Harvard Scientist: COVID-19 Originated From Wuhan Lab Leak

Published December 16th, 2021 - 10:49 GMT
Wuhan lab leak 'now the most likely origin of Covid'
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)
The Wuhan lab leak is now the most likely origin of the coronavirus pandemic, MPs have been told

The Wuhan lab leak is now the most likely origin of the coronavirus pandemic because Beijing tried to cover it up, MPs were told today.

Harvard scientist Dr. Alina Chan told the Science and Technology Select Committee that it is 'reasonable' to believe that COVID was genetically engineered in China.

She also said that the Chinese Communist Party's cover-up of the initial outbreak in Wuhan two years ago and attempts to sabotage the World Health Organisation's inquiry into the origins of the pandemic made the lab-leak theory likely.

Tory peer Lord Ridley, who has co-authored a book on the origin of the virus with Dr. Chan, said the fact that experts have still not found the animal host that would support a natural origin despite two years of research supports claim that COVID came from a lab. 

Recent revelations of China's attempted cover-up have forced British and US intelligence officials to take seriously the lab-leak hypothesis, once dismissed as a crank conspiracy theory. 

However, the bombshell allegations are likely to heap pressure on the UK Government to challenge Beijing's assurances that the virus came from the natural world. They are also likely to raise further questions about the relationship between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the WHO, which last year was accused of publishing a whitewash report into the outbreak. 

Dr Chan told MPs: 'I think the lab origin is more likely than not. Right now, it's not safe for people who know about the origin of the pandemic to come forward. 

'But we live in an era where there is so much information being stored that it will eventually come out. We have heard from many top virologists that a genetically-engineered origin is reasonable, and that includes virologists who made modifications to the first SARS virus.' 

During the same session, the editor of the Lancet Richard Horton was forced to explain why he allowed the publication of a letter denouncing the lab leak theory as a conspiracy, despite its lead author having financial affiliations to the WIV. 

Mr. Horton said he found out about Dr. Peter Daszak's link 'very quickly' after the Lancet published the letter in February last year.

Dr Daszak persuaded 26 other scientists to sign off on the letter he had written claiming the virus could only have been natural in origin and to suggest otherwise creates 'fear, rumours, and prejudice'. 

But the EcoHealth Alliance boss was revealed to have been funneling US tax-payer funds into the Wuhan lab, which investigated and modified coronaviruses before the pandemic.

The Lancet published an addendum to the letter in June this year – 16 months after it was initially published – acknowledging Dr Dazak's competing interests.

Dr Chan added: 'We know this virus (COVID) has a unique feature, called the furin cleavage site, and without this feature there is no way this would be causing this pandemic.

'A proposals was leaked showing that EcoHealth and the Wuhan Institute of Virology were developing a pipeline for inserting novel furin cleavage sites. So, you find these scientists who said in early 2018 'I'm going to put horns on horses' and at the end of 2019 a unicorn turns up in Wuhan city.'

Lord Ridley said: 'I also think it's more likely than not because we have to face the fact after two months we knew the origins of SARS, and after a couple of months we knew MERS was though through camels, but after two years we still haven't found a single infected animal that could be the progenitor, and that's incredibly surprising.

'We need to find out so we can prevent the next pandemic. We need to know whether we should be tightening up work in laboratories or whether we should be tightening up regulations related to wildlife markets. At the moment we are really not doing either. 

'We also need to know to deter bad actors who are watching this episode and thinking that unleashing a pandemic is something they could get away with.'

A May 2021 report from The Wall Street Journal cited an undisclosed intelligence report detailing how three scientists from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the COVID pandemic.

The lab specialised in engineering dangerous coronaviruses and is the only level four biochemical lab in China.

An article in the respected Science journal on May 14 kick-started the surge in interest for the lab-leak theory.

Some 18 experts wrote in the journal that 'we must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data'.

Later that month, a study by British Professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sørensen claimed it had 'prima facie evidence of retro-engineering in China' for a year.

The study included accusations of 'deliberate destruction, concealment or contamination of data' at Chinese labs.

It followed statements from the WHO Director General, US and EU that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve.

Previously, the theory had been dismissed as conspiracy by most experts, partly because of its association with Donald Trump.

President Joe Biden in May ordered a full investigation into the origin of the pandemic virus and demanded scientists work out whether there is truth to the theory.

The head of the WHO insisted just a day earlier that the theory that COVID emerged from a Wuhan lab has not been ruled out – as he said China should help solve the mystery out of 'respect' for the dead.

The body's director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggested that Beijing had not cooperated fully as he urged more 'transparency' in the continuing investigation.

However, several other sects of the scientific community continue to suggest the virus could only be natural in origin.

A series of recent papers pointed to the virus evolving in animals before being transmitted to humans, in the same way as all other previously discovered coronaviruses.

The first study, published in Scientific Reports , showed some 47,000 wild animals from 38 species were sold across four markets in Wuhan between May 2017 and November 2019.

The authors, including Dr. Chris Newman, an evolutionary ecologist at Oxford University, claimed the evidence showed the conditions for animal-to-human transmission were in place in Wuhan.

But they acknowledged there was no proof Sars-CoV-2 was present or originated in any of these animals.

A joint WHO-China investigation also concluded it was 'very likely' the virus jumped from bats to humans via an as-yet-unknown intermediary animal.

Lord Ridley slammed the Lancet for a 'lack of transparency', with Dr Daszak's links to the lab and role in orchestrating the letter only being revealed after it was leaked. 

