Origins of SARS-CoV-2

Origins of SARS-CoV-2

Origins of SARS-CoV-2 512 342 Jamie Metzl

NOTE: This post was originally published on April 16, 2020 and has been updated regularly.

A number of people have reached out to me questioning the assertion I have been making since early 2020 that “the most likely starting point of the coronavirus crisis is an accidental leak from one of the Chinese virology institutes in Wuhan” (see this CNN interview, this Newsweek editorial, this WSJ editorial, this The Hill editorial, this second Newsweek editorial, this Toronto Sun Q&A, this Fox interview, this Joe Rogan interview, this 60 Minutes segment (also linked here), this The Hill editorial, this Fox interview this CNN interview, this The Times editorial, this Amanpour & Co interview, this Paris Match interview, this CNN.com editorial, this AC360 interview, this Doordarshan broadcast, and in many, many, many other places). As referenced in this Forbes profile (“Jamie Metzl… was one of the first in Washington — as an ex-high level staffer for Bill Clinton and then-Senator Joe Biden — to say that the new SARS coronavirus was likely a Wuhan lab escapee”), this CBS News interview, and this FOX interview (“Jamie Metzl has been perhaps the leading international figure for the past year making the case that an accidental leak from this lab seems the most likely origin of the pandemic”), and here, I have been making this claim consistently since January 2020. In a perverse and unfortunate way, the Chinese government recognized my role asking tough questions regarding pandemic origins when the spokesman of their foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, attacked me personally and by name from the foreign ministry podium in Beijing on April 8, 2021.

Although I have been called “the origins COVID-19 whistleblower,” I was not the only one to make these claims from early on. Tragically, the number of serious, non-partisan experts who did so, particularly in 2020, was miniscule. I will continue to fight for a comprehensive investigation until this issue gets the attention it deserves and a credible investigation is carried out. I am delighted to see that the number of people around the world searching for and demanding answers about how this terrible crisis began has grown dramatically over the course of 2021.

Let me be clear. While I do believe that a lab incident is the most likely origin of the pandemic, this is only a hypothesis. That this pandemic might stem from a zoonotic jump in the wild is also a hypothesis, even though very little evidence supporting that hypothesis has so far emerged. When comparing the evidence for each possibility, the case for a lab incident origin seems significantly stronger to me. Additional evidence could always change that. That’s why my essential argument is that we need a full and unrestricted international scientific and forensic investigation into all COVID-19 origin hypotheses with full access to all relevant records, samples, and key personnel. It is an affront to all of us that this no such investigation has been carried our or is currently planned. We owe everyone who has died from COVID-19, all the people who have lost their loved ones and livelihoods, and future generations a thorough, unbiased, and unrestricted investigation of how the tragedy began and has unfolded.

A small, determined, and now growing community of people around the world are also making this claim and I’ve been very pleased to see that in early 2021 the lab leak hypothesis has moved from being considered a conspiracy theory to being recognized for what it has always been — a very real possibility. As you may know, I was a co-organizer and the lead drafter of three expert open letters on COVID-19 origins that were featured extensively in major media across the globe. These open letters were released on March 4, April 7, April 30, and June 28, 2021.

Given how much the conversation changed over the course of 2021 as a result of all of our work, it’s important to remember how the dominant narrative for all of 2020 and early 2021 was that that pandemic stemmed from a zoonotic jump from animals to humans in the wild. Although this remains one possibly hypothesis, the other highly possible hypothesis — that the pandemic stemmed from an accidental lab incident — was aggressively and unfairly undermined by the Chinese government, as we might expect, but also by leading Western scientists, scientific journals like The Lancet and Nature, and mainstream western media, as we might not. My The Hill and The Times editorials say more about this. Despite this progress, major questions remain.

Although it is certainly possible that the SARS=CoV-2 virus had small edits (such as for its furin cleavage site, as suggested by Nobel laureate virologist and former CalTech president David Baltimore), the lab incident hypotheses does not require any genome editing to be valid. The virus or a precursor to it could have easily been collected, isolated, and cultured in one of the Wuhan labs. If the latter, serial passage and so-called “gain of function” research could have pushed the “natural” evolution of the virus toward greater pathogenicity without any genome editing. Again, this is only highly informed inference based on publicly available information and my application of Occam’s razor (and mathematical probabilities). I have no definitive way of proving this thesis but the evidence is, in my view, extremely convincing. If forced to place odds on the confidence of my hypothesis, I would say there’s an 85% chance the pandemic started with an accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (or Wuhan CDC) and a 15% chance it began in some other way (in fairness, here is an article making the case for a zoonotic jump “in the wild”). If China keeps preventing a full and unrestricted international forensic investigation into the origins of the pandemic, I believe it is fair to deny Beijing the benefit of the doubt. Should we find a virus in the wild that is clearly a SARS-CoV-2 precursor virus, perhaps with 99.9% genetic similarity, that would be a strong argument for the zoonosis in the wild hypothesis.

