covid origins

Third of Team Appointed by WHO to Investigate Origins of Covid Have Conflicts of Interest

The World Health Organisation is embroiled in a new scandal: at least a third of its team investigating the origins of COVID-19, appointed last week, have conflicts of interest due to research links or previous statements about the disease. Ian Birrell in the Mail on Sunday has more.

The team of 26 scientists, selected from 700 applicants, were named last week after the UN body had its initial efforts frustrated by China and was then widely criticised after they declared it “extremely unlikely” that the pandemic began with a laboratory leak.

Michael Ryan, a senior WHO official, said the new Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens (Sago) had possibly the last chance to discover the origins of Covid-19 “in a collegiate, collective and mutually responsible way”.

Yet there is growing dismay over the inclusion of seven members of the discredited previous group, whose findings echoed the Beijing regime’s line – alongside others who have dismissed fears of a lab incident as conspiracy theory.

Tory MP Bob Seely, of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “Why does the new team include people who are compromised? Two whitewashes are not better than one. The world is owed a robust independent inquiry.”

The seven members of the previous study group include British professor John Watson and Dutch scientist Marion Koopmans.

Koopmans runs a viroscience department collaborating with EcoHealth Alliance, the US organisation headed by British scientist Peter Daszak, which funded high-risk bat-virus experiments in Wuhan.

She has published 27 papers with her colleague Ron Fouchier, one of the world’s most controversial researchers into ‘gain of function’ experiments, which aim to make animal viruses more transmissible and able to infect humans.

New members of the WHO team include German virologist Christian Drosten, who signed an influential Lancet statement last year that attacked “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” and praised Beijing’s “rapid, open and transparent sharing of data”.

One of the two biosafety specialists is Kathrin Summermatter, a Swiss scientist who has praised the security of Chinese labs and said the idea of a research incident is “a classic conspiracy theory”.

Filippa Lentzos, a biosecurity expert at King’s College London, has insisted that it is vital to keep all theories open, and said: “There appear to be many in the group who do not have an open mind – an essential quality in any scientific investigative team.”

You can read the story in the Mail on Sunday here.

Government Hides Details of Key Conversation between Leading Scientists on Covid’s Origins

Attempts to see details of a key email conversation between leading scientists – including Sir Patrick Vallance and Anthony Fauci – on the origins of Covid have been quashed by the British Government which has redacted page after page with thick black lines, begging the question: “What are they hiding?” The Mail on Sunday has the story.

[The MoS] used Freedom of Information rules to obtain a cache of 32 emails about a secretive teleconference between British and American health officials held early in the pandemic.

But officials blacked out almost every word before releasing the crucial documents.

Before this discussion, several of the world’s most influential experts believed the new virus most likely came from a laboratory – but days later, the scientists began dismissing such scenarios as “implausible” and branding them conspiracy theories.

The critical call is at the centre of concerns that the scientific establishment tried to stifle debate on the pandemic’s origins, as damning new evidence emerges of U.S. ties to high-risk research on bat viruses in Wuhan, where the first cases emerged in late 2019.

The MoS requested emails, minutes and notes on the call between Sir Patrick Vallance – Britain’s Chief Scientific Adviser – and its organisers Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust medical charity, and Anthony Fauci, the U.S. infectious diseases expert and presidential adviser.

Yet when the documents were released they had page after page redacted with thick lines of black ink by Whitehall officials. Even the names of experts copied in on discussions were blocked – and exchanges as trivial as one Edinburgh biologist’s “thank you” for being invited – leaving only a few basic details about the call visible.

The lines left intact include a demand for the discussions, involving 13 participants around the world, to be conducted in “total confidence”, and an intriguing email line suggesting “we need to talk about the backbone too, not just the insert”.

That was possibly sent by Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of the World Health Organisation team that produced a widely criticised report into Covid’s origins.

Such absurd state secrecy is highly contemptuous towards taxpayers and to a world that wants to know what caused this devastating pandemic to guard against similar catastrophes in the future.

The response was condemned by Tory MP and freedom of information campaigner David Davis.

“This is a matter of massive public and global importance,” he said. “It is hard to see why there should be such secrecy that it outweighs the immense public interest and requires them to redact this sort of important data.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Ian Birrell, who wrote the piece in the Mail on Sunday, has produced a Twitter thread showing some of the redacted documents which you can see here.

