Matt Ridley and Prasenjit Ray have written a fascinating piece for UnHerd in which they ask why the Global Virome Project, a well-funded initiative set up by group of public health experts, failed to investigate the origins of COVID-19.
In August 2016, a group of public health experts, policymakers and donors met in the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Conference Center overlooking Lake Como. Their aim was ambitious: to agree on “bold global action” that would mark the “beginning of the end of the pandemic era”. In other words, they hoped to find which viruses might cause the next pandemic, and get a head start on developing vaccines and drugs.
Known as the Global Virome Project, the scheme was officially launched in February 2018. By 2019, it had appointed a board of directors and made the “transition to a legal and operational reality”, according to an email from its head. Yet when a pandemic did break out at the end of that year, instead of leaping into action the Global Virome Project fell silent. It made no announcements, issued no press releases, arranged no public events.
Today, its website is an online zombie. In the greatest pandemic in a century, caused by exactly the sort of novel emerging virus it was designed to predict and prevent, it lists just three publications on its website, one of which is a dead link and the others four and six-years-old. Its “in the news” page lists no article after April 2021. What happened?
Using embassy cables, emails released under freedom of information, and government reports, we have pieced together the history of this wide-ranging international collaborative project and how it vanished just when it was most needed.
Worth reading in full.