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Could the Coronavirus Be a Biological Weapon in the Not-Too-Distant Future?

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) entered into force on March 26, 1975. It currently has 182 states-parties. Ten states have neither signed nor ratified the BWC, including Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Israel, Kiribati, Micronesia, Namibia, South Sudan and Tuvalu.

THALIF DEEN (IPS) – The devastating spread of the deadly coronavirus across every continent– with the exception of Antarctica– has triggered a conspiracy theory on social media: what if the virus was really a biological weapon?

Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates predicted in a TED talk in 2015: “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it is likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war.”

They will not be missiles, he warned, but microbes.

And two years later, according to GeekWire, Gates repeated the same warning at a side event during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos: “It’s pretty surprising how little preparedness there is for it,” Gates was quoted as saying in 2017.

Addressing the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle last month, Gates said the impact of COVID-19 could be “very, very dramatic,” particularly if it spreads to areas like sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

Meanwhile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged about $100 million to fight the virus, “as part of its broader efforts in global health”.

Dr Filippa Lentzos, Associate Senior Researcher, Armament and Disarmament Program, at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS a biological weapon comprises a biological agent and a delivery mechanism.

In theory, she pointed out, any virus could be used as a weapon, but historically some agents have been viewed as more effective than others, e.g. anthrax, brucellosis, Q fever, tularaemia, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, glanders, plague, Marburg virus disease and smallpox.

She pointed out that much will depend on what ends or purpose the weapons are being used for.

“In terms of the coronavirus, there would no longer be a surprise factor, and resistance to the virus may in future have been built up, though the jury is still out on that one”.

Asked if there are any countries identified as still manufacturing or hoarding biological weapons despite their ban, Dr Lentzos said over the past 100 years, about 25 countries are believed to have possessed a biological weapons program for some period of time.

“The main concern today is not really that countries have offensive biological warfare programs, but that they are building dual use capabilities”

Asked about the use of biological weapons as part of germ warfare during World War I, she said there was some covert use by Germany during World War I to infect horses with biological agents to block their use by Allied military forces.

“In World War II, there were substantial covert attacks on China by Japan, as well as some clandestine use in Europe against Germany. There has been very limited known use since 1945”, said Dr Lentzos, who is also an Associate Editor of the journal BioSocieties, and the NGO Coordinator for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

According to the Washington-based Arms Control Association, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) is a legally binding treaty that outlaw biological arms.

Opened for signature on April 10, 1972, the BWC entered into force on March 26, 1975. It currently has 182 states-parties. Ten states have neither signed nor ratified the BWC, including Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Israel, Kiribati, Micronesia, Namibia, South Sudan and Tuvalu.

The original version of the article appeared in IPS