Is India ready for a Biowar future?
Ring around the rosy
A pocket full of posy
All fall down
This innocent children’s rhyme may have a dark origin. That of a biological war. The poem talks of a rash ring around a rosy face, a pocket full of flowers kept to ward off disease, burning of corpses and the ashes, and all falling down like flies — killed by Bubonic Plague in England.
But how did bubonic plague, a disease of the far east, reach England?
It dates back to the 14th century when the Russian Tartars attacked Ukraine using biological warfare. They catapulted dead bodies of Mongols afflicted with bubonic plague into the city of Kaffa. It worked — the city got plague and fell to the Tartars.
The Genoese merchants who were trading in Crimea fled back to Italy, taking with them the disease. And the rest is history. It spread to Paris, London, and even Scandinavia. Europe lost over 25 million to waves of bubonic plague since then.
People imagine a biowar to be something out of science fiction. We imagine only an evil dictator or a mad scientist will do so in the distant future. At least, the mainstream internet wants you to believe so. They brush aside any talk of biowar as conspiracy theory.
But it will surprise you to know it is one of the most commonly used warfare methods in human history. The Tartars in the 14th century were in fact late to it. From thousands of years ago, we have remains of arrows tipped with poisons from animals which were used to kill enemies.
Mass poisoning of enemy forces using biological agents like toxins was a practice among warring armies. In 184 BC, Hannibal of Carthage had clay pots filled with venomous snakes and threw them onto the decks of enemy ships to kill their sailors with snake bites.
Mongols stormed between East Asia and Eastern Europe, where they had territory. They brought with them men infected with bubonic plague. The Tartars who flung plagued bodies into Kaffa got their biological warfare agent from the Mongols.
The European colonists who went to the Americas, when outnumbered by the fierce natives, started throwing blankets used by smallpox patients on the natives. Everyone knows the result of that. It was genocide through biowar. This is also the first recorded instance of using pathogens as bio-weapons.
In WW2, Japanese scientists did genocidal biowar research in the Manchuria of China. The US victors hid this, even after the war. Because the US, under an agreement signed with the Japanese, got all the research and let the scientists go free or get asylum, just like they did with Nazi scientists.
The Japanese military scientists of Unit 731 infected Chinese in their thousands (killing about 200,000 in the 1940s) using different germs and tried to see which ones worked well. In 1940, the Japanese Air Force bombed Ningbo in China with ceramic bombs full of fleas carrying the bubonic plague. But it failed because of the less sophisticated delivery mechanism.
At present many countries like the US, Russia, UK, and China have labs that can do research on biowar agents. Though UN conventions ban it, they claim to do defensive research. With greater understanding of genetics and viruses, biowar capability has only improved. We can now have mass infectivity at precise intensities of attack.
For example, we can culture a simple cold virus (that will do nothing to a normal human ordinarily) in human lung cells in a lab, made to infect it repeatedly over time and over generations of the virus, to isolate a variant that will kill a person definitely. They call this gain of function research.
Some media, controlled and sponsored by special interests, will always like to tell you such research doesn’t happen. And even if it happens, it’s purely for research, they say. To me, it’s like saying a scientist is making fissile material in their basement just to see how nuclear technology works.
The same media will also tell you a variant or a virus doesn’t look like genetically engineered. Sure, as said in the example using lung cells before, we don’t need to do genetic editing manually at all. No need for cutting, copying, splicing genetic material giving away the artificial insertions.
All we need is a simple pathogen to evolve it in a lab over millions of generations. And in just a few years, by helping it infect cells repeatedly, they can make it into a potent bio-weapon that can target entire populations at the required level of infectivity and lethality.
This is something a pathogen will find very hard to do naturally. We can also evolve and engineer pathogens to target individuals specifically by using their DNA. For example, a country’s leader visiting an adversary’s nation for tea will leave behind enough DNA to find every health weakness and risk about them.
Now, with advances in biotechnology and computer modelling, there are ways to find and track the spread of biowar pandemics unleashed too. And along with the development of such bio weapons, current networking, health vigilance, and containment strategies mean that if a viral outbreak starts in a small region, then it is very easy to control.
For example, in 1992, Dr. Meryl Nass analyzed the anthrax epidemic in Zimbabwe that was claimed to be natural. Dr. Nass showed that the pattern of the epidemic and the spread could not have occurred naturally. She reported her findings in Physicians for Social Responsibility Quarterly, 1992.
While many poor African countries routinely control highly lethal outbreaks of viral diseases by being vigilant, reporting to the WHO, and taking help. India itself in the last few decades has controlled Nipah, Bird Flu, and Swine flu, all of which are much more dangerous than Covid.
So in the current pandemic, there are questions that are many questions that are puzzling. And I see many experts do not want to handle them, for the fear of cancel culture and threats by sponsored mainstream media and certain compromised academia to discount their theories.
For example, a question on most people’s minds is since the mainstream media claims Covid-19 outbreak was natural, how come a so-called superpower failed to control it in just the place where it started? But let it spread all over the world while it could shield most of its cities from getting massively infected during CNY travel?
There are other questions, too. Like how countries and territories like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau where Chinese tourists flocked to during the time China was having a virus surge escaped, becoming heavily infected. Yet, it affected European countries with a lesser number of Chinese visitors so severely, with their highly advanced health infrastructure crumbling.
Coming to India, a second wave has gripped the country with such a sudden surge that’s 4–5 times of the peak seen during the first wave of the pandemic. Media citing experts blames some religious festivals and election rallies. But it seems the financial capital and national capital were the places where the surge started, even as the rallies and melas were happening far away.
There’s no data or research yet to suggest any correlation between the sudden surge hitting the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore to election rallies and religious festivals thousands of miles away. Yet, the media and experts who always insist on “facts based” and “science based” reporting and discussion seem to just throw random statements as the cause based on their ideology.
A country like India that’s highly advanced in biotechnology and related research must have institutions that deal with the threat of such pandemics. Be it natural or a biowar, there must be capability and strategy to deal with it. An adversary must know that in case of an attack with a biological agent, the country can unleash its own war to create a strategic balance of power.
Unfortunately, as the current pandemic has shown, India seems highly unprepared. The country must immediately make up a task force to study the origin and spread of the second wave of the pandemic. And make sure newer waves do not happen by being highly vigilant. And if they happen, India must be ready to retaliate against it with speed.
To exaggerate poetically: India must attack the pandemic’s source from all angles in unconventional ways. Lock-downs and masks only cannot help the country. India must make the virus feel the pain. India must impose costs and eliminate the virus plaguing the world.