote 47 Two days earlier, dozens of bodies—some media reports put the number of corpses as high as 100—all believed to be Covid-19 victims, were reported to have washed up on the banks of the sacred Ganges River in northern India, as the Covid-19 pandemic spread through the country’s vast rural hinterland, also there overwhelming local health facilities, crematoria and cemeteries alike.Footnote 48

1.1.2 Nature of Covid-19

According to Morens et al., until the outbreak of the Covid-10 epidemic, relatively little had been known about coronaviruses. Moreover, research interest in these “cold viruses” was said to be minimal.Footnote 49 Also according to Morens et al., the viral agent of Covid-19, “SARS-CoV-2”, was named after the genetically related “SARS-CoV” (more recently distinguished, by some, as “SARS-CoV-1”) which had already been reported to have caused a deadly near-pandemic in 2002–2003. However, until 2019, neither SARS-CoV-2 nor its genetic sequences themselves had ever been identified in human or animal viruses.Footnote 50

Morens et al., have defined coronaviruses as RNA viruses that are distributed worldwide in a large but unknown number of animal species.Footnote 51

According to these same authors,Footnote 52 18 years before the Covid-19 epidemic, a previously unknown β-coronavirus, “SARS-CoV” (also known as “SARS-CoV-1”), had suddenly appeared. After its initial appearance in China, SARS-CoV-1 had spread to twenty-nine other countries, causing a near-pandemic while killing 813 of the 8809 people who contracted the infection, before finally being controlled by aggressive public health measures. This “SARS-CoV”-virus has reportedly not been seen since.Footnote 53

Still according to Morens et al., in 2021, another previously unknown β-coronavirus, called “Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus” (“MERS-CoV”), emerged to cause highly lethal human infections. However, this virus, which is closely related to “SARS-CoV”, does not transmit efficiently between humans. Cases have, therefore, remained largely limited to the Middle East because its intermediate host, the dromedary camel, is said to be present there in relatively high numbers.Footnote 54

Morens et al., furthermore, made the observation that in 2016, another new coronavirus originating from bats, this time an α-coronavirus, emerged in China to cause a new epizootic in pigs, namely the “porcine acute diarrhoea syndrome coronavirus” (“SADS-CoV”).Footnote 55 Finally, at least as of late November 2019, “SARS-CoV-2”, commonly referred to as (the) “Covid-19” (virus), was recognised as the third fatal emergence of human disease associated with a bat virus and the fourth mammalian emergence associated with a bat virus in 18 years.Footnote 56

Unlike its predecessors, the Covid-19 virus quickly became a phenomenal success and even managed to cause the worst pandemic in over a century.

In addition, the Covid-19 virus would soon begin to mutate,Footnote 57 raising concerns about: (1) a higher degree of contagiousness; (2) the fact that a new variant could be more deadly, or lead to more severe disease, and (3) a greater resistance of the virus to vaccines.

The Sars-CoV-2 virus has mutated from the start. On average, a single Sars-CoV-2 virus accumulates two single-letter mutations per month.Footnote 58 In comparison, the flu virus mutates at about twice that rate. Many of the mutations that occurred early on helped the Sars-CoV-2 virus adapt to humans.Footnote 59 For example, the variant of the virus that was first detected in Wuhan, China, was not the same as the one that reached most parts of the world, the D614G mutation that appeared in Europe in February 2020, to then become the dominant form of the virus worldwide. Another variant, called A222V, spread to Europe and was linked to people’s summer holidays in Spain.Footnote 60

On 23 September 2020, a study at Houston Methodist Hospital described a new, more contagious strain of Covid-19 in a large proportion of samples from—at the time—“recent” patients. Investigators reportedly analysed samples from the earliest phase of the Covid-19 pandemic and from a more recent wave of infection, concluding that almost all strains from the most recent phase of the Covid-19 disease had a mutation that allowed the virus to bind and infect more human cells.Footnote 61

New mutations in the virus have kept appearing since then, with scientists starting to focus on those that were likely to make Sars-CoV-2 more problematic. One of the most common mutations has been “N501Y”, also known as “Nelly” to geneticists who track new variants. This mutation affects the 501st amino acid of the virus, swapping asparagine for another amino acid called tyrosine. This changes the shape of the spike protein in a way that allows the virus to bind more tightly to human cells. A likely consequence of these characteristics is that less virus is needed to cause an infection, so that the disease spreads more effectively.Footnote 62

The Nelly mutation was reported to occur in at least three variants that have begun to cause concern worldwide: (1) the rapidly spreading B117 or 501YV1 variant, first spotted in Kent; (2) the B1351 or 501YV2 variant, first discovered in South Africa; and (3) the P1 or 501YV3 variant, first observed in Brazil.Footnote 63

On 21 December 2020, the United Kingdom announced that a new strain of the Covid-19 virus, B.1.1.7, was spreading in the country. This new strain was first detected in September 2020. By November 2020, around a quarter of new Covid-19 cases in London were reported to be caused by this new variant. This figure rose to almost two-thirds of cases by mid-December 2020. The new variant, soon known as the UK or Kent variant, was reported to be more contagious but did not appear to be more deadly or cause more severe disease.Footnote 64 This variant was reported in the United States in late December 2020.Footnote 65

