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Suspicions Rise: Did the Virus Escape from a Wuhan Lab?

A 15-member international contingent from the World Health Organization (WHO) journeyed to Wuhan, China, early this year to seek out the source of the original Covid-19 outbreak that has led to the deaths of close to three million people worldwide. At the end of March, they turned in their report. It did not go over well.

Earlier complaints that the WHO has been too deferential toward China were not eased by the WHO's member states deciding the
A wet market in Wuhan, China

junket should be a collaboration between Chinese and foreign scientists, not an independent investigation or audit, so the international 15 were joined by a Chinese delegation of equal size. The Chinese were even given the right of approval of who was permitted on the tour; two from the international group were halted in Singapore. And once the group arrived, they were required by Chinese authorities to spend the first two weeks in quarantine, cutting their month-long trip in half.

Under the ground rules China set, they would do the primary investigation and share their findings with WHO's team. The team saw only what the Chinese government wanted them to see. The report therefore came to no solid conclusions. It drew immediate doubts for its acceptance of what the Chinese told them.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, fresh from a contentious meeting with the Chinese in Anchorage, Alaska, told CNN of his doubts about “the methodology and the process,” and “the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it". Former National Security Council official Jamie Metzl said in a "60 Minutes" interview, they "did not have the independence or access to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation".

second thoughts

The most prevalent belief has been that the coronavirus originated in the wet markets of Wuhan where wild animals are sold for food, where SARS-CoV-2 jumped across the animal-man barrier. But at the outset of the pandemic over a year ago, it had been conjectured that the virus might have escaped from a lab. After all, how curious that China's only level 4 (highest isolation rating) virology institute — the Wuhan Institute of Virology — with probably the world's largest collection of bat viruses, just happened to be located in the city where the outbreak began. But the lab leak notion died down, perhaps seeming too much a conspiracy theory coming from the right, with the left even shying from politically incorrect terms such as "China virus".

But now, China's notorious obstruction and secrecy — it took a full year to get this joint Chinese-international team on the ground for the brief visit — has given new life to suspicions that the virus escaped from the institute's lab. The WHO delegation was allowed only three hours in the laboratories of the institute. And "While they were there they didn't demand access to the records and samples and key personnel", once again because of the ground rules China set with the WHO.

"I think the administration has made it pretty clear that, given the lack of Chinese transparency, it is not comfortable eliminating the lab escape theory," said Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, in an article inNature. The report disclosed what the Chinese had never revealed, that a Wuhan Center for Disease Control lab, a branch of the institute, moved to a new location on December 2, 2019, just before the outbreak. The Chinese assurance that the lab “reported no disruptions or incidents caused by the move” went unchallenged in the WHO document.

contradictions

“The only evidence that people have for a lab leak is that there is a lab in Wuhan,” says Peter Daszak, the sole U.S. representative (Britain born) on the team and president of a non-profit research organization in New York City. He has long collaborated with the
The Wuhan Institute of Virology

Wuhan institute and in interviews endorsed what he had been told. Scientists at the institute told the investigators that no one in the lab had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, which they say ruled out someone there being infected and spreading the virus to others. Moreover, the lab kept no live virus strains similar to SARS-CoV-2, Wuhan researchers told the team. "There is no record of viruses closely related to [the coronavirus] in any laboratory before December 2019, or genomes that in combination could provide a SARS-CoV-2 genome", says the report, taking the Wuhan assertions on faith.

That doesn't square with a U.S. State Department fact sheet from mid-January that reported that lab researchers were sick with Covid-like symptoms in the fall of 2019. As for no SARS-CoV-2 in the lab, Matt Pottinger, Deputy National Security Adviser under Trump, said, "There was a direct order from Beijing to destroy all viral samples and they didn't volunteer to share the genetic sequences". Jamie Metzl points to the lab's own reports that it had sent researchers to the bat caves who brought back samples which contained nine viruses, one of them the most closely related to SARS-CoV-2.

Bill Gertz of The Washington Times says that virologists at the Wuhan facility…

"have been conducting massive amounts of virus research. The Wuhan CDC announced last year that they had found 2,000 new viruses. They are obsessed with studying viruses."

Mr. Daszak is very trusting. In the Nature article, he is quoted saying, “We were allowed to ask whatever questions we wanted, and we got answers”. Asked by "60 Minutes"' Leslie Stahl about his interchange with the Chinese, he said,

"We met them and we said, do you audit the lab?, and they said 'Annually'. Did you audit it after the outbreak? 'Yes'. Was anything found? 'No'. Do you test your staff? 'Yes'."

Stahl broke in to say, "But you're just taking their word for it!" to which Daszak replied, " Well, what else can we do?...We asked them tough questions…and the answers they gave, we found them to be believable and correct and convincing."

