Lab leak

Covid Lab-Leak Theory Must Be Properly Investigated “If We Are to Avoid Another Pandemic”, Says Matt Ridley

Last year, Matt Ridley – along with “everybody sensible” – believed the idea that the pandemic leaked from a lab was “pseudoscientific nonsense almost on a par with UFOs and the Loch Ness monster”. Now, writing in the latest issue of the Spectator, he says that, “if we are to avoid another pandemic”, the theory – which is looking increasingly plausible – should be taken more seriously and be properly investigated.

The turning point, ironically, was the “press conference” on February 9th in Wuhan where a team of western scientists representing the World Health Organisation (WHO) sat meekly through a three-hour propaganda session at the end of a 12-day study tour. Strictly chaperoned throughout, the western scientists (approved by the Chinese Government) had mainly listened to presentations by their Chinese colleagues during their visit and done no research themselves. Yet the result was presented to the world as if it was the WHO’s conclusion. 

The press conference was told that the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely” and would not be investigated further, because the scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology said so during a three-hour visit by the study team. By contrast, the theory favoured by the Chinese Government – that the virus reached Wuhan on frozen meat from a rabbit or ferret-badger farm in southern China or southeast Asia – was said to be plausible, despite a total lack of evidence. 

So risible was this little stage play that even WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had to backtrack a few days later: “All hypotheses remain open and require further study.” Dr Peter Ben Embarek, who led the study team, added wishfully: “I don’t think the press conference was a PR win for China.” The governments of Britain, America and 12 other countries issued a joint statement expressing “shared concerns” over the study…

The problem is partly that journalists confused two different theories last year: that the virus might have escaped from a laboratory openly doing research that was intended to prevent a pandemic, or that a secret project to create a nasty virus for use as a bioweapon had either gone wrong or succeeded all too well. The latter theory remains implausible; the former has never been so…

The lab that has been assiduously and energetically collecting coronaviruses from horseshoe bats for more than a decade, gathering a far larger collection of samples and genetic sequences than any other lab anywhere in the world, just happens to be in Wuhan, as part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Run by Dr Shi Zhengli, it boasted in 2019 of having at least 100 different Sars-like viruses in its database.

We cannot check these samples because the database went offline on September 12th, 2019, just before the pandemic began, and Dr Shi persistently refuses to reopen it, arguing that it’s been subject to “hacking attempts”. Right… in September 2019? And there’s no other way to show the data? Dr Daszak says he knows what is in the database and that it is of no relevance, which is why he has not asked his friend Dr Shi to share it. Right. When I raised this lack of transparency with a senior British scientist, he said: ‘They are communists, what do you expect?’ It is not clear why that should be reassuring.

Matt highlights the letter recently published in the academic journal Science, in which 18 scientists from around the world criticise the WHO over its failure to properly investigate the lab leak theory, and say: “Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover [from animals to humans] both remain viable.”

His article is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Conservative MP Bob Seely has told MailOnline that Facebook’s censoring of posts debating whether Covid could be man-made is “contemptible”.

I think it is absolutely contemptible and it shows their commitment to democracy is an incredibly thin veneer over their commercial interests. So many big tech firms are showing their true and frankly really ugly colours…

This is not a conspiracy theory. There is a genuine debate about where the Wuhan virus came from.

For Facebook to be shutting that conversation down is absolutely appalling.

Also worth reading in full.

Why Social Media Companies Were Wrong to Muzzle Lab Leak Theorists

I’ve written a piece for Mail+ today on why it was wrong for YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to remove content defending the lab leak theory and label it ‘misinformation’, given that it’s now entered the mainstream. One of the best arguments against censorship on Social media is that the ‘independent’ fact-checkers the companies rely on to determine which points of view are respectable and which are ‘conspiracy theories’ will inevitably make mistakes – and the transformation of the lab leak theory from fringe hypothesis to most likely explanation is a perfect illustration of this. Here’s an extract:

A few weeks ago, former New York Times science writer and freelance British journalist Nicholas Wade wrote a blog post setting out the case for the lab leak theory in meticulous detail and it was as if the spell was broken. Suddenly, those putting forward this hypothesis were no longer “conspiracy theorists”, even if the Wikipedia page on Covid-19 Misinformation still describes us in that way.

On May 14, 12 days after Wade’s piece appeared, 18 scientists, including some from MIT and Harvard, wrote a letter to Science, a prestigious journal, saying both theories were “viable” and deserved rigorous investigation.