The purpose of this post is to present the evidence and my views so that readers can come to their own conclusions. If there is additional evidence I am missing, please let me know. I do not have a political agenda other than finding out why so many people around the world are dead from COVID-19 and how we can learn the lessons from this catastrophe to prevent the next ones. What we need, and should all be calling for regardless of our nationalities or political persuasions, is a full and unrestricted international forensic investigation into the origins of COVID-19 with full access to all relevant data, lab records, biological samples, and people in China and beyond. Getting to the bottom of this essential question should be an unrestricted and unbiased data-driven pursuit. While access to essential information is being denied, we are forced to be more speculative that we otherwise would be.

Because there is a lot of material to get through below, let me just summarize what I believe to be the most likely scenario.

  • In 2012, six miners working in a bat-infested copper mine in southern China (Yunnan province) were infected with a bat coronavirus. All of them developed symptoms exactly like COVID-19 symptoms. Three of them died.
  • Viral samples taken from the Yunnan miner were taken to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the only level 4 biosecurity lab in China that was also studying bat coronaviruses.
  • The WIV carried out gain of function research, almost certainly on these and a range of related and other samples (which is different than genetically engineering the viruses). Chimeric viruses were likely developed in this process. There has never been a full and public accounting for what viruses are in the WIV sample set and database, and key elements of the database have been taken off line or deleted.
  • Given the close relationship of the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) in the development and construction of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, it is fair to assume a connection between the PLA and the WIV.
  • In late 2019 the SARS-CoV-2 virus appeared in Wuhan. The closest known relative of this virus is the RaTG13 virus sampled from the Yunnan mine where the miners had been infected. (RaTG13 is almost certainly not the backbone virus for SARS-CoV-2.)
  • The genetic similarity between the RaTG13 virus and SARS-CoV-2 suggest that SARS-CoV-2 or a closely related backbone virus could have been sampled from the Mojiang mine and brought to the WIV (which is why the disappeared WIV databases and lab records are so critical).
  • It is also plausible that SARS-CoV-2 could have been among the viruses held in or derived from a different virus in the WIV repository.
  • In the earliest known stage of the outbreak, the virus was already very well-adapted to human cells.
  • In the critical first weeks after the outbreak, Wuhan authorities worked aggressively to silence the whistleblowers and destroy evidence that could prove incriminating.
  • When Beijing authorities got involved a bit later, they likely faced a choice of implicating the Wuhan authorities, and, in effect, taking blame for what was quickly emerging as a major global problem, or turning into the curve and going all in for the coverup. I believe they likely chose the second option.
  • The Chinese government then massively lobbied the WHO to prevent the WHO from declaring COVID-19 as an international emergency and prevented WHO investigators from entering China for nearly a month.
  • In late January 2020, PLA Major General Chen Wei was put in charge of containment efforts in Wuhan. This role included supervision of the WIV, which had previously been considered a civilian institution. General Chen is China’s top biological weapons expert. Allegations that the PLA was conducting covert dual civilian-military research on bat coronaviruses at WIV have not been proven.
  • The Chinese authorities have gone to great lengths to destroy evidence and silence anyone in China who might be in a position to provide evidence on the origins of COVID-19.
  • Although nothing can be fully conclusive in light of Chinese obfuscation, the continued absence of any meaningful evidence of a zoonotic chain of transmission and mutation in the wild and the accretion of other evidence is pointing increasingly, in my view, toward an accidental lab leak as the most likely origin of COVID-19. Given the extent to which China would benefit from discovering evidence of a transmission in the wild, we can assume Chinese authorities are doing all they can to find this kind of evidence without success. This failure would explain why Chinese officials have recently begun, with little credible evidence, asserting that the outbreak started outside of China.
  • In light of all of this, only a full and unrestricted international forensic investigation into the origins of the pandemic, with complete access to all samples, lab records, scientists, health officials, etc. will suffice.
  • Ensuring the most thorough and highest quality investigation exploring all possible hypothesis is and should be in all of our interest, including that of the Chinese government and people.

