Wuhan Institute of Virology

Labelling the Lab Leak Theory ‘Misinformation’ is a Stain on British Science

I’ve written a comment piece for Mail+ today about the shameful attempt by eminent British scientists to suppress the lab leak theory, pegged to the editorial in the BMJ calling for a “full, open, and independent investigation” into the origins of the virus. Here is an extract:

We still don’t know for sure where the virus came from, but the theory that it escaped from a lab in Wuhan has always been quite plausible – which is why it’s peculiar that so many British scientists initially dismissed it as ‘misinformation’.

For one thing, the closest known relative to SARS-CoV-2 occurs naturally in a region of Southern China almost 1,000 miles away from the research centre. Yet the first viral outbreak was recorded in Wuhan. How did it get there if it wasn’t via a lab leak?

We know that scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology have been researching coronaviruses in bats for more than a decade, catching them in the wild and bringing them back to the lab to carry out ‘gain of function’ research.

This involves altering microbes that cause diseases to make them more transmissible in the hope of developing vaccines and treatments.

What’s more likely? That SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the lab or that Covid-19 began when a human ate an infected animal bought from the Wuhan wet market – the so-called ‘zoonotic spill over’ theory?

We know that safety standards at the Institute are quite lax. For instance, Wuhan scientists conducted some experiments on a coronavirus capable of infecting human cells in 2016 in a lab with biosafety levels comparable to that of a dentist’s office, i.e. they wore protective face shields, but that was about it.

Moreover, this wouldn’t be the first time a dangerous pathogen has escaped from the lab. Smallpox leaked from a research lab at Birmingham Medical School in 1978, SARS has escaped six times – once from a lab in in Singapore, once in Taiwan and four times in Beijing – and in 2007 an outbreak of foot and mouth disease was traced to a leaky drainage pipe at a British government lab in Surrey.

Yet in spite of this circumstantial evidence, some experts were quick to write off the lab leak hypothesis when it was first aired.

Worth reading in full.

New York Times Article Lays Out Circumstantial Evidence for Lab Leak Theory

Since the publication on May 14th of the letter in Science calling for a new investigation into the origins of COVID-19, the lab leak theory has officially gone mainstream. Numerous articles testifying to its plausibility have been published, and President Biden ordered intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts to examine the virus’s origin.

One of the best articles that’s been published in recent weeks is a piece by Zeynep Tufekci in the New York Times. Although she doesn’t come down in favour of one theory or the other (lab leak versus natural origin), she does lay out much of the circumstantial evidence for a lab leak. And it’s not in short supply.

To begin with, you have the location of the first outbreak in Wuhan, China – home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (as well as the Wuhan C.D.C.). It would be a remarkable coincidence, many have observed, if the pandemic just happened to get started in a city that hosts one of the world’s major coronavirus research labs.  

Some have countered that labs tend to be built where the viruses are. However, this simply isn’t true in the case of the Wuhan Institute, as Tufekci points out. The lab has “been where it is since 1956… It was upgraded and began to focus on coronavirus research only after SARS.” Even Dr. Shi (the “Batwoman”) has said she “never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan”.

Next, you have reports about the rather lax safety standards inside the Wuhan Institute. In 2016, for example, scientists ran experiments on a coronavirus capable of infecting human cells in a BSL-2 lab – a biosafety level that “has been compared with that of a dentist’s office”. And in 2017, a Chinese state-TV story about Dr. Shi’s research “showed researchers handling bats or bat feces with their bare hands”.

Then there is the fact that Dr. Shi, her colleagues and the Wuhan Institute, not to mention the Chinese authorities, have given misleading or incomplete accounts of key events, or have simply withheld information. Aside from the location’s first major outbreak, this is perhaps the strongest piece of evidence for a lab leak. If the virus’s origin is zoonotic, why wouldn’t you let other scientists look over your files?

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.

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.

The Collapse of the Attempt to Censor the Lab Leak Theory Shows Why it’s Dangerous to Suppress Free Enquiry

We’re publishing a new piece today by retired lawyer Cephas Alain (a pseudonym) about the lab leak theory, subtitled “Who Suppressed It? Who Uncovered It? And What Should We Do About It?

Here’s how he begins:

A crucial, and often overlooked, event in the story of the pandemic and its associated narratives, including that of the supposed natural origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was the Press Conference of WHO-China Joint Mission on COVID-19 Epidemic Prevention and Control in China. It took place at The Presidential Hotel in Beijing on the evening of February 24th 2020. The transcript of Press Conference and the forty-page Report issued by the Joint Mission on the same date The China Report are available as follows:

The WHO Press Conference Transcript: February 24th 2020
The Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (The China Report)

The WHO Press Conference was briefed by the Team Leaders of the Joint Mission: Dr. Bruce Aylward (a former Assistant Director-General of the WHO and senior advisor to WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus) and Dr. Liang Wannian (Head of Expert Panel of COVID-19 Response of China National Health Commission (NHC).

