I’ve been looking again at Covid’s origins and the start of the pandemic. Last time I wrote on it I argued that Italy brought in China-style lockdowns on March 8th and 10th 2020 mainly as a result of panic owing to the leap in the death rate, with it being clear from the hospital situation there were many more deaths to come. I still believe that that was the immediate trigger for imposing lockdowns at the time. However, I now recognise that that is far from the full story. What it leaves out is the backdrop of who was pushing for lockdowns throughout the preceding two months, and why.
Two key pieces of data have emerged in the last few months that help to bring the picture into clearer focus. The first is that with the arrival of Omicron the Chinese have continued fanatically to pursue lockdowns, crippling their economy as they do it. To my mind, this is convincing evidence that the Chinese are sincere about their belief in the radical new disease management strategy they inaugurated on January 23rd 2020 in Wuhan. I initially (in 2020) thought it may be an elaborate ruse to convince the world to do something monumentally and pointlessly self-destructive. But it appears they really do think lockdowns are highly effective and the right way to fight a disease like COVID-19. I’m aware some suggest it could just be a cunning strategy to strengthen the grip of the ruling party on the population, but all the evidence indicates to me that they actually are trying to fight the disease in this way.
If this is accepted then one of the key pieces of the puzzle snaps into place: the global Covid narrative has, both behind closed doors and in front of them, been driven in part by the Chinese Government’s commitment to its extreme suppression strategy and its desire for other countries to adopt it as well. It’s been suggested this derives from a sense of national pride and seeking vindication of their efforts and ideas, and is part of a wider aim of achieving global Chinese cultural supremacy, which sounds plausible to me.
The second key piece of data are emails sent by White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, which reveal that behind closed doors as late as February 26th 2020, Dr. Fauci was still, as he had been consistently up to that point, advising people not to panic. But as of February 27th his approach suddenly changed and, from that moment on, he began consistently pushing restrictions.
On February 26th he wrote to CBS News that Americans should not yield to fear:
You cannot avoid having infections since you cannot shut off the country from the rest of the world… Do not let the fear of the unknown… distort your evaluation of the risk of the pandemic to you relative to the risks that you face every day… do not yield to unreasonable fear.
But by the next day he was writing to actress Morgan Fairchild that the American public should prepare for pandemic restrictions:
It would be great if you could tweet to your many Twitter followers that although the current risk of coronavirus to the American public is low, the fact that there is community spread of virus in a number of countries besides China… poses a risk that we may progress to a global pandemic of COVID-19… And so for that reason, the American public should not be frightened, but should be prepared to mitigate an outbreak in this country by measures that include social distancing, teleworking, temporary closure of schools, etc. There is nothing to be done right now since there are so few cases in this country and these cases are being properly isolated, and so go about your daily business. However, be aware that behavioural adjustments may need to be made if a pandemic occurs.
Interestingly, February 27th was also the day the media narrative in the U.S. shifted, with the New York Times leading the way with its first alarmist piece, by Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance, and also an alarmist podcast with science and health reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr., which quoted directly from China a 2% mortality rate for the virus.
The context for this shift was a WHO press briefing on February 24th by Bruce Aylward, who had just concluded a WHO-China Joint Mission on COVID-19 and told the world that lockdown worked and “you have to do this. If you do it, you can save lives and prevent thousands of cases of what is a very difficult disease.”
The timing obviously suggests the events are connected, but crucially it also implies that Fauci and those around him were not part of the behind-the-scenes decision of Aylward to throw the WHO’s weight behind the Chinese approach. This leaves, then, the question of why Fauci & Co flipped from their previous position of playing down the threat from the virus and not supporting extreme Chinese-style interventions to going all in with the panic.
The picture being painted here is of at least two ‘conspiracies’ going on – the Chinese one, seeking to push lockdowns as part of Chinese vindication and cultural supremacy, and the Fauci & Co one, the potential motives for which are discussed below. I am pretty confident these are not the same ‘conspiracy’, as I assume that Fauci & Co are not motivated by vindicating China and advancing its cultural supremacy (I’ve seen no evidence this should be the case).
