In the ‘fake news’ exchanges between China and the USA, the question of whose biological warfare lab may have developed and lost control over the coronavirus has figured prominently, although most intelligence agencies seem to agree that the virus had natural causes and was not manufactured by humans anywhere.
At the same time, it seems to me that no one is talking about how nations having cutting edge experience in biological warfare can apply that knowledge to combatting the virus. In Western media there is one tiny exception that is not properly drawn out and explained: namely the mention that the US Army is contributing to efforts of private pharmaceutical concerns to develop a vaccine.
Meanwhile, the fact that the Russian military is being brought into action on the Covid19 front hardly figures in Western coverage, except as related to the Russian mercy mission to Lombardy, when giant Russian freight aircraft brought in equipment and military medics to assist the vastly overwhelmed Italian medical establishment to cope with the tide of infected, ailing and dying. At that point there were some snide comments to the effect that the Russians were in Italy on an intelligence gathering mission, not truly humanitarian in motivation.
It escaped mention in the media, though surely did not escape notice in our intelligence services that the Russian mission to Italy was a powerful demonstration of what Russia’s military has learned in the domain of biological warfare. Italian journalists expressed their amazement at the specialized motorized equipment that the Russians brought to disinfect the towns, from streets to building by building, often using for interior work not chemicals but oxygen as the sanitizing agent.
If Britain, for example, has any similar insights in combatting biological agents at its Porton Down facility (so well publicized by the Skripal case), then we have heard nothing about these capabilities being harnessed for combatting the ongoing pandemic.
I make the foregoing remarks about Russia’s very special knowledge in the realm of biologicals because it is a possible additional reason why the country so far has an astonishingly low mortality rate compared to most countries in Western Europe and the USA. Perhaps from the same pool of knowledge, it would appear that the Russians are getting much better results with their use of ventilators to treat the worst affected cases of Covid19.
We have heard a lot about ventilators in the past two months everywhere in Europe and the USA. They were said to be in grave shortage in New York as the epidemic approached its peak there. What no one has talked much about is how capable our medical practitioners have been to achieve life-saving results with these devices. If I am not mistaken, there was mention several weeks ago that 88% of those put on ventilators in New York died. Here in Belgium it appears to be more than 50% die.
Does it have to be that way, or is it the lack of know-how in using these sophisticated devices to treat Covid19 that explains these shocking results? A very interesting program on Russian television several weeks ago indicated that they have been experimenting with the gas mixtures used in ventilators, in particular with the volume of helium versus oxygen to find the right balance whereby the oxygen is not blocked by the virus but in turn purges the virus from the lungs and allows the oxygen levels in the blood to return to levels sustaining life. We do not hear a peep about these issues in the Belgian media, for example.
If I may sum up, when the crisis passes and our journalists and civic activists begin their assessment of what has gone wrong in Western Europe to allow the levels of mortality to reach the shocking levels we have seen, let us hope attention will be given to the questions I have raised here, as well as to the issue I discussed yesterday: why our national governments did not open their checkbooks and order the urgent construction of dedicated state of the art hospitals to treat coronavirus patients well apart from the normal hospital establishments which were overtaken by the virus and ceased to perform their essential services for the non-infected population in oncology, in cardio-vascular medicine and the like. The Russians and the Chinese have done precisely that.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020
[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]