Lancet’s Panel Investigating Covid Origins Disbanded Because of Ties to Peter Daszak

The Chairman of a Lancet-affiliated panel of scientists looking into the origins of Covid says he has disbanded the commission because of its ties to Peter Daszak, the President of EcoHealth Alliance who proposed in 2018 to use U.S. money to fund gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. MailOnline has the story.

Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday that he was concerned with the links to Daszak, who led the task force until recusing himself from that role in June.

Daszak, who lives in New York, devoted his career to championing so-called ‘gain of function’ research to engineer coronavirus to be more deadly to humans, arguing that it was the best chance to detect and prevent a global pandemic.

Shocking documents released this week revealed his 2018 proposal to help the Wuhan Institute of Virology engineer bat coronaviruses to be more deadly, by inserting genetic features that are similar to those found in SARS-CoV-2.

There is still no conclusive proof as to whether Covid, a coronavirus linked to bats, first jumped to humans from a wild animal or in a lab setting.

But from the early days of the pandemic, Daszak has made every effort to paint the lab origin hypothesis as a “conspiracy theory”, including masterminding a letter in the Lancet that established a veneer of scientific consensus that natural origin was the only possibility. …

Several members of the disbanded Lancet task force have collaborated with Daszak or EcoHealth Alliance on projects in the past.

“I just didn’t want a task force that was so clearly involved with one of the main issues of this whole search for the origins, which was EcoHealth Alliance,” Dr. Sachs told the journal.

Sachs said a new Lancet Covid Commission would continue studying the origins for a report to be published in mid-2022, but broaden its scope to include input from other experts on biosafety concerns, including risky laboratory research.

It comes just days after the release of bombshell documents showing Daszak’s 2018 funding request to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeking $14.2 million to fund gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab.

The proposal, titled Project DEFUSE, was leaked to independent researchers with the DRASTIC research team.

In it Daszak requests funding for an elaborate project to genetically enhance coronaviruses and inoculate bats in Yunnan, China in the hopes of stopping new viruses jumping from bats to humans.

The funding request was denied by DARPA, but the proposal reveals a shocking line of research that could have conceivably been carried out independently by Chinese members of Daszak’s team, who included the infamous ‘bat woman’ Shi Zhengli.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: In a further blow to its reputation, the latest issue of the Lancet has a bizarre cover describing women as “bodies with vaginas”. Apparently, editor Richard Horton thought this would endear him to female scientists. MailOnline has more.

The Lancet was accused of sexism and dehumanising women after it editors used the term, which was written in an article titled ‘Periods on Display’, on the journal’s front cover in an attempt to be inclusive to trans people.

The article, which was published on September 1st, examines an exhibition exploring the taboos and history of periods at the Vagina Museum in London and sees the writer use the word “women” but also use the term “bodies with vaginas”.

The quote, which was then used on the journal’s front page, read: “Historically, the anatomy and physiology of bodies with vaginas have been neglected.”

However the move to display the quote on the journal’s front cover has been met with criticism, with some academics calling it “insulting and abusive” and a “misguided pursuit of woke points”.

Meanwhile others said they had cancelled their subscriptions with the peer-reviewed medical journal – which was founded in 1823.

It comes just months after critics lambasted Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust after it told staff to use terms like “birthing parents” and “human milk” rather than referring to “mothers” and “breast milk”.

Worth reading in full.

Ex-Chinese Communist Party Insider Claims China Spread Covid at Military Tournament in October 2019

A Chinese Communist Party (CCP) defector claims that the Chinese Government deliberately spread Covid at an international military tournament in Wuhan two months before the World Health Organisation was notified about the first case of the virus. He says that some athletes at the event came down with Covid-like symptoms but that those he approached with his concerns – including figures in the Trump administration – seemed uninterested. The Mail Australia has the story.

Ex-CCP insider Wei Jingsheng said the World Military Games in October 2019 could have acted as the virus’ first superspreader event. …

Mr. Jingsheng claimed it was no coincidence some of the 9,000 international athletes who gathered for the event reportedly became sick with a mystery illness.