A further element to throw into the mix is that the first Western lockdown occurred three days before the Aylward WHO briefing, on February 21st 2020, in a region of 50,000 people in Lombardy. Oddly, it seems to have been an isolated local initiative in response to the first identified ‘cases’ led by the regional health chief Giulio Gallera, with no clear links to the WHO or any other known lockdown protagonists. It would be interesting to ask Mr. Gallera why he decided to follow such a radical course of action that day.
Italy locked down on March 8th and 10th, a response it seems to the climbing death rate, and most of the rest of the world followed in the ensuing two weeks. The U.S. Government was persuaded by Deborah Birx and others to back lockdowns on March 16th. On March 12th-14th, U.K. Government ministers and officials did a media round promoting the idea of aiming for herd immunity and keeping calm and carrying on. However, that strategy soon collapsed in the face of shifting public opinion and alarmist models from scientists like Imperial’s Neil Ferguson. After March 23rd, Sweden was the only holdout among Western Governments.
Such a mess of uncoordinated action confirms to my mind a picture of different groups driven by different motives and agendas which sometimes overlap, catalysed by groupthink and hysteria, rather than any grand behind-the-scenes conspiracy involving all in a coordinated fashion.
The Chinese Communist Party is a crucial actor, of course. It invented lockdowns and since then has persistently pushed them to the rest of the world, including through an all too willing WHO. However, that doesn’t mean that all who promote panic and lockdowns do so because they are in thrall to China or doing its bidding.
So what was the deal with Fauci & Co – why did they oppose panic and lockdowns until February 27th, then flip to become among their most eager and high-powered proponents?
Fauci’s emails show that, starting at the end of January and into February 2020, he organised a series of secretive video conferences and phone calls because he and his associates suspected the virus may have been genetically modified and leaked from a lab. Yet despite these suspicions, on February 19th the group wrote a letter to the Lancet denouncing the lab leak as a “conspiracy theory”. The organiser of the letter was Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance, one of Fauci’s associates who it later turned out had been funding gain of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology of exactly the kind that was suspected as being responsible for creating COVID-19. Biologist Nick Patterson notes a grant application from EcoHealth Alliance to DARPA (the research agency of the U.S. Department of Defence), of which he says, “as far as I can make out, the plan here was for WIV to collect live virus, ship it to the USA, have U.S. scientists genetically modify the virus, and then ship modified virus… back to China”.
In light of information like this and Fauci & Co’s preoccupation during February 2020 with the origin of the virus, culminating in their cynical effort to suppress the claims of lab leak and genetic modification, I surmise that their major motivation was to cover themselves for the possibility that they and their research fields would be held responsible for the virus. Initially this took the form of suppressing the lab leak theory while also playing down the threat from the virus, which they would have been keen to be as uneventful as possible. But why then the flip to panic mode after February 27th? Did the WHO backing lockdowns on February 24th change the equation, so it was no longer deemed viable or good cover to oppose the new approach? The path of least resistance in other words. A related question is whether they were genuinely persuaded that the measures would be effective or if they retained an unspoken scepticism. If they did retain any scepticism there’s been precious little sign of it since March 2020.
Overall, I see no indication of a grand plan from the earliest days in which all are working from a common script to a common goal. Instead, I see various groups with their own agendas, interests and fears. It’s clear that, following Aylward’s team’s visit, China managed to capture the WHO and bring it on board with championing lockdowns. However, the motives of everyone besides China are largely opaque. Why did Aylward become China’s biggest fan – was he threatened or bribed or just duped and naïve? Why exactly did Lombardy regional health chief Giulio Gallera respond to the first cases in his region by imposing a Chinese-style lockdown even before the WHO had backed them? Why did Fauci flip on February 27th? What about curious figures like Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger, highlighted by Michael Senger, who despite being a known China critic, was a major alarmist influence within the White House from the get-go, drawing on mysterious ‘contacts in China’ to call for panic and restrictions as early as January?
What drove each of these people to get behind the closing down of society as the ‘solution’ to a respiratory virus? We can largely see now who did what and when. What’s mainly missing is the why.