The South African variant, named B1351 or 501YV2, was first identified in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in samples from early October 2020. Since then, other cases were detected outside South Africa, including in the United States. The variant was also found in Zambia in late December 2020, by which time it appeared to have become the predominant variant in the latter country.Footnote 66 The South African variant (as this variant was soon called) carries a mutation, called “N501Y”, which appears to make it more contagious or easier to spread. Another mutation, called E484K, is thought to help the virus bypass a person’s immune system and to affect the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines (which was one of the main reasons why South Africa would soon after stop using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, a fact which we shall readdress in Chap. 9).Footnote 67 Cases attributed to this variant have since been detected in several other countries outside South Africa. The variant was detected in the United States in late January 2021.Footnote 68

In Japan, still another variant of SARS-CoV-2 (known as “P.1”) was first identified in January 2021 in four travellers from Brazil who had been tested during routine screening at Haneda airport near Tokyo, Japan. This variant has no less than seventeen unique mutations, including three in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein. The P.1 variant is a branch of the B.1.1.28 lineage. This variant, which was quickly dubbed the Brazilian variant (because it has been first detected in travellers from Brazil), was discovered in the United States in late January 2021.Footnote 69

But some of these “variants of concern” also were reported to share other mutations. Both the B1351 and P1 variants carry another leading mutation, K417N, whose impact is not yet clear. One of the most worrying mutations found on the date of finishing this book was “E484K”, or “Eeek”. This mutation was reported to alter the spike protein, making it more difficult for some antibodies formed by vaccination or previous infection to latch onto the Sars-CoV-2 virus. Scientists were particularly concerned that variants carrying the E484K mutation could still spread in populations that had already been hard hit by the Covid-19 virus or had already been substantially vaccinated, hence the fear that the South African variant could reverse the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom. According to Sample, the number of variants that have started to carry the mutation indicates that it is beneficial to the virus. According to this same author, geneticists have identified the E484K mutation in the South African and Brazilian variants and in other variants found in the United Kingdom, New York, Nigeria and, more recently, Angola. In the United Kingdom, samples of the Kent variant that was widespread in the south-west of the country also evolved into the E484K mutation, as had another variant circulating in Merseyside. Still according to Sample, the same mutations can appear by chance. But when variants around the world are stimulated after acquiring several corresponding mutations (D614G, N501Y and E484K were all found in variants from Kent, South Africa and Brazil), it may mean that “convergent evolution” is at work. This occurs when a virus present in different parts of the world finds the same way to adapt to evolutionary pressure.Footnote 70

Again according to Sample, between December 2020 and March 2021, a new variant of the Covid-19 virus gained ground in the western state of Maharashtra, India. On 24 March 2021, the Indian Ministry of Health reported that 15–20% of the Covid-19 virus sequenced in the region—it concerned one of the first outbreaks of the second wave in the country—carried two unusual mutations: “E484Q” and “L425R”. This figure rose to over 60% in the region by mid-April 2021. The variant has been named “B.1.617”.Footnote 71 According to Sample, genomic surveillance in the United Kingdom found the Indian variant in samples dating back to February 2021. In mid-April 2021, Public Health England (PHE) said it was aware of 73 cases in England and four in Scotland, but on 19 April 2021, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock revised this figure upwards to 103. Most of the UK cases were linked to travel from India, but some cases were due to transmission of the virus in people’s homes.Footnote 72 Scientists also began to research whether the variant is/was more dangerous than others in circulation, for example by spreading more quickly, causing more severe disease or evading immunity acquired through previous infection or vaccination. They found that of the two main mutations in the Indian variant, L452R may help the virus evade some vaccine-derived antibodies, while E484Q has similarities to the E484K mutation that helps make the South African variant at least partially resistant to vaccines. However, it was not expected that the mutations in the Indian variant would render the vaccines completely ineffective, as injections were said to induce broad immune defences. Nor was it known whether the new variant was the cause of the upsurge in cases in India. Genomic sequencing in the United Kingdom showed that the Indian variant increased from 0.2% to 1% of cases over a 2-week period after 20 March 2021, but the majority of these cases were thought to be imports. The concern has been reinforced by Health Canada data, which showed that Covid-19 infected passengers were found on all 27 flights arriving in Canada from Delhi between 4 April 2012 and 14 April 2021.Footnote 73

On 10 Monday 2021, the WHO (as quoted by Nebehay and Farge) declared that the Covid-19 variant first identified in India in December 2020, was classified as a “variant of global concern”, as some preliminary studies had shown that it spread more easily.Footnote 74

On 12 May 2021, Farrer reported that the WHO had announced that the Indian Covid-19 variant had already been found in dozens of countries around the world. The UN health agency added that the Covid-19 variant B.1.617, first discovered in India in October 2020, had since been detected in more than 4500 samples uploaded to an open-access database “from 44 countries in the six WHO regions, with additional reports of detections in five additional countries”. Apart from India, Britain was said to have reported the highest number of cases of Covid-19 caused by the variant.Footnote 75 (Cf. Sect. 2.4.2.3.5.3) As of 14 May 2021, outside of India, the United Kingdom had recorded the highest number of cases of the Indian variant, at 1587 cases. The United States (with 486 cases detected), Singapore (with 156 cases detected) and Germany (with 103 cases detected) were the only other countries to have sequenced more than 100 cases of the B.1.617+ variant. Australia had detected 85 cases of the Indian variant, and Denmark 39.Footnote 76

