JIGGENS: Politics and science continue to get in each other’s way

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During a virtual visit with friends a number of months ago, the subject of COVID-19’s origin was raised. Three of the four of us were perplexed about how the virus came into being, but my wife said she was sure it originated from a lab in China.

That sounded too much like a conspiracy theory for my liking, and offered that science would likely one day find the answer. My wife, however, stuck to her guns regarding her suspicions.

Fast forward to today, and she’s not alone with this theory. U.S. infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci said he’s not convinced the virus originated naturally and perhaps it was the result of a lab accident.

The first reported cases of COVID-19 came from the Chinese city of Wuhan, which just so happens to be the site of a lab that studies some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens. Coincidence? U.S. President Joe Biden figures it’s worth looking into and has greenlighted an intelligence inquiry into the possibility that maybe COVID-19 did originate from that lab.

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A previous probe into COVID’s origin was launched by the World Health Organization, but it was widely regarded as a joke. It wasn’t a thorough enough investigation to satisfy critics, and the mostly Chinese team of inquisitors was constantly under the scrutiny of watchdog Chinese officials.

Science and politics, apparently, don’t mesh together well.

So what happens if it’s discovered that COVID-19 was, in fact, the result of a lab accident? Nothing, I suppose, except to recommend stringent new security protocols to ensure nothing like this ever happens again. I suppose it would bring closure to a long, unresolved mystery, at the very least.

While the outlook in Canada with regard to COVID-19 appears to be getting brighter – with case numbers declining and vaccination rates on the rise – politics and science continue to get in each other’s way. Look no further than this summer’s Olympic Games. The 2021 Games were supposed to be the 2020 Games, but the plug was pulled – reluctantly – to delay the event for a year to allow the virus to come under control. That really hasn’t happened to the satisfaction of many in Japan – the Games’ host country.

With an anticipated influx of about 78,000 people from 200 countries, most Japanese surveyed wish to see the Olympics shuttered again, and the country’s most influential newspaper is pressuring the Japanese government to stop the Games. One of the concerns is there may not be enough medical professionals on hand to ensure the safety of all involved.

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There is a lot of money at stake with the Olympics, and cancelling the event a second year in a row could have serious financial consequences. On the other hand, thousands upon thousands of people from all over the world converging at the same time in one country while a global pandemic is still ongoing could potentially trigger repercussions of its own.

That’s the problem with the Olympics. Held only once every four years, an athlete in his or her prime during a scheduled Olympic year could be “over the hill” a mere four years later, depending on that athlete’s particular discipline. Missing out on that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can be devastating to a world-class athlete. But, is it worth the risk to ignore science?

Canadians are divided equally about whether or not we should be sending athletes to Japan. Let’s just hope everyone has done his homework to pull this off without regrets. COVID has been with us long enough. We don’t need anything else to stir things up all over again.

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