“I thought the Chinese Government would take this opportunity to spread the virus during the Military Games, as many foreigners would show up there,” he told the new Sky News documentary What Really Happened in Wuhan.

The whistleblower claimed he had heard of the Chinese Government carrying out an “unusual exercise” during the games.

“[I knew] of the possibility of the Chinese Government using some strange weapons, including biological weapons, because I knew they were doing experiments of that sort,” he said.

His claims were supported by the former Principal China Adviser to the U.S. State Department Miles Yu.

He said French, German and American athletes were among those to fall ill at the tournament with Covid-like symptoms, but were never tested for the virus.

“We see some indications in our own data… that there was Covid circulating in the United States as early as early December, possibly earlier than that,’ ex-U.S. State Department Covid investigator David Asher said.

Mr. Jingsheng also claims he took his concerns about the unfolding situation to senior figures within the Trump administration in November 2019 but was ignored.

The long-time democracy campaigner, who has served time in prison for “counter-revolutionary activities”, said he made the approach as whispers of a “new SARS virus” began circulating on WeChat and other Chinese social media platforms.

“I felt they were not as concerned as I was, so I tried my best to provide more detail and information,” he said.

“They may not believe that a Government of a country would do something like that (cover up a virus), so I kept repeating myself in an effort … to persuade them.” …

The Chinese dissident would not disclose which political leaders he spoke to but insisted they were senior government figures and had the ear of then-President Donald Trump.

“I’m not sure if this politician wants me to talk about him right here,” he said.

“But I want to say he is a high enough politician, high enough to be able to reach the President of the United States.”

Worth reading in full.

Wuhan Scientists Submitted Plans to Release Coronaviruses into Bat Caves in 2018

Leaked documents have revealed that, 18 months before reports emerged of the first Covid cases, scientists linked to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were planning to release coronaviruses into Chinese bat caves in order to inoculate them against diseases that could pass on to humans. The Telegraph has the story.

New documents show that just 18 months before the first Covid cases appeared, researchers had submitted plans to release skin-penetrating nanoparticles containing “novel chimeric spike proteins” of bat coronaviruses into cave bats in Yunnan, China.

They also planned to create chimeric viruses, genetically enhanced to infect humans more easily, and requested $14 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to fund the work.

Papers, confirmed as genuine by a former member of the Trump administration, show they were hoping to introduce “human-specific cleavage sites” to bat coronaviruses which would make it easier for the virus to enter human cells. 

When Covid was first genetically sequenced, scientists were puzzled about how the virus had evolved such a human-specific adaptation at the cleavage site on the spike protein, which is the reason it is so infectious.

The documents were released by Drastic, the web-based investigations team set up by scientists from across the world to look into the origins of Covid.

In a statement, Drastic said: “Given that we find in this proposal a discussion of the planned introduction of human-specific cleavage sites, a review by the wider scientific community of the plausibility of artificial insertion is warranted.”

The proposal also included plans to mix high-risk natural coronavirus strains with more infectious but less dangerous varieties.

The bid was submitted by British zoologist Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, the U.S.-based organisation, which has worked closely with the WIV researching bat coronaviruses. 

Team members included Dr. Shi Zhengli, the WIV researcher dubbed “bat woman”, as well as U.S. researchers from the University of North Carolina and the United States Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Centre.

DARPA refused to fund the work, saying: “It is clear that the proposed project led by Peter Daszak could have put local communities at risk”, and warned that the team had not properly considered the dangers of enhancing the virus (gain of function research) or releasing a vaccine by air.

Grant documents show that the team also had some concerns about the vaccine programme and said they would “conduct educational outreach … so that there is a public understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it, particularly because of the practice of bat-consumption in the region”.

Worth reading in full.

The Lancet Changes Mind on Lab Leak Theory – Calls for “Objective, Open and Transparent Debate”

The Lancet appears to have had a change of heart on the lab leak theory, having published an article calling for an “objective, open and transparent debate” on Covid’s origins – a whole 19 months after writers “strongly condemn[ed] conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid does not have a natural origin“. The idea that the evidence points away from the lab leak theory and towards a natural origin “could [now] literally be reversed”, say the authors of the new article. “There is no direct support for the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2, and a laboratory-related accident is plausible.” The Mail on Sunday has more.