1.1.3 Plausible Causes of the Covid-19 Outbreak

Especially since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become public knowledge that bats of a wide variety of genera and species spread around the world are known to be the main reservoir of coronaviruses. According to Morens et al., it has even been revealed that bats are responsible for more than 98% of coronavirus detections.Footnote 77

According to these same authors, investigators have since recent been able to map global hotspots for the potential emergence of infections. These hotspots include southern/southwestern China and neighbouring regions and countries. Still according to these same authors, investigators also identified numerous human-animal interactions that may be risk factors for emergence of viral infections, such as bat tourism, wet markets, wildlife supply chains for human consumption, capitalistic land (and agriculture) management practices and environmental disturbances.Footnote 78 We shall come back to this in Sect. 2.2.2 hereafter. Not surprisingly, both SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 have emerged in China, home to bats of more than 100 species, many of which carry α- and/or β-coronavirus.Footnote 79 According to further research cited by Morens et al., more than 780 partial genetic sequences of coronaviruses have been identified from bats of 41 species infected with α- and 31 species infected with β-coronaviruses. According to the same research, nature is clearly “a cauldron for intense and dangerous coronavirus evolution”.Footnote 80

Since then, an even clearer and more disturbing picture of the coronavirus ecosystem has emerged.Footnote 81

From this research:Footnote 82

it appears that a contiguous area encompassing parts of south/southwest China, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam constitutes a bat coronavirus “hotspot,” featuring intense interspecies viral transmission. In such hotspots, a rich diversity of SARS-like viruses is to be found, not only in rhinophid bats, but also in bats of other genera and species to which these viruses have host-switched. The same rhinophid bats are also implicated in the emergence of ‘SADS-CoV’ in southern China. Many of these SARS-like viruses bind to human angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) receptors and infect human respiratory epithelial cells in vitro, suggesting their pandemic potential.

As phrased by Morens et al., SARS-CoV-2 arose, in essence, as predicted by this research, as a result of a natural event associated with either direct transmission of a coronavirus from bats to humans or indirect transmission to humans via an intermediate host, such as a “Malaysian pangolin” or other mammal.Footnote 83 As with the coronaviruses that caused SARS and MERS, human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 was also quickly established, although the latter virus showed much greater infectivity than these other two coronaviruses.Footnote 84 It was according to Morens et al., also quickly established that those infected with SARS-CoV-2 appeared to be most infectious at the time of symptom onset, but were also infectious in the days before symptom onset. It was also shown that infections could be asymptomatic, cause mild illness or result in severe illness and death.Footnote 85

The emergence of this “bat-to-human coronavirus or indirect transmission”, although a natural phenomenon, obviously caused by a virus, was however at the same time facilitated by the characteristics of globalised capitalism which helped to provide the societal factors that made this transmission, and especially the Covid-19 pandemic itself, possible.

This will be discussed briefly in the next Sects. 1.2 and 1.3 and then, in more depth, throughout the rest of this book.

1.2 How Capitalism (Ab)uses the Earth and Its Resources

There is probably not much need to point out that, since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, capitalist forms of economic production have had an enormous effect on the environment, to an ever-increasing extent.Footnote 86

This is a direct result of some of the basic premises of capitalism, such as (1) the myth of economic growth; (2) the idea that production takes place for the sake of production (and thus consumption takes place for the sake of consumption); and (3) the principle of the supremacy of profits, to which all other values in societal life have been progressively sacrificed.Footnote 87 Basic economics textbooks even reflect upon these premises by referring to the Earth and its wealth, alongside people themselves, as the “resources”—or “factors of production”—on which the (capitalist) economy is based.

Thus, in the logic of capitalism,Footnote 88 the Earth on the one hand, and human beings on the other, serve mainly as means to achieve the goals set by the global economy.Footnote 89

If we add to this the fact that there has never been any room for planning within capitalism—given the view that, by relying on (the invisible hand of) the market economy, everything will eventually work out (fine)Footnote 90 (cf. Sect. 2.2.4 that deals with the neoliberal principle of “laissez-faire, laissez-passer”), this has led to a continuous (ab)use—and thus depletion—of all kinds of natural raw materials and energy sources (among which, in some parts of the world, even drinking water),Footnote 91 in favour of irrational production processes, aimed at satisfying the even more irrational consumption needs of the fortunate few on earth who can afford them.Footnote 92

1.3 Further Impact of Globalization

In the context of the contemporary globalised economy and driven by a wide variety of neoliberal economic theories, these disastrous consequences of “pure” or “unbridled” capitalism have, in recent decades, been further accentuated and amplified to extreme proportions.Footnote 93

E.g., in the period 1989–1991, the neoliberal world order that had emerged in the 1980s under the influence of neoliberal doctrines was reinforced by the collapse of the communist system in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.Footnote 94 More precisely, the collapse of the communist system in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union ended much of the resistance, especially on an economic and political level, to the power of capitalism. Since then, the collapse of the communist economies has even been used as a further argument that there is no alternative to the free market.Footnote 95 As a result, the belief in the free market would become ever more fanatical than in previous centuries, leading to the idea that the free market is an absolute condition for a free society and for individual and collective progress. In the 1990s, these influences paved the way for an invisible “globalisation” of the capitalist economic system. This led to a continuous increase in the level of interconnection between countries at a socio-economic level, characterised by an increase in the international traffic of goods, services, capital and labour (thus people).Footnote 96 The so-called principles of “liberalisation” and “deregulation” hereby became the guiding principles of public policy in almost all countries of the world.Footnote 97