I want to be clear that I am a progressive who believes in asking tough questions and seeking the truth. I in no way seek to support or align myself with any activities that may be considered unfair, dishonest, nationalistic, racist, bigoted, or biased in any way. I also believe that whatever the original reasons for the outbreak, the reason why so many more Americans have died from COVID-19 than most anyone else is the catastrophic failure of the Trump administration to respond effectively.

As I argued in my Newsweek piece:

Just as we wouldn’t imagine having a plane crash and not immediately trying to figure out what happened, we can’t let the COVID-19 crisis unfold without urgently understanding how our systems have so spectacularly failed. There are plenty of fingers to point, and we must thoughtfully point them now, at all of us, for our own good. For all we know, a new and even worse pandemic could begin even before we have overcome this one… Until we get to the bottom of all these failures and work to fix them, we remain dangerously susceptible to the next pandemic… Whatever the origins of the outbreak, including the possibility of an accidental leak from the Chinese virology lab in Wuhan, China’s dangerous and ongoing information suppression activities are the foundations of this crisis. We have to find out fast where and how this outbreak began… The WHO could have raised hell when China denied access to WHO experts for those critical early weeks, did not need to initially parrot Chinese propaganda and could certainly have sounded the alarm earlier. We have to ask how we can help the WHO do better… The United States had all the information it needed by January to mount a massive response, but Trump actively undermined the findings of his own intelligence and health officials. Worse, he passed misinformation to the American people that potentially led to many thousands of deaths. We’ve got to ask why this happened… Until we get to the bottom of all these failures and work to fix them, we remain dangerously susceptible to the next pandemic… We are all on the same plane with a shared interest in not letting it crash… Let’s work together to safely land the plane.

Although I do not necessarily ascribe to all of the assertions made in each of these documents, my sources include:

I am extremely open to other perspectives and welcome any additional information. If you have anything you believe relevant, I would be grateful for you to pass it along. I am not wedded to any particular outcome other than getting to the deepest possible understanding of what went wrong and how we can fix it.

As I have already stated publicly, “Even if the coronavirus is an accidental leak from a Wuhan lab, we are all one interconnected humanity who must work together to get through this crisis.” It is my view that Chinese researchers at these institutes were studying these viruses with the best intentions of developing surveillance systems, treatments, and vaccines for the good of humanity. Countries make mistakes, even terrible and deadly ones. I was in the White House when the US bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. We believed it was an accident but many Chinese people thought it was a deliberate act. I understood why.

Moments like these are inherently difficult and we should all do our very best to find the answers to our most important questions in the most honest, careful, and considered manner possible.

We must also be doing everything we can to build the surveillance, response, treatment, vaccine development, and public health capacities we need to make all of us safe. COVID-19 has been a terrible catastrophe, but there could very well be much worse facing us in the future.

In this spirit, I have compiled this summary of the available evidence. Because China is still restricting access to the relevant data and people, the case remains speculative by necessity.

