We've seen a couple of strains in the U.S. and more recently, and on a much more serous basis, a new strain of the virus has been rampaging in India.
Are these variants occurring naturally, or are they the result of human manipulation? Or worse, was COVID-19 designed to mutate and kill more people?
The latter is a distinct possibility, given the history of human interactions with manufactured vaccines.
The Bulletin, a noted scientific journal, published a story in September 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic that provided details of a secret plan in Apartheid-era South Africa codenamed "Project Coast."
The crux of the program was to create a 'controllable' virus that could be weaponized against perceived enemies of the white-rule regime:
Codenamed Project Coast, South Africa’s program was primarily focused on covert assassination weapons for use against individuals deemed a threat to the racist apartheid government. In addition to producing contraptions to inject poisons, Project Coast researchers developed techniques to lace sugar cubes with salmonella and cigarettes with Bacillus anthracis.
While there have been many biowarfare programs, including several that were far more elaborate and sophisticated, the South African program is particularly relevant in thinking through malicious uses of self-spreading vaccines. One of Project Coast’s research projects aimed at developing a human anti-fertility vaccine.
The program was considered around the time there was growing concern of a population explosion on the planet that would tax available agricultural production, water availability, and other resources necessary to sustain life, The Bulletin noted.
"Schalk Van Rensburg, who oversaw fertility-related work at a Project Coast laboratory, told South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a forum for examining the sordid history of the era and laying the foundation for future peace and tolerance, that he thought the project was in line with the World Health Organization’s attempts to curb rising global birth rates," the outlet reported. "According to Van Rensburg, Wouter Basson, the director of the biowarfare program, said the military needed an anti-fertility vaccine so that female soldiers would not fall pregnant."
But eventually, Van Rensburg and Daniel Goosen, a lab director, would tell South Africa's post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission that really, the intent behind the anti-fertility vaccine was inherently racist: It would have been secretly administered to black South African women without telling them what the drug was for.
Again, the project never got underway. There were some tests run on baboons, but there were never any human trials, and in 1995, 12 years after the program was conceived, it was shut down.
However, it got medical and scientific ethicists to thinking: What would stop future development of a destructive vaccine or virus? After all, some European countries in the 20th century implemented similar 'population culling' programs.
"It doesn’t take a massive leap of the imagination to see how the aims of South Africa’s anti-fertility vaccine project would have benefited from research into self-spreading vaccines, particularly if you combine it with current developments in pharmacogenomics, drug development, and personalized medicine," The Bulletin reported.
"Taken together, these strands of research could help enable ultra-targeted biological warfare," the outlet added.
Scientists don't yet know what variant of COVID is ravaging parts of India, the world's second-most densely populated country and the world's biggest democracy. Nor do they know how the variant evolved. But it did, and if prior reports claiming that COVID-19 was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan city, China, then why couldn't it be of a type that self-perpetuates (and kills)?
Project Coast proves that the technology existed two decades ago, as well as the desire to create such a horrible bio-weapon.