The first human cases of COVID-19 were reported in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. But March 2020 for many Americans is the beginning of the pandemic nightmare that upended the rhythms of daily life. That was when offices and schools started closing, large gatherings were canceled, and local and state governments began placing severe restrictions on businesses. And it was when mass death began – first reported in the dozens, then in the hundreds per day, eventually totaling more than one million Americans and more than seven million worldwide – although experts estimate as many as 20 million people have succumbed to the coronavirus.
Three years later, Americans are still deeply divided about how best to respond to a pandemic while the origins of the virus remain the subject of intense political and scientific dispute. A report by the Energy Department, given with low confidence, said the virus most likely escaped from a lab in Wuhan. Other U.S. intelligence agencies contend the virus probably originated in nature, but no one can provide a definitive answer, not least the Chinese government, which has refused to cooperate with investigations.
In this episode, historian John Barry, the author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” discusses COVID’s origins and the ongoing debates over masks, vaccines and the effectiveness of business and school shutdowns.
“I don’t think it leaked from the lab, but we will probably never know. All the actual evidence says natural [origins]. The argument for the lab is coincidence. It is very suspicious and it would be nice if the Chinese didn’t lie all the time, but there’s a good chance we will never know,” said Mr. Barry, a distinguished scholar at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Listen to Mr. Barry discuss what humanity has learned from three years of COVID by downloading this episode of History As It Happens.
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