One of the most prominent conspiracies about coronavirus was that the virus might be a bioweapon. Although claims that coronavirus is a biological weapon are unfounded, bioterrorism may have the same impact on our lives and the economy in the future. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the weakness of many world powers in case rogue states and terrorist organizations employ biological weapons against them. And terrorists will not forget lessons learnt from Corona mishap.

The UN Secretary General said he sees an increasing risk of bioterrorism attacks aimed at creating a pandemic similar to that of coronavirus. Security experts from the Council of Europe have also warned that global coronavirus outbreaks may further increase the use of biological weapons by terrorists in the future.

In the context of India, with the existence of hostile neighbors such as Pakistan and China, the threat of biological warfare is becoming important and can not be completely ruled out.

Relevance of topic

Internal Security topic of General Studies Paper- III

What is Bioterrorism?

It is a deliberate use of disease-causing agents — such as viruses, bacteria, toxins, or other agents — as an act of terrorism that causes illness or death in humans, animals , or plants.

History of Bioterrorism

It is not a recent phenomenon. There is historical evidence that some form of bio-terrorism was resorted to by the ancient Greeks, Romans and Persians civilizations. Armies polluted the drinking water to cause serious harm to their enemies.  

During World War I, Germany is believed to have used biological agents  such as Bacillus anthracis and Burkholderia mallei mainly against the livestock and military personnel of their enemies. 

During the Cold War period,  it was alleged that chemical and biological weapons were widely used in the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s and the Gulf War of 1990-91. 

However, in present times, bioterrorism has emerged as a result of the advancements in biotechnology and biochemistry  being accessible to terrorist groups. Moreover, genetic engineering has perhaps the most dangerous potential.

Why are bioweapons considered as perfect weapons of terror?

  • These can be spread through air, water or food.

  • Skills and equipment for the development of a biological weapon are well known and lethal pathogens are readily accessible. 

  • Bioweapons can be highly difficult to detect and may not cause illness for several hours to several days. This means public health officials may not notice the attack until it is too late.   

Bioweapon Threats

  • Anthrax – In 2001, letters containing powdered anthrax were sent through the U.S. Postal Service. The attack caused 22 cases of illness and 5 of which resulted in death.

  • Smallpox – It is a seriously contagious fatal infection. There are chances that the smallpox virus might be used as an agent of bioterrorism.

  • Botulinum toxin- It is the most lethal compound known. This nerve toxin is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Researchers estimate that as little as one gram of aerosolized toxin could kill more than 1.5 million people. It was known to have been used by Japan on Prisoners of War (POW) during occupation of Manchuria.

  • Francisella Tularensis- According to a former Soviet Union scientist, it was used by the Soviet Union Army against the Nazi Army in the Battle of Stalingrad of the Second World War.

  • Aflatoxin and sulfur mustard gas are other deadly agents that can be used as bioweapons.

Types of agents

There are basically three types of agents used on the basis of the ability and extent of the damage that can be caused. They are:

  1. Category A includes high-priority agents posing national security threat. Example: Bubonic plague, Ebola virus, Tularemia, Anthrax.

  2. Category B includes moderate-priority agents having low mortality rate. Example: Staphylococcal, Brucellosis, Q fever

  3. Category C includes low-priority agents. These are emerging pathogens that might be engineered for mass dissemination. Example: Hantavirus, Nipah Virus, SARS, Yellow fever virus.


  • It is easy for terrorists to bring pathogens into a country, as the virus sensors are largely ineffective.

  • The unleashing of a contagion is easy for a terrorist—germs can be mixed in powders and aerosol sprays or can be added to food or a city’s water supply. 

  • They can be released into the wind from a building, truck or plane. 

  • They can be sent on infected envelopes or notepaper  by mail.

Possible Consequences

  • It might prove to be extremely effective. Damage to people and economies could be “significantly higher” than the “traditional” terrorist attack.

  • If such weapons are used in densely populated areas, there is too high a risk of massive destruction in the form of life.

  • Damage would be rapid and potentially global in nature.


Is India ready for Biowarfare?

  • India had ratified the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention of the United Nation.

  • India has a sophisticated, globally-recognized biotechnological infrastructure and a sufficient number of well-trained and knowledgeable scientists, most of whom are adequately experienced in the handling of epidemics.

  • India has the scientific capability to carry out a bio-offensive in the event of a first strike. Country has developed delivery systems ranging from crop dusters to ballistic missiles.

  • Since 1998, we have started training medical personnel to deal with possible bioterror attacks. Also, the Indian Army is trained for this kind of eventuality.

  • The Army maintains defense facilities for biological warfare at the protected sites.

  • The Indian military currently deployed countermeasures including  DRDO’s developed quarantine vehicles for battlefield decontamination efforts. 


However, there are few challenges. The main issues are

  • the country’s vast disorganised population

  • dismal health facilities 

  • poor connectivity

  • lack of coordinated efforts at the national and international level.

Way Forward

  • First step is to make it harder for terrorists to access the resources for designing bioweapons and development of advanced biosurveillance systems.

  • Rapid detection and surveillance are important for an effective response to a bioterror attack.

  • To combat these bio‐threats, conventional principles of outbreak investigation supported with efficient laboratory systems are required to fall in place.

  • Continued international cooperation in this field is key.

  • Vaccines for immunizing the public against bioterrorism-caused diseases; Diagnostic tests to help first responders and other medical staff detect exposure quickly and provide treatment; and therapies to assist the recovery of patients exposed to bioterrorism.

  • Strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) of 1972 is a necessity of time to  deal with bioterrorism firmly.

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