  • Beginning on December 10, 2019, increasing numbers of people, many of who had visited the Hunan Seafood Market in Wuhan, fell ill due to a new disease.
  • The novel coronavirus outbreak did not originate in the seafood market (Lancet). (This was clear early on but Chinese officials held to this story until late May 2020, when the evidence against this claim became wholly indefensible, more below.)
  • The Huanan Seafood Market didn’t have bats for sale, and most bats species in Wuhan would be hibernating at the time of outbreak. It was reported that 34% of cases had no contact with the market, and ’No epidemiological link was found between the first patient and later cases.’ (Lancet)
  • According to a DIA report, “about 33 percent of the original 41 identified cases did not have direct exposure” to the market. That, along with what’s known of the laboratory’s work in past few years, raised reasonable suspicion that the pandemic may have been caused by a lab error, not the wet market. (Newsweek)
  • A Broad Institute study asserts that genetic examination of four samples containing the virus from the seafood market to those taken from the Wuhan patient are ‘99.9 per cent’ identical. This suggests it came from infected visitors or vendors, indicating ‘Sars-CoV-2 had been imported into the market by humans’. The authors found no evidence ‘of cross-species transmission’ at the market.
  • This market is less than 9 miles away from The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), Chinese Academy of Sciences, which:
    • Developed chimeric SARS-like coronaviruses
    • Conducted ’dangerous’ gain-of-function research on the SARS-CoV-1 virus, some of which had been funded by the US government (Asia Times)
    • Established a 96.2% match with SARS-CoV-2 and a virus they sampled from a cave over 1,000 miles away from Wuhan
    • Injected live piglets with bat coronaviruses as recently as July 2019
    • Published a paper on a close descendant of SARS-CoV-1, MERS-CoV, in November 2019
    • Was hiring researchers to work on bat coronaviruses as recently as November 2019
  • United States embassy and consular officials who visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology in January 2018 were deeply concerned. Their cable sent to the State Department noted:
    • “the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory”
    • “the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.” (Washington Post)
    • (For more on laboratory safety in China, see this link.)
  • The market is also less than 3 miles away from the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control, which:
    • Was accused of being the source of the outbreak from a now-withdrawn academic paper from a notable Chinese scholar at the South China University of China
    • Once kept horseshoe bats, a known reservoir of SARS-CoV-1, within its labs
    • Once performed surgery on live animals within its labs
    • Had a researcher who quarantined on two separate occasions; once upon coming into contact with bat blood after being ’attacked’ and another time when he was urinated upon in a cave while wearing inadequate personal protection
    • Had previously done bat virus research funded by the US NIH (in a grant to EcoHealth Alliance)
    • possessed the virus that is the most closely related known virus in the world to the outbreak virus, bat virus RaTG13. This virus was isolated in 2013 and had its genome published on January 23, 2020. Seven more years of bat coronavirus collection followed the 2013 RaTG13 isolation. One component of the novel-bat-virus project at the Wuhan Institute of Virology involved infection of laboratory animals with bat viruses. Therefore, the possibility of a lab accident includes scenarios with direct transmission of a bat virus to a lab worker, scenarios with transmission of a bat virus to a laboratory animal and then to a lab worker, and scenarios involving improper disposal of laboratory animals or laboratory waste. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
    • began its gain of function research program for bat coronaviruses in 2015. Using a natural virus, institute researchers made “substitutions in its RNA coding to make it more transmissible. They took a piece of the original SARS virus and inserted a snippet from a SARS-like bat coronavirus, resulting in a virus that is capable of infecting human cells.” (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
  • Even before this outbreak, China had a very poor safety record at many of its biosecurity facilities.
  • In the years since the SARS outbreak, many instances of mishaps involving the accidental release of pathogens have taken place in labs throughout the world. Hundreds of breaches have occurred in the U.S., including a 2014 release of anthrax from a U.S. government lab that exposed 84 people. The SARS virus escaped from a Beijing lab in 2004, causing eleven infections and one death. An accidental release is not complicated and doesn’t require malicious intent. All it takes is for a lab worker to get sick, go home for the night, and unwittingly spread the virus to others. (Newsweek)
  • Although it does not appear likely this virus was engineered (Nature Medicine), trying to determine the exact pattern and genomic ancestry of the virus is difficult, particularly as many of the recombinant regions may be small and are likely to change as more viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 are sampled. (Cell)
  • Using the current standard genetic engineering technology, many alterations of several bases in the RNA genome would be undetectable, including construction of a chimeric coronavirus encoding an unpublished spike protein in an unpublished genome. (Independent Science News)
  • After months of speculation and with the market origin story indefensible, the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally admitted only in late May 2020 that it has ruled the site out as the origin point of the outbreak. According to Gao Fu, the director of the Chinese CDC, “It now turns out that the market is one of the victims.”