Shortly afterwards, the editorial board of the Washington Post called for the lab leak theory to be properly looked into and – a few days ago – even Dr Fauci himself conceded defeat, saying he’s “not convinced” Covid-19 developed naturally and calling for further investigation.

What all this goes to show is that no one has a monopoly on the truth when it comes to this virus – not eminent scientists, not government advisors, and certainly not social media companies. Those of us who depart from the official narrative should not be accused of spreading “misinformation” and silenced by the powers that be. Rather, we should be permitted to set out our case in the public square, supporting it with evidence and reason, and if the gatekeepers of respectable opinion think we’re wrong, they should set out their reasons in the same spirit of open debate, not smear us as “cranks” or “conspiracy theorists”.

When it comes to the lab leak theory, we may still turn out to be wrong. But the only way to find out is through a dispassionate, rigorous investigation. Censorship has never been a good technique for finding out the truth.

Worth reading in full.

Wuhan Institute of Virology Researchers Were in Hospital with Possible COVID-19 in November 2019, Says U.S. Intelligence Report

The Wall Street Journal has published an article summarising an undisclosed U.S. intelligence report claiming that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) sought hospital care in November 2019 for possible COVID-19, a month before China reported the first cases of COVID-19 on December 8th, with the implication that they were infected in the lab and were among the first patients to become infected with the disease. Reuters reports on the Wall Street Journal story:

The newspaper said the previously undisclosed report which provides fresh details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits – may add weight to calls for a broader investigation into whether the COVID-19 virus could have escaped from the laboratory.

The Journal said current and former officials familiar with the intelligence expressed a range of views about the strength of the report’s supporting evidence, with one unnamed person saying it needed “further investigation and additional corroboration.”

This may seem to add weight to the lab leak theory. However, the timing doesn’t fit with some other keys pieces of data.

A leaked report from China looked back at hospital records and suggested the first patients infected with COVID-19 were being admitted to Wuhan hospitals in October, before any putative lab leak in November.

A U.S. military intelligence dossier which came to light in April 2020 documented a runaway epidemic in the Hubei region (of which Wuhan is the capital) in November (though the Pentagon has denied the existence of this dossier), which fits with the leaked Chinese report but not the U.S. intelligence report, since a November outbreak would not have had time to become a region-wide epidemic in the same month. It takes some weeks for a first cluster of cases to spread throughout a population of millions and cause a noticeable number of hospital admissions. Regional newspaper reports also suggest Covid was already circulating in Hubei in mid-November.

A November lab leak also seems too late given the virus was already infecting people around the world in December, with the first official UK fatal infection being caught in England in December.

Putting this together, it could mean one of three things: 1) The reported WIV staff sickness in November, as documented in the latest U.S. intelligence report, was not the original lab leak, just part of the later epidemic, or a second leak from the same lab and the original leak happened earlier (say, in September); 2) Covid did not leak from the WIV at all and there is another reason Wuhan was the first epicentre; 3) this was the leak and the reports implying an earlier epidemic are somehow incorrect or unrelated.

The plot thickens.

If the Lab Leak Theory Turns Out to be True, Will China be Held to Account?

Given it’s topicality, I’m giving another plug to this original essay by a best-selling, prize-winning novelist (writing under a pseudonym) about the price we’d be willing to pay if the lab leak theory turns out to be true. Will we just shrug and continue to buy cheap Chinese goods? Here is an extract:

The Western world will have to weigh up what the damage would be to their economies and international relations if they accept the lab leak theory. Because if we do then we will also have to accept that the CCP was involved in a cover-up which turned the contagion in Wuhan from localised outbreak to global pandemic. It would follow from this that the CCP would have to be held responsible for three and a half million deaths worldwide, an act of mass-death, albeit one caused by the ineptitude of China’s bureaucracy and the breaking of scientific safety protocols in laboratories overseen by the CCP.

This would be another historical mass-death caused by the CCP, comparable to the Great Chinese Famine (1959-61) which to this day is still not recognised officially by the CCP as a man-made disaster, and which to this day is not marked by any public remembrance monument even though 10-47 million people died. The CCP has a long history of systemic planning errors and accidents that have a high human cost which the CCP, by use of its one-party state apparatuses, has hidden from the rest of the world.

So, if the lab leak origin hypothesis for SARS-CoV2 turns out to be true, the people of the Western world must then ask, “What is the price that must be paid, and who will pay it? Must CCP governed China be held accountable? Will China be forced to pay reparations for the trillions of dollars of damage done to the economies of other nations in the world, along with compensation for the families of the three and a half million who died from the pandemic. Will there have to be sanctions on CCP-governed China, or regime change in China brought about by the other nations of the world? Will the half a trillion ($) in imports from CCP-governed China have to cease until CCP-governed China admits its error and commits to paying reparations?”

