By Larry Romanoff – November 18, 2020
In late 2012, the world experienced the onset of a new mini-epidemic from a novel coronavirus that was named MERS (1) (2) because it supposedly originated in the Middle East, at first infecting small numbers ofpeople in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar. Then England experienced a few cases where individuals apparently became infected during trips to the Middle East.This new virus was similar to SARS but was accused of having mutated and developed an ability to invade human cells more efficiently and therefore kill about 50% of those infected, compared to only about 10% for SARS. The virus was first seen by an Egyptian virologist in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia while doing tests on a patient with unusual symptoms, with the discovery soon after that this ‘patient zero’ and the Qatari man in the UK had been infected by viruses that were 99.5% identical. (3) There was no vaccine or treatment for the disease, and its fatality rate reached over 40% overall.
By early 2013 there had been nearly 100 cases, mostly centered in the Middle East with the others consisting of infected travelers to those regions (4). But two years later, by June of 2015, almost 2,500 cases of MERS had been reported, most of these being in the Middle East with almost the entire remainder being in Korea, apparently centered on the Gyeonggi provincial district. A small number of cases had been reported in about 25 other countries and, while the virus did not appear to spread easily between humans, it produced a fatality rate in some locations of almost 50% of those infected. South Korea eventually experienced almost 200 cases with about 40 deaths. (5) (6)
The outbreak in Korea was the largest manifestation of MERS outside the Middle East, hitting this country quite hard. The public were of course worried and anxious, thousands of individuals were in quarantine, thousands of schools were closed, mostly in Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi Province, airline flights to and from Korea had been reduced by about 50%, and tourism and travel had been sharply curtailed. A number of countries issued travel advisories, and Korea ordered the screening of all inbound passengers, dealing further damage to tourism and business travel. The effect on South Korea’s economy was quite serious, with most observers expecting the economic damage to be in the billions. Cinemas, supermarket chains, shopping malls and theme parks suffered huge drops in attendance and sales, as did most tourist-related facilities including hotels and restaurants.
According to the official narrative in the Western media, South Korea’s infections were apparently all traced to a patient zero who developed MERS after returning from a trip to the Middle East and who came into contact with others before being diagnosed. All subsequent infections occurred in Korea’s health facilities, the virus appearing to spread virulently and aggressively in a hospital environment, much the same as the SARS virus did in the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong, where one patient immediately infected more than 100 medical staff. Apparently about 50% of those with patient contact at the Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul contracted the disease.
The astonishing spread of MERS inside several Korean hospitals invoked images of Margaret Chan stubbornly opposing hospital redesign in Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak there. As many observers noted, “the hard-learned lessons from the SARS pandemic in Hong Kong apparently never reached Seoul or Geneva”. WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda, in an attempted explanation of the virus’ rapid progress in Korean hospitals, stated that “Infection prevention and control measures were not optimal” in Korean hospitals, with overcrowding and patients sharing rooms. He also mentioned the South Koreans’ habit of visiting several medical facilities and the “Korean custom” of patients having many visitors. (7) (8) His comments may have been true, but there was no evidence Saudi Arabia’s control measures were any more optimal than those in Seoul, and Korea is not the only country where hospital patients have contact with visitors or medical staff.
Oddly, the WHO appeared quite unconcerned about this new potential epidemic, specifically stating it did not recommend the screening of passengers to or from Korea, and that no travel restrictions should be imposed. The WHO’s Director-General, Margaret Chan, said she believed South Korea could control the spread of the disease without these restrictions. One would have thought that with the worldwide panic still fresh in everyone’s mind from the SARS experience only a few years prior, they would have taken a more cautious approach. But then the WHO wasn’t entirely cautious during the SARS outbreak either; in Hong Kong, Margaret Chan specifically advised against taking many precautions, including screenings, isolations and quarantines, all advice that was later much resented because those precautions would have spared many lives. In fact, it was Margaret Chan’s curious combination of aloofness and what appeared to be outright incompetence that resulted in two politicians resigning (9) (10) and her leaving Hong Kong in disgrace, only to come to rest as head of the WHO.
While the school boards in Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi Province announced the extension of existing school closures and recommended the temporary closure of many more, on June 11 of 2015 the WHO advised the country to re-open all of them, stating that “Schools had not been linked to the transmission of the virus in Korea or elsewhere”. The WHO also recommended again that Korea lift all travel restrictions, but then suddenly three days later, a team of WHO “experts” surprisingly stated that “The deadly MERS outbreak in South Korea” was “large and complex”, and that “more cases should be anticipated”. And in fact the disease had been spreading at an increasingly rapid pace, with 150 confirmed infections in less than one month. And suddenly, in defiance of Margaret Chan’s “I eat chicken every day” SARS reassurances, the WHO surprisingly stated the Korean government “should remain vigilant” and should continue “intensified disease surveillance and prevention measures”, praising the country for its “strong quarantine measures”. (11) (12)
Interestingly, there was rather sparse coverage of MERS in the Middle East and South Korea, certainly compared to SARS in Hong Kong and Mainland China, and no mention of Saudi Arabia, South Korea, or the WHO delaying, covering up, denying infections and fatality rates, while for Mainland China with SARS we were treated to virulent China-bashing 24/7 for most of a year. Saudi Arabia was heavily criticised internally for its flawed response (13) (14), and the doctor who reported the first MERS patient to the government, was sworn to silence then promptly fired, which rated little mention in the Western media. Soon after, when the outbreak became public, the Saudi Health Minister was also fired. (15) (16)
There was some muted coverage of the virus, but no clamor for investigation of the source, no genuine search for a patient zero, nor any puzzlement about how a never-before-seen bat-cum-camel virus suddenly appeared, and with a strange preference (and appetite) for residents of the Middle East. Nor could I find any studies of genome sequencing that would have identified the various strains of MERS that infected the Middle East and South Korea. Given the minor rates of infections and fatalities in the rest of the world, this appeared more than curious. Also, any suggestion (and there were suggestions) by scientists of MERS perhaps having had a human black hand, were considered verboten by the Western media, and squashed. There were reports of various teams, including one from Canada (17), who traveled to Saudi Arabia to study the spread of MERS, but no discoveries were publicised. Overall, MERS simply died a quiet death.