It was revealed earlier this year that Peter Daszak – a British scientist with long-standing links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology – had secretly orchestrated a landmark statement in the Lancet in February 2020 which attacked “conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid does not have a natural origin”.

The now-infamous letter, signed by 27 leading public health experts, said they stood together to “strongly condemn” the theories which they said “do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice”.

They also lavished praise on Chinese scientists who they said had “worked diligently and effectively to rapidly identify the pathogen behind this outbreak… and share their results transparently with the global health community”.

Now, the Lancet has agreed to publish an alternative commentary which discusses the possibility that laboratory research might have played a role in the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

It also directly confronts the efforts of science journals to stifle debate by labelling such theories as “misinformation”. …

[The authors say] the February 2020 statement “imparted a silencing effect on the wider scientific debate”.

And they say scientists, “need to evaluate all hypotheses on a rational basis, and to weigh their likelihood based on facts and evidence, devoid of speculation concerning possible political impacts”.

Science itself, they go on, should “embrace alternative hypotheses, contradictory arguments, verification, refutability, and controversy” and rather than congratulating China on its supposed “transparency”, they call on the secretive superpower to open up.

Worth reading in full.

Research on the Covid Origins Has Stalled, Scientists Warn

We have reached a crucial point in the study of Covid origins, with “the window of opportunity” for proper investigation closing, scientists have warned. Despite this, research efforts appear to have stalled. BBC News has the story.

Researchers asked by the World Health Organisation to find the cause of the initial outbreak say the process has stalled, in scientific journal Nature.

And further delay could make crucial studies “biologically impossible”. 

They are calling on political and scientific leaders to expedite those studies “while there is still time”.

Dutch Virologist Professor Marion Koopmans, a member of the WHO team, told BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science programme the risk of pandemics was increasing. 

“Because of the way the world is changing – population increase, crowding and more interaction between humans and animals, we need to learn where things go wrong and how we can avoid that in the future,” she said.

The WHO team visited Wuhan in January and published a report in March recommending:

~ searching blood banks in China and other countries for antibodies to the virus in blood donated in the months preceding the December 2019 outbreak 

~ taking samples from farmed wild animals such as mink and racoon dog that might be the “intermediate host” that allowed the virus to jump species

But since farmed animals have a limited lifespan and blood banks store donations for a fixed period, the researchers are worried that valuable biological information may already have been lost. 

The politically contentious issue of whether the virus might have escaped from a laboratory in China had also made some of the work more difficult, Professor Koopmans said.

All the lines of inquiry were relevant, she said, “but when accusations get mixed with the scientific questions, things become quite difficult”.

In their report, however, the team concluded while it was impossible to determine how the virus had infected the first humans, “all available evidence” suggested it had a natural animal origin and was “not a manipulated or constructed virus”.

Worth reading in full.

Chinese Scientists Deleted Almost 50 Test Samples from Covid Patients in Wuhan That Suggested Virus was Circulating Before Seafood Market Outbreak

The debate over the origins of Covid has moved in the direction of the lab leak theory today after it emerged that Chinese scientists deleted dozens of test samples from patients in Wuhan from an international database used to track the evolution of the virus. The files are said to include some data that suggest the virus was circulating in people before – possibly even months before – it was linked to wet markets. The MailOnline has more.

The American professor who spotted their deletion and managed to recover some of the data said they suggested Covid was circulating long before China’s official timeline.

He found the early samples of the virus were more evolved than would be expected of a pathogen that had recently jumped from animals to humans – but did not say it gave more weight to the “lab leak” theory.

Professor Jesse Bloom, a virologist from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said he believed China had removed the files to “obscure their existence”.

British scientists told MailOnline the findings confirm Covid was spreading in people before being linked to wet markets, “perhaps months before”.

The latest cover-up comes amid mounting suspicion the virus may have accidentally leaked from a high-level biosecurity laboratory in Wuhan…

The cover-up was detailed in a scientific paper titled “Recovery of deleted deep sequencing data sheds more light on the early Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 epidemic” today.

45 positive samples had originally been uploaded to the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Sequence Read Archive by the Wuhan University in early March 2020.

The NIH is a U.S. Government agency responsible for biomedical and public health research.