Since (economic) neoliberalism managed to make capitalism the dominant economic system on Earth, the polluting effect of economic activities has nowadays even taken on a global dimension (with so-called “new economies” even having made claims in the recent past to be as entitled to pollute the world as the Western countries have done in the past).Footnote 98

As a result, during the past three ages, the protection of the global ecosystem, the only “habitat” of the human species and all other known living creatures, has been increasingly sacrificed to the capitalist principle of profit-making. Similarly, public health has also been sacrificed to the sole interests of business, with the working methods of the pharmaceutical industry as a clear example.Footnote 99 (Cf. Sect. 9.2)

All of these elements helped Covid-19 develop into one of the worst pandemics the world has seen in over a century.Footnote 100

We shall return to these topics in the next subsection, and in more detail in Sect. 2.2.

1.4 Capitalist Exploitation Methods as an Obvious Recipe for a Pandemic

According to Nelson, it was only a matter of time before the increasingly popular “Anthropocene” was to be renamed “Capitalocene”. The latter term refers to the uniqueness of nature as Earth mimicked by the victory of global capital over all other values.Footnote 101 According to Nelson, all this helps to explain the success of Covid-19.Footnote 102

As explained earlier, Covid-19 is caused by the “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2” (“SARS-COV-2”), essentially a nucleic acid molecule surrounded by protein. This virus multiplies in the cells of a living host and, as explained earlier (cf. Sect. 1.1.2), was most likely transmitted to humans by another animal vector.Footnote 103 Covid-19 is, more precisely, one of a family of viruses that cause gastrointestinal and respiratory infections in animals such as pigs, bats, dogs, cats, poultry and men. Although it has also been proposed (although unlikely) that SARS-COV-2 was created in a laboratory and accidentally escaped from there, or even that it was intentionally constructed and released as part of biological warfare, by far the most widely supported theory regarding the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak when this book went to press is that the Covid-19 virus emerged at a live (“wet”) animal market in Wuhan, or at a similar human-organised bat event.Footnote 104

Large-scale industrial agriculture is thought to be the main source of the emergence of these pathogens in the ecotones of capitalism. Rather than the unhealthy habits of Chinese markets, it is the practices of capitalist agriculture that incubate such viruses.Footnote 105 (Cf., furthermore, Sect. 2.2.2.)

In this respect, Chomsky pointed out that the Covid-19 epidemic is not so trivial: as the animals’ habitat is destroyed, animals with which humans have never had contact before start emerging from their forests and come into contact with humans. According to Chomsky, the threat posed by bats had already been known for a long time, as they happen to be the species that carries the most massive amounts of coronavirus. It is precisely for this reason that Chinese scientists have long ventured into very dangerous places, such as the inside of caves, to try to collect information on coronaviruses, risking their lives.Footnote 106 For Chomsky, all this is even a general truth: the more the habitat of animal species is destroyed due to human economic activity, the higher the probability of the appearance of as yet unknown diseases, caused by a coronavirus or otherwise.Footnote 107

Not surprisingly, inequality (cf. Chap. 10) and the dynamics of capitalism, including the poorly orchestrated response of the Western world, whose governments have been severely curtailed and weakened after decades of implementing the doctrines of neoliberalism (cf. Chap. 2), have all characterised the progression and outcomes of the coronavirus.Footnote 108

Kuchipudi has pointed to an unprecedented shift in human population as a further reason why more of these easily communicable diseases (viral or other) are coming from regions such as Asia and Africa. According to this author, rapid urbanisation is taking place in the Asia-Pacific regions, where, already by March 2021, 60% of the world’s population was living. According to information provided by the World BankFootnote 109 referred to by this same author, nearly 200 million people moved to urban areas in East Asia in the first decade of the twenty-first century alone (with several decades of urban growth still to come). Migration on this scale also implies that forest land is being destroyed to create both agricultural and residential areas. This forces wild animals to move closer to towns and villages, where they inevitably encounter domestic animals and humans. These wild animals often carry viruses. As we have already explained, e.g., bats can carry hundreds of these viruses. And the viruses, passing from one species to another, can end up infecting humans. Eventually, extreme urbanisation becomes a vicious circle: Human expansion and loss of habitat eventually kill off predators, including those that feed on rodents. With the predators gone—or at least their numbers greatly reduced—the rodent population explodes. And as studies in Africa show, the risk of zoonotic disease is also increasing.Footnote 110