Dr Wannian suggested that the source of the outbreak “…according to the currently available data in China, bats may be its host, and pangolin may also be one of the intermediate hosts [i.e., between bats and humans] of this virus”. The China Report added that: “At some point early in the outbreak, some cases generated human-to-human transmission chains that seeded the subsequent community outbreak prior to the implementation of the comprehensive control measures that were rolled out in Wuhan.” (China Report page 10) The ‘best guess’ of the WHO Team was therefore that the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in bats which jumped species to infect humans, possibly via pangolins.

Cephas gathers together some of the key events and articles to tell the story of the censorship and how it collapsed and what that means.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Douglas Murray has delivered one of his most sceptical pieces to date, lambasting the media for its skewed coverage of the pandemic, starting with the disgraceful silence over the mass protests and then taking aim at the “kidults” who run tech companies for their censorship of the lab leak theory.

Stop Press 2: Katherine Eban in Vanity Fair notes that researchers at the U.S. National Security Council had spotted that the engineered mice with humanised lungs that the WIV used for experiments with SARS-CoV-2 in early 2020 must have been engineered before the pandemic in the summer of 2019, leading to questions about the reason they were created – and how dangerous were the experiments being done on them.

Stop Press 3: The Daily Mail‘s Sian Boyle has carried out an investigation in Dr Peter Daszak, who, as President of EcoHealth Alliance, helped to fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology then did his best to rubbish the lab leak theory.

The Virus “Looks Engineered”, Dr Fauci was Told by a Leading Scientist, Before Both of Them Actively Suppressed the Lab Leak Theory

Why did senior U.S. Government Covid adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and other leading scientists seek to quash any suggestion of a lab leak origin back in early 2020 and ensure it was written off as a conspiracy theory? That’s what many people are asking now that a lab leak is being seen, including by Dr. Fauci himself and President Joe Biden, as a possibility worth investigating.

In May 2020, Dr Fauci was unequivocal: “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated… Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.” Yet now he has changed his tune. On May 11th he stated that he is “not confident” the virus developed naturally and he is “perfectly in favour of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus”.

The controversy has escalated in the last couple of days after the publication of emails from February 2020 that show Dr. Fauci being told by Dr. Kristian Andersen, Director of Infectious Disease Genomics at the Scripps Research Institute, that SARS-CoV-2 features “look engineered“.

In the emails, obtained by BuzzFeed through Freedom of Information enquiries, Dr. Anderson wrote: “I should mention that after discussions earlier today, Eddie, Bob, Mike, and myself all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory. But we have to look at this much more closely and there are still further analyses to be done, so those opinions could still change.”

It seems the opinions did change, as six weeks later Dr. Anderson was a lead signatory of a letter in Nature that declared: “The evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus.”

In the wake of the revelation about his February email, Dr. Anderson has doubled down and defended his Nature letter, tweeting: “As I have said many times, we seriously considered a lab leak a possibility. However, significant new data, extensive analyses, and many discussions led to the conclusions in our paper. What the email shows, is a clear example of the scientific process.”

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.

Writing in Top Science Journal, Experts Call for New Investigation Into Origins of COVID-19

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. 

It should be noted that there are two slightly different versions of the latter, “lab leak” theory. One says the virus that escaped was of wholly natural origin; the other says it had been genetically engineered beforehand. In the diagram below, A corresponds to the first version of the lab leak theory and C corresponds to the second; B corresponds to the natural origin theory:

The lab leak theory, you’ll recall, was initially dismissed as a “conspiracy” – even though the location of the first outbreak (in proximity to the Wuhan Institute of Virology) suggested it was by no means implausible. 

In September of 2020, Twitter suspended the Chinese virologist Li-Meng Yan after she claimed that SARS-CoV-2 was manufactured in a laboratory and accused the Chinese government of covering up evidence. (Dr. Yan subsequently fled to the United States over concerns for her safety.)

In February of 2020, 27 scientists wrote a letter to The Lancet, claiming studies “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife”. The authors stated, “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

In May of 2020, Anthony Fauci told National Geographic that the scientific evidence is “very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated”.

In June of 2020, Peter Daszak – organiser of the Lancet letter – wrote an op-ed for the Guardian. He again referred to proponents of the lab leak theory as “conspiracy theorists”, and claimed that his own work “firmly concludes that COVID-19 originated in bats”. (Daszak has actually funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and was the subject of 2015 news item in the journal Nature titled ‘Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research’.)

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.