The samples were published as part of a study into diagnosing Covid patients using PCR tests – just days before the Chinese Government issued an order requiring approval of the publication of all coronavirus data. 

Professor Bloom noted all 45 samples have since been pulled from the database, with “no plausible scientific reason for the deletion”.

He said the most likely explanation was to “abuse” and “obscure” the truth about the origins of the pandemic.  

Worth reading in full.

Government Does Not Believe in Lab Leak Theory, Says Dominic Raab

Following discussions on the origins of Covid among the G7 leaders in Cornwall on Saturday, Dominic Raab has said that on the “balance of probabilities” the U.K. Government does not believe in the lab leak theory. It is “much more likely”, he added, that the virus “jumped” from animals to humans. The MailOnline has the story.

Asked if he had been involved in G7 discussions about the lab leak theory, [the Foreign Secretary] told Sky News: “I haven’t personally but of course it has created part of the backdrop and officials have been comparing notes on this.

“If you are asking me whether we think on the balance of probabilities, if you like, that it originated in a lab, our best information for now is that it didn’t.

“But we don’t have all of the answers, that is why internationally we wanted the review to be able to go into to get all of the answers, to have all the cooperation, so we have the full picture rather than these possible, potential, plausible options.

“But on balance we do not believe that it came from a laboratory. We think it is much more likely to have jumped if you like from animals to humans.”

A recent report by the Wall Street Journal, citing a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report, claimed three researchers from the Wuhan lab sought hospital care in November 2019.  

The report, which provided fresh details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits, sparked renewed calls for a probe into whether the virus came from a lab. 

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organisation, says that all hypotheses on the origins of Covid remain “open“.

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.

COVID-19 Virus has a Genetic Feature Never Found in Nature that Lab Scientists Use to Track Engineered Viruses

Medical doctor Steven Quay and Emeritus Professor Richard Muller have written an article in the Wall Street Journal in which they set out what they believe to be “the most compelling reason to favour the lab leak hypothesis”. It is the fact that SARS-CoV-2 has a genetic feature that has never been observed in natural SARS-like coronaviruses, but which is the preferred feature for scientists when engineering viruses in the lab. It’s preferred because it is simpler and more familiar for lab workers, and also because it can then be used as a tell-tale marker of the engineered virus when tracking it in the lab.

The genome of SARS-CoV-2 includes as part of its genetic coding of the spike protein a sequence known as “double CGG” (CGG-CGG) that codes for two “arginine” amino acids in a row. Quay and Muller explain that there are 35 other possibilities that could occur in this location, known as the “furin cleavage site”, which would not disadvantage the virus in any way so are equally likely to be selected for by natural fitness. Furthermore, viruses often evolve by picking up genetic code from other viruses (known as recombination), but since double CGG doesn’t exist in nature for SARS-like viruses (or didn’t before SARS-CoV-2) this common route of picking it up is not available, making its appearance in a new coronavirus even less likely.

On the other hand, double CGG is the most commonly used sequence for lab workers when engineering the furin cleavage site in gain-of-function research, because it is readily available and familiar and can then be used to track the engineered virus.

There is also evidence the Wuhan scientists tried to conceal this genetic smoking gun. When the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s “bat woman” Dr Shi Zhengli and colleagues published a paper in February 2020 with the virus’s partial genome, the double-CGG furin cleavage site section was in the part of the genome omitted (though could be seen in the accompanying data).

The double-CGG furin cleavage site is often used in gain-of-function engineering to make a virus more infectious or virulent. “Humanised” mice are typically then repeatedly exposed to the engineered virus in order to accelerate the process of adaptation to humans. If the virus did originate through this kind of research it would therefore explain why there is no evidence of this adaptation occurring in nature for SARS-CoV-2, unlike with SARS-1.

A further point of interest is that the U.S. National Security Council, after reading an April 2020 paper in which Chinese military researchers studied SARS-CoV-2 using humanised mice, deduced that the mice involved must have been engineered some time during summer 2019, prior to the pandemic, raising questions about the reasons they had been engineered and what they were being used for at the time SARS-CoV-2 emerged in the autumn of 2019.

The evidence for a lab leak origin during gain-of-function research is looking more compelling by the day.