It’s an interesting dilemma. Would Western governments, scientists, corporations, consumers, etc., be willing to boycott Chinese investments, grants, cheap goods, and so on, unless the Chinese authorities admitted liability and paid reparations, given that they’d all be worse off if they did that?

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Thomas Frank has written a very good piece in the Guardian asking, ‘What if the lab leak theory turns out to be true?’ He thinks it will fuel a populist revolt against scientific expertise.

If it does indeed turn out that the lab leak hypothesis is the right explanation for how it began – that the common people of the world have been forced into a real-life lab experiment, at tremendous cost – there is a moral earthquake on the way.

Because if the hypothesis is right, it will soon start to dawn on people that our mistake was not insufficient reverence for scientists, or inadequate respect for expertise, or not enough censorship on Facebook. It was a failure to think critically about all of the above, to understand that there is no such thing as absolute expertise. Think of all the disasters of recent years: economic neoliberalism, destructive trade policies, the Iraq War, the housing bubble, banks that are “too big to fail”, mortgage-backed securities, the Hillary Clinton campaign of 2016 – all of these disasters brought to you by the total, self-assured unanimity of the highly educated people who are supposed to know what they’re doing, plus the total complacency of the highly educated people who are supposed to be supervising them.

Worth reading in full.

Scientists Criticise WHO over Its Failure to Properly Investigate Covid Lab Leak Theory

Scientists from around the world have criticised the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) investigation into the origins of Covid, saying that the agency has not properly looked into the lab leak theory. The group wrote in a letter to the academic journal Science: “Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover [from animals to humans] both remain viable.” Ian Birrell has more in the Mail on Sunday.

In a highly significant move, 18 scientists from the world’s top universities, including Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, have demanded further investigations into the origins of the pandemic…

[They wrote:] “More investigation is needed to determine the origin of the pandemic. Knowing how Covid emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks.”

The signatories include Ravindra Gupta, the Cambridge Geneticist who has played a key role in Britain’s response to variants. 

Another is Ralph Baric, a U.S. epidemiologist who carried out controversial experiments on coronaviruses which included collaborating with Shi Zhengli – the Wuhan scientist nicknamed “Batwoman”.

Their research manipulated bat viruses to make them more infectious to human beings.

Although the work by Baric and Zhengli was funded through the EcoHealth Alliance charity, leaked emails revealed that Baric declined to join the charity’s British Director Peter Daszak in efforts to dismiss suggestions of a possible lab leak.

When the pandemic erupted, Daszak secretly organised a statement with some fellow scientists to the Lancet which “strongly condemned” conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid did not have a natural origin. 

U.S. funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology was halted after it was reported by the Mail on Sunday

Yet Daszak was asked to join a WHO joint study team into the pandemic origins, despite his clear conflicts of interest.

The new letter to Science criticises the WHO inquiry for claiming a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely” when there is no strong evidence to support either theory. 

“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” it said.

“A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimise the impact of conflicts of interest.”

The criticism demonstrates how the ground is shifting fast on the issue as scientists and politicians challenge the conventional wisdom that Covid emerged naturally in Wuhan, the site of several key Chinese laboratories.

These labs include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which specialises in the study of bat-borne viruses and where there are known safety concerns…

Only a few scientists and journalists dared challenge the narrative that dismissed the idea of a possible lab leak for the first year of the pandemic…

The argument began to shift when Stanford Microbiologist David Relman, another of the Science signatories, published a landmark paper demanding a serious investigation of both theories.

Worth reading in full.

China was Preparing for a Third World War with Biological Weapons – Including Coronavirus – Six Years Ago

Chinese scientists have been preparing for a Third World War fought with biological and genetic weapons including coronavirus for the last six years, according to a document obtained by US investigators. MailOnline has more.

The bombshell paper, accessed by the US State Department, insists they will be “the core weapon for victory” in such a conflict, even outlining the perfect conditions to release a bioweapon, and documenting the impact it would have on “the enemy’s medical system”.

This latest evidence that Beijing considered the military potential of SARS coronaviruses from as early as 2015 has also raised fresh fears over the cause of COVID-19, with some officials still believing the virus could have escaped from a Chinese lab.

The dossier by People’s Liberation Army scientists and health officials, details of which were reported in the Australian, examined the manipulation of diseases to make weapons “in a way never seen before”.

Senior government figures say it “raises major concerns” over the intentions of those close to Chinese President Xi Jinping amid growing fears about the country’s lack of regulation over its activity in laboratories.