According to Hennig, on 21 January 2020, the WHO started issuing regular situation reports on the then still new (and rather unknown) viral disease Covid-19. These reports made it clear that the new disease had only been first reported to the WHO country office in China 3 weeks earlier, more specifically on New Year’s Eve 2019. Still according to Hennig, only 3 months after the release of these first official Covid-19 figures, and but 4 months after the release of the first WHO reports on Covid-19, reported cases had already reached the 3.5 million mark. The number of confirmed deaths from Covid-19 by then already exceeded 250,000.Footnote 111 Hennig pointed, furthermore, out that it took only 2 months from its initial appearance in China for the Covid-19 virus to start spreading around the world, with Italy being one of the first Western countries to be dramatically confronted with it by the end of February, early-March 2020. Very quickly, the unpreparedness of the political authorities, not only in Italy but throughout Europe, became evident. This overall unpreparedness concerned not only the assistance to the first affected regions that were affected by the virus, but also the total lack of a concerted response to contain the spread of the disease.Footnote 112 As a result of this total unpreparedness and this lack of concerted response throughout the Western world, starting with the outbreak in Italy in February 2020, it took only a few more weeks for the Covid-19 virus to sweep across the European continent and, soon after, the American continent as well.Footnote 113 Indeed, witnessing another political failure, namely the presidency of US President Donald Trump, the next Covid-19 virus hotspot from March–April 2020 became the United States. Only a few weeks later, the latter country had both the highest number of reported cases and of confirmed deaths.Footnote 114

This rapid spread of Covid-19 due to this weak public policy response in Western capitalist countries will be examined in more detail in Chap. 2.

At the same time, particularly in several Asian countries, it appeared that restrictive measures had begun to show signs of success in containing the spread of the Covid-19 virus, with the number of new cases increasing at a slower rate, and in some cases decreasing.

Yet by the end of March 2020, 100 countries had already put some form of restrictions in place, including full national lockdown measures to combat the spread of Covid-19. These containment measures, which had to be maintained during the following months of 2020, in most cases until May/June 2020 (to be relaunched in the fall of 2020, and in many Western countries again in the spring of 2021), are seen as one of the main reasons why the Covid-19 pandemic was soon expected to have a major impact on the global economy, with all its socio-economic and political implications still to play out in the years to come.Footnote 115

It has, moreover, been suggested that the Covid-19 virus spreads most easily in the most connected parts of the world, which according to Hennig explains why, in the first months of the pandemic, the Covid-19 virus mainly affected the wealthier nations of the northern hemisphere, as these were well connected by air travel and characterised by intense and frequent global interconnectivity, both for business and leisure.Footnote 116 (Cf. Sect. 2.2.3.)

Unfortunately, it has also become clear that the Western countries that were confronted with the outbreak of Covid-19 on their territory had not learned anything from previous outbreaks of similar viruses in Asia. Moreover, despite early warnings about the risk of a coming pandemic already dating from the beginning of the twenty-first century, the WHO had shortly before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic remarked that many countries were still in 2018 insufficiently prepared for such a scenario. According to the WHO, many countries had by then still no or inadequate pandemic plans and no or insufficient stocks of mouth masks or other protective clothing. As a result, the most affected countries in the Western world were extremely ill-prepared to deal with the Covid-19 virus,Footnote 117 illustrating both the extreme degree of unpreparedness as the underlying political inability to adequately deal with the threat of a pandemic in some of the world’s “richest countries”.Footnote 118

All these socio-economic issues will be discussed in more detail in the next chapters of this book.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Cf. Nelson (2020), who further mentions that, from the outset, infection with Covid-19 was rapid, with widely varying symptoms, ranging from no symptoms to attacks and death, mainly from viral pneumonia. According to Nelson, it was clear from the start “that the elderly were the most prone to severe symptoms and death”.

    According to a joint WHO-China report of 10 February 2021 (entitled “WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part”), an explosive outbreak began in Wuhan in early December 2019. Initially, only the most severe cases that had contact with the health system were recognised as official cases. Still according to said report, other milder (and asymptomatic) cases are likely to have occurred at the same time as the recognised cases, but no information is available on these milder cases that could add to the epidemiological picture of the early outbreak. Many of the early cases were associated with the Huanan market, but a similar number of cases were associated with other markets, and some were not associated with any market. Transmission within the wider community in December 2019 could explain the cases not associated with the Huanan market, which, together with the presence of early cases not associated with this market, could suggest that the Huanan market was not the initial source of the outbreak. The milder cases that were not identified could, however, provide the link between the Huanan market and the early cases with no apparent link to the market. Still according to the same report, no firm conclusion on the role of the Huanan market could, therefore, be drawn. (Cf. WHO and China (2021), p. 47).

  2. 2.

    WHO and China (2021).

  3. 3.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  4. 4.

    The WHO was quick to clarify Dr. Van Kerkhove’s comments, saying it had only implied that human transmission was “possible” and “could” occur. “There was a misunderstanding at the press conference,” the WHO told the FT that day. “Preliminary investigations by the authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” (Cf. Mitchell et al. (2020).)

  5. 5.

    Mitchell et al. (2020).

  6. 6.

    Hu et al. (2021).

  7. 7.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  8. 8.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  9. 9.

    Nelson (2020).

  10. 10.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  11. 11.

    Hu et al. (2021). Cf., furthermore, He et al. (2021).

  12. 12.

    WHO and China (2021), p. 10.

    Its main objectives were to: “(1) Better understand the evolution of the Covid-19 epidemic in China and the nature and impact of ongoing containment measures. (2) Share knowledge on Covid-19 response and preparedness measures in countries affected by or at risk of Covid-19 imports. (3) Generate recommendations for adjusting containment and response measures to Covid-19 in China and internationally. (4) Prioritise a programme of collaboration, research and development to address critical gaps in knowledge and in response and preparedness tools and activities.”

  13. 13.

    He et al. (2021).