Stahl: "Were there Chinese government minders in the room every time you were asking questions?"

Daszak: "There were Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff in the room throughout our stay. Absolutely. They were there to make sure everything went smoothly from the China side." A former national security official told "60 Minutes" that the WHO report "has all the credibility of a North Korean evening news broadcast".

animal farms

The bat caves are over a thousand miles from Wuhan, too distant for them to have directly transported the virus, so how did the bat virus find its way to Wuhan? Daszak's theory is that a variety of virus-carrying animals are trucked from farms in southern China to the wet markets. In an NPR (National Public Radio) interview Daszak says, "They take exotic animals, like civets, porcupines, pangolins, raccoon dogs and bamboo rats, and they breed them in captivity". If Daszak's theory is correct, why were there no outbreaks on the farms?

China first ascribed the virus vector to pangolins, a scaled, ant- and termite-eating animal. Then it was civets, sometimes called a type of cat, ultimately bats. Chinese officials said the markets didn’t sell live mammals or illegal wildlife, the report adds, but it cites media reports that it did, as well as photos from 2014 that show animals such as live raccoon dogs in the market. December 2019 records list poultry, badgers, rabbits, giant salamanders, two kinds of crocodile, and more.

The report concluded the Wuhan wet markets were not necessarily the source of the virus, as was believed at first, but may have only been a crowded site for an early outbreak. The earliest case from December 8, 2019, had no link to the markets.

After promoting wildlife farming such that it became a $70 billion a year industry employing 14 million people, a year ago February, just as the Wuhan outbreak receded, the government did a full about-face and abruptly shut down the farms, Daszak reported.

But the WHO report says that in thousands of samples taken there isn't even evidence that SARS-CoV-2 came from an animal, yet they insist it did not leak from a lab.

a deadlier pandemic?

Exactly a year ago, we published an article titled, "Fox News Says Forget Wet Markets. The Virus Came from Wuhan's Bio-Lab". It was Tucker Carlson who featured this theory. Carlson is most often a propagandist fabricating conspiracies, but here and there he comes up with compelling reporting, albeit slanted his way (as do the left-tilted cable shows).

Carlson reported that some had said the Wuhan facility does not operate at level-4. An article in Nature from 2017 said, "Some scientists outside China worry about pathogens escaping". The U. S. State Department cables a year later voiced the same concern, citing dangerous safety practices at Wuhan.

A guest who follows infectious diseases named Steven Mosher wondered whether the Wuhan lab had been working on the virus with "gain of function" technology whereby one makes an existing virus more infectious. Why do that? Ostensibly, to develop a vaccine or some other antidote to defeat it. Unsaid was the intimation that one's own population would then be protected, leaving other countries vulnerable. Mosher's claim is that the laboratory director, Chaoyang Li, "has been using gain of function research for years to create new more deadly coronaviruses".

That same question arose again after the WHO report was published. Daszak had transferred part of U.S. grant money to the Wuhan lab for "gain of function" research. It was meant, he said, to develop prevention for the next pandemic, unbeknownst to him then that the corornavirus pandemic was about to happen. In the "60 Minutes" interview, Pottinger said they were doing research specifically on coronaviruses that attach to the Ace2 receptors in human lungs, just like the virus causing Covid-19. And he said there is research conducted at the Wuhan virology institute in collaboration with the People's Liberation Army, a relationship which is not acknowledged by the Chinese government. The Wuhan institute also denies engagement with the PLA. U.S. intelligence discerns that China has a massive biological weapons program even tailored to ethnic groups.

Leslie Stahl said, "The Wuhan lab director published studies about manipulating bat corona viruses in a way that could make them more infectious to humans, and there were reports of lax safety standards at the lab".

Dr. Anthony Fauci has stated flatly, "This [virus] could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated".

Dr. Robert Redfield, the last director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Trump, has a sharply different view out of step with the rest of his profession. He said on CNN:

"I think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped. Other people don’t believe that. That's fine. Science will eventually figure it out. It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker."

not even from china

WHO's 120-page report devotes only two pages to the lab escape stating that it is "extremely unlikely that the virus emerged from the lab" and the organization does not recommend additional research on the lab leak hypothesis. The organization does recommend further study of whether the virus was brought to Wuhan in frozen foods — from America of course, a shameless ploy by China to remove blame from their country and make the U.S. the villain. The report even ranks introduction through the "cold chain" as a “possible pathway” of greater probability than a lab incident. China also proposes that the virus was introduced in the October 2019 Military World Games held in Wuhan — brought by the U.S. delegation, who else? "When will the WHO experts be invited to the United States for a visit on origin-tracing?", asks Zhao Lijian, a persistently belligerent Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

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1 Comment for “Suspicions Rise: Did the Virus Escape from a Wuhan Lab?”

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