As with SARS, and with COVID-19, the Western media staked out the claim of MERS being (in this case) a ‘camel virus’ which camels, after millennia of friendly cohabitation with man, suddenly decided to share their virology with humans. What is needed is an explanation of the actual source of the new virus in terms of its first human infection. To my knowledge, this was never done, nor was any search for a ‘patient zero’ ever conducted. Instead, the first victim diagnosed was designated as patient zero and the matter dropped. This in itself is bizarre, since normally an extensive and vigorous search is made for this individual. I have no explanation for virologists casually identifying a ‘possible’ original animal source, then ceasing further investigation.
But there was more. I have not managed to independently confirm all of these details, but in June of 2015 Yoichi Shimatsu wrote a quite interesting and detailed article (18) (19) that provided a few enlightening additions to the facts of the MERS outbreak in Korea. For one, he reiterated that, according to the Korean Yonhap News Service, at the onset of the outbreak, 100 South Korean military personnel were quarantined at the USAF Osan Air Base, following the MERS infection of servicemen, indicating that this Korean soldier may well have been the actual Patient Zero. For those unfamiliar with the geography of South Korea, both Seoul, which suffered the bulk of the MERS cases, and the USAF base at Osan, are both in close proximity in Gyeonggi Province, which was also reported as the home of the (undocumented and quite likely imaginary) “infected businessman” who traveled to the Middle East and contracted the virus. According to Shimatsu, the Osan base is home to the Joint US Forces-Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition advanced technology demonstration (JUPITR ATD), a military biological surveillance program that operates its other lab facility at Fort Detrick, MD. It is also reportedly the home of one of the US military’s bio-weapons research labs.
Shimatsu also noted that the WHO sponsors the secretive International Vaccine Institute (IVI) in Seoul, which is headed by a US military officer named Jerome Kim who was formerly the head of the Molecular Virology and Pathogenesis Department at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Rockville, Maryland, and that sitting on the Board of Directors of this WHO-IVI chimera is a Dr. Claudio Lanata, the science director of the US Naval “Medical Research Unit 6” in Callao, Peru, which is a leading military center for bioweapons research. It appears that the US military controls the WHO’s main virus laboratory . . . Shimatsu theorised that the MERS outbreak may have been caused by a laboratory accident at the JUPITR biowarfare project which is located very near Seoul. He also quoted the American Forces Press Service as the source of the information that it was a US biological warfare team that deciphered the MERS genetic code, and that this work was supervised by the Pentagon’s top biowarfare laboratory, its Biological Defense Research Directorate at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Certainly there have been numerous independent suggestions that the WHO at least on occasion appears to function as an appendage of the Pentagon.
In a thesis on Biological Weapons, Leonard Horowitz and Zygmunt Dembek stated that clear signs of a genetically-engineered bio-warfare agent were (a) a disease caused by an uncommon (unusual, rare, or unique) agent, with (b) lack of an epidemiological explanation, i.e. no clear
idea of source; (c) An “unusual manifestation and/or geographicdistribution”, such as race-specificity; and (d) multiple sources of infection. MERS appeared to satisfy all four criteria. (20)
I don’t know what conclusions we draw from this assemblage of information, but it appears at least possible there is rather more to this MERS story than the official narrative propagated in the media. One aspect is that MERS fits all the criteria for a biological weapon, and the fact of the explosive outbreak at the US military’s Osan Airbase is not inconsequential. Thus, MERS also qualifies for a forensic investigation as to the source.
Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. His writing has been translated into more than 20 languages and is available on more than 100 foreign-language websites around the world. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
(1) https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/ten-years-after-sars-now-we-have-mers-8640817.html ;the original link is no longer active.
(6) SKorea president postpones visit to US as 2 more die from MERS; Shanghai Daily | June 11, 2015; https://archive.shine.cn/world/SKorea-president-postpones-visit-to-US-as-2-more-die-from-MERS/shdaily.shtml
(18) (Shimatsu is a free-lance
journalist based in Hong Kong, a former Editor of the Japan Times Weekly and a
former Tsinghua University lecturer). https://rense.com/general96/merspenta.html
(20) Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare; https://repository.netecweb.org/items/show/325
Larry Romanoff is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney’s new COVID-19 anthology ”When China Sneezes”.
Copyright © Larry Romanoff, Moon of Shanghai, 2020