    According to the authors, by March 2021, the official number of Covid-19 deaths in mainland China was 4636, of which 83.5%, or 3869 deaths, were in Wuhan. The number of Covid-19 deaths in the United States was then over 500,000. (Cf. He et al. (2021).)

  14. 14.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  15. 15.

    Wu et al. (2020), p. 689.

  16. 16.

    Nelson (2020), AJMC Staff (2021) and Hu et al. (2021).

  17. 17.

    Hu et al. (2021).

  18. 18.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  19. 19.

    For the text of the declaration, see World Health Organization (2020).

  20. 20.

    Nelson (2020).

  21. 21.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  22. 22.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  23. 23.

    Nelson (2020).

  24. 24.

    Team FT Visual & Data Journalism (2021); data from 4 March 2021, accessed 6 March 2021.

    Latin America became the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic from summer 2020 onwards, with the region accounting for almost half of the deaths each day in the second half of 2020. A new surge in Europe after autumn 2020 implied that Covid-19 remained a global pandemic throughout 2020. (Cf. Team FT Visual & Data Journalism (2021).)

  25. 25.

    World Health Assembly (2020).

  26. 26.

    Nelson (2020).

  27. 27.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

    According to Reuters, in an open letter to the WHO which the researchers announced would be published shortly afterwards in a scientific journal, 239 scientists from 32 countries outlined the evidence that small airborne particles could infect people. According to the scientists, “whether carried by large droplets that zoom through the air after a sneeze, or by much smaller exhaled droplets that may glide the length of a room”, Covid-19 is airborne and can infect people when inhaled. The WHO itself was not immediately convinced. “Especially in the last couple of months, we have been stating several times that we consider airborne transmission as possible but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence,” Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical officer for infection prevention and control, told The New York Times. (Reuters staff (2020).).

  28. 28.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  29. 29.

    AJMC Staff (2021) and Cooney (2020).

  30. 30.

    WHO and China (2021), p. 10.

  31. 31.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  32. 32.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  33. 33.

    National Geographic (2021); data provided on 6 March 2021.

  34. 34.

    Beaumont (2021).

  35. 35.

    Beaumont (2021).

  36. 36.

    McKie (2021).

  37. 37.

    McKie (2021).

  38. 38.

    McKie (2021).

  39. 39.

    McKie (2021).

  40. 40.

    Spinney (2021).

  41. 41.

    Spinney (2021).

  42. 42.

    Spinney (2021).

  43. 43.

    Spinney (2021).

  44. 44.

    Guardian Staff and Agencies (2021).

  45. 45.

    Guardian Staff and Agencies (2021).

  46. 46.

    Narayan (2021).

  47. 47.

    Farrer (2021).

  48. 48.

    Agence France-Presse in New Delhi (2021).

    Residents shared their belief that the bodies had been dumped in the river because cremation sites were saturated, or because relatives could not afford to buy wood for the funeral pyres. (Cf. Agence France-Presse in New Delhi (2021).)

  49. 49.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  50. 50.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  51. 51.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  52. 52.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  53. 53.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  54. 54.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  55. 55.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  56. 56.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  57. 57.

    According to Sample, the genetic code of the Covid-19 virus is contained in about 30,000 letters of RNA, a molecule similar to DNA. When the virus infects human cells, the genetic code is copied to create new virus particles. But errors occur in the process and these copying errors become mutations in the new virus. Most mutations have little effect, while some alter the virus and disappear. But sometimes a mutation benefits the virus, for example by allowing it to cling more effectively to human cells or to evade some of the body’s immune defences after a previous infection or vaccination (cf. Sample (2021b)).

  58. 58.

    According to Rybicki et al., in general, virus mutation rates vary between different types of virus, and between viruses and cells. In general, viruses mutate faster than host genomes, and RNA viruses generally mutate faster than DNA viruses. “This is because the replication machinery of RNA viruses generally lacks error-correcting capacity”, as do all other cells and most DNA viruses. For example (still according to these same authors), seasonal flu viruses have an error rate of 0.5 nucleotide positions per genome per infected cell. This means that mutations accumulate rapidly as the virus multiplies in a person. “But SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses are an exception to the rule. They mutate at least 4 times more slowly than influenza. Occasionally, a mutation will give the virus a better chance of surviving and reproducing itself and will result in a new population (known as a new lineage). It is noteworthy that there were only 4–10 mutations accumulated for SARS-CoV-2 viruses that infected people in the USA in mid-2020, compared to the original virus found in Wuhan months earlier: Thus, only a small proportion of the 24 possible mutations in this sequence produced a viable mutant.” As explained, furthermore, by Rybicki et al., an accumulation of mutations that significantly alter the properties of a viral lineage would be a new variant. The SARS-CoV-2 variants found in the UK, South Africa and Brazil—more correctly called B.1.1.7, B.1.135 and P.1 variants—are examples thereof. All are reported to have significantly higher rates of transmission than the preceding lineages. (Cf. Rybicki et al. (2021).)

  59. 59.

    Sample (2021b).

  60. 60.

    Gallagher (2020) and Sample (2021b).

    The D614G mutation stabilises the spike proteins that allow the virus to attach to and infect human cells (cf. Sample (2021b)).

  61. 61.

    AJMC Staff (2021).

  62. 62.

    Sample (2021b).

  63. 63.

    Sample (2021b).

  64. 64.