In the grilling with MPs, Dr. Horton insisted he did not know about the scientist's connections to the lab's so-called 'bat woman' Shi Zhengli – who did experimental research on coronaviruses coming from thousands of samples from the animal – until after the letter was published.

But he admitted that his opinion on the theory has now changed, calling it a 'valid hypothesis that requires investigation'. 

Dr. Horton said the Lancet usually takes authors' declarations of interest at face value.

He said: 'In this case regrettably the authors claimed they had no interest but there were indeed competing interests that were significant, particularly in relation to Peter Daszak.

'We weren't aware of those competing interests but we became very quickly aware of them afterwards because he was subject to considerable public criticism.' 

Dr. Horton said he and Dr. Daszak disagreed on whether there was a conflict of interest, with the latter claiming his links to the lab made him an expert on the topic. 

Quizzed on why it took so long to reveal the nature of Dr. Daszak's connections, he insisted this disagreement was behind the delays. 

And he claimed the journal does not have enough staff or time to investigate the background of all the authors who are published in it. 

He said: 'In this case, I think Dr. Daszak should have declared his interest at the beginning.' 

The editor admitted the information revealed in June should have been included in the original February letter.

Tory MP Aaron Bell slammed Dr. Horton for taking so long to reveal Dr. Daszak's links to the lab.

He said: 'When you appeared before us before Dr. Horton, you expressed the need for things to move quickly in the pandemic.

'This seems to have taken far too long. I hope Dr Daszak will be able to come and give evidence to this committee in future so he can explain for himself why he delayed your enquiry into his conflict of interest for so long.' 

Dr. Horton added that the World Health Organization's investigation into the lab – which in March this year concluded that the leak theory was one of four valid hypotheses for COvID's origins – had changed his mind that it was impossible for the virus to have come from anything other than natural origin.

But he said he agreed with the organisation's assertion that it was an unlikely hypothesis – despite acknowledging that the investigation was hampered by Chinese authorities.

Asked to provide a percentage figure on his confidence in the theory, he said: 'I agree with the World Health Organization that it's a valid hypothesis that requires investigation but is extremely unlikely.' 

Lord Ridley slammed Dr. Daszak for not revealing his direct role in funding controversial gain-of-function research – which manipulates viruses to make them more transmissible and deadly and is illegal in Europe – at the lab until the information was leaked.

And he said it was 'extraordinary' that Dr. Daszak's role in orchestrating the Lancet letter was also not revealed until it was revealed by leaked emails. 

He said: '[Daszak] said to his co-authors that it should not appear to be coming from him or his organisation and he remained on the Lancet commission investigating the origin of Covid for many months thereafter.

'So there has been a significant lack of transparency, not just from the Chinese authorities, but from Western ones as well on this and that does seem to me a huge problem.' 

Earlier this year, an investigation by The Sunday Times revealed efforts by Beijing to control the WHO's decision making, sabotage investigations and even install officials.

The newspaper claims the WHO failed to publicly challenge Chinese misinformation, delayed declaring an international emergency, and discouraged governments from placing travel bans on China to protect its economy.

It has also been suggested officials agreed a 'backroom deal' with the Chinese to water down the inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.

This meant steering scientists away from the theory coronavirus actually escaped from a Wuhan laboratory, rather than coming from wild animals in a wet market in the city in December 2019.

The theory was initially dismissed as 'extremely unlikely' by the WHO but now experts say there might have been 'human error' at the lab.

Central to the paper's claims is that close ties between the WHO's leadership and China had impacted on its ability to challenge the country over the emergence of the virus.

It is suggested China has for some time been using financial leverage over poorer nations to install its preferred figures into key roles at the WHO as well as other UN-governed bodies.

Chief among the decision makers at the WHO is Tedros, who is a long-time friend of China. He visited President Xi in January 2020, two months before the pandemic began. 

Between 2000 and 2012, there were around 130 official Chinese finance projects in Zimbabwe, with some totaling hundreds of million of pounds to build hydroelectric dams and provide agricultural machinery.

In June last year, Zimbabwe was one of 53 countries to back the Hong Kong national security law at the United Nations, derided by Western nations as a clampdown on protestors and free speech by China.

Professor Richard Ebright, a fellow of America's Infectious Disease Society, told the Times that China's efforts had a 'decisive role' in affecting the agency's failure to act. 

'There was no scientific or medical or policy justification for the stance that the WHO took in January and February of 2020. That was entirely premised on maintaining satisfactory ties to the Chinese government,' he said.

'Through that process, the WHO actively resisted and obstructed efforts by other nations to implement effective border controls that could have limited the spread, or even contained the spread of the outbreak.' 

The support for Tedros especially had a 'remarkably high return on the investment' compared to the funds and influence used to help him get elected.

A spokesperson for the organisation hit back at the claims, saying: 'WHO's top priority is ending the acute stage of the Covid-19 pandemic.'

They later added: 'The Sunday Times piece is riddled with inaccuracies, falsehoods, half-truths, unsubstantiated assertions, willful distortions and the intentional omission of anything that didn't fit the pre-determined premise of the story.

'There have been several independent reviews of the global response to Covid-19, including the work of WHO, and these reviews note the work of the organisation and the early warnings we issued.

'Frankly, WHO's top priority is ending the acute stage of the COVID-19 pandemic and we are supporting countries to implement comprehensive, evidence-based responses, based on the consistent use of public health measures and the equitable use of life-saving tools including vaccines.

'In particular, we are working to enable all countries to vaccinate health workers, older people and other vulnerable groups, at a time when 75 per cent of vaccinations have taken place in only 10 countries.'

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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