The authors of the document insist that a third world war “will be biological”, unlike the first two wars which were described as chemical and nuclear respectively.

Referencing research which suggested the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan forced them to surrender, and bringing about the end of WWII, they claim bioweapons will be “the core weapon for victory” in a third world war.

The document also outlines the ideal conditions to release a bioweapon and cause maximum damage.

The scientists say such attacks should not be carried out in the middle of a clear day, as intense sunlight can damage the pathogens, while rain or snow can affect the aerosol particles.

Instead, it should be released at night, or at dawn, dusk, or under cloudy weather, with “a stable wind direction… so that the aerosol can float into the target area”.

Meanwhile, the research also notes that such an attack would result in a surge of patients requiring hospital treatment, which then “could cause the enemy’s medical system to collapse”.

Worth reading in full.

New Article by ex-New York Times Science Writer Claims Lab Leak Theory Is More Plausible Than Natural Origin Theory

The former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade is no stranger to controversy. Now he has written a long essay arguing that the “lab leak” hypothesis is more plausible than the “natural origin” theory.

As readers may be aware, there are two main theories for SARS-CoV-2’s origin. One maintains that the virus originated in bats, and then jumped to humans, most likely via an intermediate host species. The other states that the virus originated in a lab, but then accidentally escaped, perhaps due to inadequate safety protocols.

At the start of the pandemic, the lab leak hypothesis was dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by many scientists and much of the mainstream press. Since then, however, more and more evidence has emerged that casts doubt on the alternative, natural origin theory.

Back in January, New York Magazine ran a long essay by the journalist Nicholas Baker, which tentatively argued the lab leak theory could be right. Then in March, Undark ran a piece by the science writer Charles Schmidt, stressing that the virus’s origin is very much an open question. At the end of March, The Telegraph ran a similar article by the author Matt Ridley and the biologist Alina Chan. (Indeed, the pair are writing a book on the pandemic’s origin called Viral, to be published later this year.)

In his new essay, Wade adopts a more forceful tone. Though he acknowledges “there is no direct evidence for either theory”, he maintains that the lab leak theory provides a far better explanation of the available facts. As Wade notes:

It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses.

By contrast, there are several pieces of evidence that the natural origin theory has great difficulty explaining:

No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2, if indeed it ever infected bats. No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals. There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did. There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved. There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else. There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons. 

Though some scientists claim we may never pinpoint the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2, the debate will no doubt continue over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, Wade’s essay is worth reading in full.

WHO Distances Itself From its Own ‘Whitewash’ Report Dismissing Covid Lab Leak Theory

No sooner had the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday published its report into the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus, than the Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was making a public statement distancing the organisation from what observers are calling a “whitewash”.

The report, which had been conducted with heavy reliance on Chinese scientists and under pressure from Chinese authorities, concluded it was “extremely unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 had escaped from a lab, claiming instead it was most likely the novel virus had passed from bats via an “intermediate animal host” before sparking an “explosive outbreak” in Wuhan in December 2019.

With a rare and welcome criticism of the Chinese Government, Dr Ghebreyesus said: “I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing” and insisted that “all hypotheses remain on the table”.

The United States, the UK and 12 other countries (Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea and Slovenia) issued a joint statement echoing the Director General’s concerns: “It is equally essential that we voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”

The European Union, more meekly, said that it regretted the delays and the “limited availability of early samples and related data”.

Dr Peter Ben-Embarek, head of the WHO mission at the centre of the controversy, defended his report, saying the “zoonotic origins” of the pandemic had been the agreed remit of the investigation rather than a potential laboratory accident. A defence which rather begs the question as to why the investigation was disbarred by design from looking into one of the key possibilities.

Dr Ben-Embarek, for reasons best known to himself, felt moved to offer a rather feeble defence of the Chinese Government’s lack of cooperation.

Of course there are areas where we had difficulties in getting down to the raw data, and there are many good reasons for that. In China, like in many other countries, there are restrictions on privacy laws that forbid the sharing of data, including private details to outsiders in particular. Where we did not have full access to the overall data, this has been put as a recommendation for future studies. So the idea is that, because we didn’t have time or because certain authorisation needs to be given before we could get access to the data, all that could be done in the second phase of studies.

Science journalist Matt Ridley aptly called it a “pure whitewash” when he appeared yesterday morning on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s show on talkRADIO. He pointed out that although the report concludes it’s very likely that an animal carried the virus to Wuhan, this conclusion is at odds with the 20-30 pages in the report which note that 45,000 animals in China have been tested for the virus and none have been found with it.