    AJMC Staff (2021), Roberts (2021) and Gallagher (2020).

    According to Rambaut et al., the two earliest sampled genomes belonging to lineage B.1.1.7 were collected on 20 September 2020 in Kent and another on 21 September 2020 in Greater London. Infections of lineage B.1.1.7 continued to be detected in the United Kingdom until early December 2020. The genomes belonging to lineage B.1.1.7 form a monophyletic clade that is well supported by a large number of lineage-defining mutations. As of 15 December 2020, there were 1623 genomes in lineage B.1.1.7. Of these, 519 were sampled from Greater London, 555 from Kent, 545 from other parts of the UK, including Scotland and Wales, and 4 from other countries. (Cf. Rambaut et al. (2020).)

  65. 65.

    European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – ECDC (2021) (updated 28 January 2021); Rybicki et al. (2021).

  66. 66.

    European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – ECDC (2021) (updated 28 January 2021); Rybicki et al. (2021).

  67. 67.

    Roberts (2021). Cf., furthermore, Sample (2021a).

    “This variant has multiple mutations in the spike protein, including K417N, E484K, N501Y. Unlike the B.1.1.7 line detected in the United Kingdom, this variant does not contain the 69/70 deletion.” (Cf. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – ECDC (2021) (updated 28 January 2021).)

    According to Rybicki et al., the issue of immunity is complex. Natural infections elicit broad cellular and antibody immune responses that target many parts of the virus. But, still according to these authors, most SARS-CoV-2 vaccines stimulate responses that target only the S protein: this has raised concerns that new variants may escape these “narrow” immune responses, for example those created by Covid-19 vaccines (cf. Rybicki et al. (2021)).

  68. 68.

    European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – ECDC (2021) (updated 28 January 2021).

  69. 69.

    Le Page and Hambly (2021); European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – ECDC (2021) (updated 28 January 2021).

  70. 70.

    Sample (2021b).

  71. 71.

    Sample (2021c).

  72. 72.

    Sample (2021c).

  73. 73.

    Sample (2021c).

  74. 74.

    Nebehay and Farge (2021).

  75. 75.

    Farrer (2021).

  76. 76.

    Thomas and Kirk (2021).

  77. 77.

    Morens et al. (2020). Cf., furthermore, WHO and China (2021), p. 9.

  78. 78.

    Morens et al. (2020). Cf., furthermore, Hu et al. (2021).

  79. 79.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  80. 80.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  81. 81.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  82. 82.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  83. 83.

    Morens et al. (2020).

    It should be noted that, already early in the pandemic, theories about a hypothetical human origin of SARS-CoV-2 were totally discredited by many coronavirus experts. At the time, it was also considered highly unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 had been released by a laboratory by accident, as no laboratory possessed the virus and given the fact that its genetic sequence was not reported to have existed in any sequence database prior to its initial deposit in GenBank. (Cf., furthermore, Hu et al. (2021)).

  84. 84.

    According to WHO and China, SARS-CoV-2 has a broad tissue tropism, including binding to angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) through its spike protein. It is also reported to directly infect the endothelial cells that line blood vessels, which is unusual for a human respiratory virus. Other novel pathological features of the virus are hypercoagulability and excessive multi-organ immune system response and long-term sequelae. (Cf. WHO and China (2021), p. 10.)

  85. 85.

    Morens et al. (2020).

  86. 86.

    Byttebier (2019), p. 106.

  87. 87.

    It is interesting to note that Karl Marx (1818–1883) was one of the first to criticise these intrinsic features of capitalism. Fromm has argued that, according to Marx, the aim of society should not be the production of things as an end in itself (= the so-called “production for production’s sake”). Instead, society should aim to overcome poverty and end unjust levels of inequality, “not to produce and consume as supreme goals in themselves”. (Cf. Fromm (2013), p. 31.)

  88. 88.

    Although the idea that the Earth only serves to satisfy human needs and desires, is certainly dominant within capitalist economies, also before in history man began to shamelessly exploit the Earth. For Harari, the moment in history when things started to go wrong, was essentially the beginning of the (first) agricultural revolution, around 10,000 BC (cf. Harari (2014), p. 372).

    This idea is beautifully echoed in the Hindu myth dealing with the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu, “Parashurama”, which begins with a complaint from “Bhūmī-Devī”, the goddess of the Earth, about the behaviour of the Kshatriya, the ruling caste who shamelessly exploited and abused her. Thus, Lord Vishnu incarnated in the avatar Parashurama, with the mission to put an end to the exploitation of ‘Mother Earth’. This in turn leads to a fierce battle that continues through many generations of Kshatriya, and finally results in the total extinction of the (ancient) ruling caste. (Quoted in Byttebier (2018), p. 223.)

  89. 89.

    Therefore, over the last three or four centuries, capitalism has been based on the principle that all available resources on Earth (and as soon as possible, even beyond Earth) must be discovered and extracted as efficiently as possible for incorporation into capitalist production and consumption processes. All forests anywhere in the world must be cleared to produce wood for economic production, and new forests should only be planted if, for the same reason, they can be cleared as quickly as possible. Every scientific discovery must, without delay, serve the same capitalist production processes and result in the production of sufficiently “marketable” goods. Almost every living creature on Earth must be studied to discover how it can be reduced to a method of entrepreneurial profit, whether as an exhibit in a zoo (essentially one of the many “beneficial” discoveries of early capitalism), as a pet (also in the case of exotic animals which are totally unsuitable for this role), as a test object or as an ingredient for potential human consumption in the broadest sense of the term. (Cf. already Byttebier (2019), p. 106.)

  90. 90.

    Cf., furthermore, Oxfam (2017), p. 6, referring to this problem as one of the “false assumptions” on which the capitalist economic system is based: “False assumption 6: Our planet’s resources are unlimited. This is not only a false assumption, but one that could have catastrophic consequences for our planet. Our economic model is based on exploiting our environment and ignoring the limits of what our planet can support. This economic system is one of the main drivers of runaway climate change.” (Oxfam (2017), p. 6.)

  91. 91.

    Hartwell (2014).

  92. 92.

    According to Herbert Marcuse, (global) capitalism is thus characterised by a total loss of rationality (and thus a loss of its historical roots). Once unleashed, capitalist rationality has made complete irrationality the dominant norm. Initially—in the early days of capitalism—the development of production at a frantic pace, the conquest of nature and the extension of wealth in the accumulation of more and more goods were seen as “rational”. However, in the process, capitalism has become an irrational force, because the increase in productivity and consumption, alongside the control of nature and social wealth, has been transformed into destructive powers, destructive not only figuratively (as in the sacrifice of all higher values in the pursuit of money), but also literally: the battle for existence has become fiercer by the hour, both within individual countries and internationally, and the accumulated aggression is discharged in the legitimisation of medieval cruelty (as in exploitation, war, torture and terrorism), and in a scientifically conducted destruction of humanity and nature. (Cf. Marcuse (1968), p. 102.)

  93. 93.

    Cf., furthermore, Byttebier (2017), p. 199.

  94. 94.

    Steger (2013), p. 41; Galbraith (1994), p. 220.

    Stiglitz has referred to this globalisation of the world economy as a new means by which the rich and powerful have been allowed to exploit the weak and poor (cf. Stiglitz (2003), p. 205).

  95. 95.

    For example, Rand (2008), p. 26.

  96. 96.

    Stiglitz (2006), 4. Cf., furthermore, Chomsky (1999), p. 68 a.f.

  97. 97.

    Steger (2013), p. 41; Lloyd (2012), p. 370 a.f.; Berend (2006), p. 263 a.f.

    According to Steger, as a result of this increasing globalisation, the world economic order has undergone three crucial developments, specifically (cf. Steger (2013), p. 41): “(1) Increasing internationalisation and liberalisation of trade and finance. (2) Growing power of transnational corporations and large (investment) banks. (3) An increasing role for international economic organisations (such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO).”

  98. 98.

    Cf., furthermore, Byttebier (2019), p. 107.

  99. 99.

    Wolffers (2011), p. 240 a.f. Cf., furthermore, Harari (2014), p. 368.

  100. 100.

    Indeed, the insatiable human activities responsible for the uncontrolled carbon emissions that are causing climate change are only the tip of the iceberg of the environmental crises resulting from humans increasingly overstepping the Earth’s regenerative limits over the past 50 years. (Cf. Nelson (2020).)

  101. 101.

    Nelson (2020).

  102. 102.

    Nelson (2020).

  103. 103.

    Nelson (2020).

  104. 104.

    Cf. Nelson (2020).

    For the sake of completeness, after this book went to press, the theory of a laboratory outbreak again gained some momentum, with some policy makers even insisting that the issue had to be further (internationally) investigated. Specifically, it had emerged that three researchers, working at a virology lab in Wuhan at the time, had been admitted to a hospital with Covid-like symptoms weeks before the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in China on 8 December 2019, according to US intelligence obtained and reported by the Wall Street Journal in late May 2021—corroborating the State Department’s earlier findings and casting new doubts on the long-standing assertion that Covid-19 had not escaped from a laboratory. As a result, according to Ponciano, a growing number of US officials—on both sides of the political spectrum—again called for investigations into the origins of Covid-19. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was even reported to have condemned China for its lack of transparency in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that the country had not given international health experts real-time access to information about the spread of the Covid-19 virus and urging the country to help build a stronger global health security system to re-examine the origins of the pandemic. (Cf. Ponciano (2021).)

  105. 105.

    Nelson (2020), who further emphasises that due to the territorialisation of global (agricultural) enterprises, which ignore national borders, these commodity countries, integrated across ecologies and political boundaries, produce new epidemiologies along the way. According to this author, from standard breeds in promiscuous conditions to global production and supply chains, the entire industrial-agricultural production chain is thus organised around practices that accelerate the evolution of pathogen virulence and subsequent transmission. We shall readdress this matter in more detail in Sect. 2.2.2.

  106. 106.

    Barsamian (2020).

  107. 107.

    Barsamian (2020).

  108. 108.

    Nelson (2020).

  109. 109.

    World Bank (2015), p. xx.

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    Kuchipudi (2021).

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    Hennig (2020).

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    Hennig (2020).

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    Hennig (2020).

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    Hennig (2020).

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    Hennig (2020).

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    Hennig (2020).

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    Foulon (2021).

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    Hennig (2020).

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Byttebier, K. (2022). Origin and Causes of Covid-19. In: Covid-19 and Capitalism. Economic and Financial Law & Policy – Shifting Insights & Values, vol 7. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-92901-5_1

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