  • Niko­lai Petro­vksy and col­leagues at Flinders Uni­ver­sity in Aus­tralia have found that SARS-CoV-2 has a higher affin­ity for hu­man re­cep­tors than for any other an­i­mal species they tested, in­clud­ing pan­golins and horse­shoe bats. He sug­gests that this could have hap­pened if the virus was be­ing cul­tured in hu­man cells, adding that “We can’t ex­clude the pos­si­bil­ity that this came from a lab­o­ra­tory ex­per­i­ment.” (Wall Street Journal)
  • According to the WHO, “the virus has been remarkable stable since it was first reported in Wuhan, with sequences well conserved in different countries, suggesting that the virus was well adapted to human transmission from the moment it was first detected.”
  • This Quantitative Biology paper by Nikolai Petrovsky et al makes the very strong case that that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was already pre-adapted to humans by the time it appeared in late 2010.
  • Similarly, Sirotkin and Sirotkin assert in their Wiley essay: “Unless the intermediate host necessary for completing a natural zoonotic jump is identified, the dual‐use gain‐of‐function research practice of viral serial passage should be considered a viable route by which the novel coronavirus arose. The practice of serial passage mimics a natural zoonotic jump, and offers explanations for SARS‐CoV‐2’s distinctive spike‐protein region and its unexpectedly high affinity for angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE2), as well as the notable polybasic furin cleavage site within it. Additional molecular clues raise further questions, all of which warrant full investigation into the novel coronavirus’s origins and a re‐examination of the risks and rewards of dual‐use gain‐of‐function research.
  • The two known coronaviruses genetically closest to SARS-CoV-2, RaTG13 and RmYN02, were discovered in bats in Yunnan, China. The genome of RaTG13 is 96.2% similar to SARS-CoV-2. That of RmYN02 is 93.3 % similar. Given that the SARS-CoV-2 genome is made up of 30,000 nucleotides (aka letters), the genetic distance between RaTG13 and SARS-CoV-2 is a significant 1,200 nucleotides. Under normal circumstances in wild, this would suggest that the two viruses diverged decades ago. But an essential question is whether gain of function research could have massively sped up this evolutionary rate, including by inducing the development of chimeric viruses well adapted to human cells. This type of research could have been done using the tools of genome editing (which I believe is highly unlikely in this case) or by exposing different viruses to human cells or humanized mouse or other animal cells in a laboratory.
  • Stanford’s David Relman states: “SARS-CoV-2 is a betacoronavirus whose apparent closest relatives, RaTG13 and RmYN02, are reported to have been collected from bats in 2013 and 2019, respectively, in Yunnan Province, China. COVID-19 was first reported in December 2019 more than 1,000 miles away in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Beyond these facts, the “origin story” is missing many key details, including a plausible and suitably detailed recent evolutionary history of the virus, the identity and provenance of its most recent ancestors, and surprisingly, the place, time, and mechanism of transmission of the first human infection… Some have argued that a deliberate engineering scenario is unlikely because one would not have had the insight a priori to design the current pandemic virus. This argument fails to acknowledge the possibility that two or more as yet undisclosed ancestors (i.e., more proximal ancestors than RaTG13 and RmYN02) had already been discovered and were being studied in a laboratory—for example, one with the SARS-CoV-2 backbone and spike protein receptor binding domain, and the other with the SARS-CoV-2 polybasic furin cleavage site. It would have been a logical next step to wonder about the properties of a recombinant virus and then create it in the laboratory… there is probably more than one recent ancestral lineage that contributes to SARSCoV-2 because its genome shows evidence of recombination between different parental viruses. In nature, recombination is common among coronaviruses. But it’s also common in some research laboratories where recombinant engineering is used to study those viruses.”
  • (Alina Chan, a junior scientist at the Broad Institute demonstrates how shoddy much of the pangolin research has been in this important Twitter thread.)
  • The Brufsky et al Wiley pre-print letter lays out the underlying science which seems to explain why the gain of function research at the WIV is the most likely origin of the pandemic. To be fair, the conclusion these authors draw is extremely cautious: “These unique features of SARSCoV2 raise several questions concerning the proximal origin of the virus that require further discussion.” They do not list he question but the implication is clear enough.
  • The analysis by Boni, Robertson, and their colleagues made those researchers believe that despite the genetic closeness, RaTG13 and SARS-CoV-2 split up quite a long time ago, possibly in 1969.
  • It could also be possible that SARS-CoV-2 might be the result of gain of function research on another virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology repository. Quoting a private communication from a scientist I trust (who chose to remain anonymous out of personal safety concerns), “the issue is that there is this internal database at the WIV that even other Chinese scientists can’t access. Even the first team to point out the similarity of SARS2 to the 4991 sequence — they had no idea that 4991 aka RaTG13 had been fully genome sequenced. What other viruses are in this database? Was the pangolin CoV RBD also in this database by mid 2019?”
  • In an August 12, 2020 BioEssays paper, Sirotkin and Sirotkin assert that the WIV is sitting on somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 undisclosed wild viruses, and Dr. Shi herself disclosed that 9 previously undisclosed betacoronaviruses that had been held in a WIV lab repository. The database issues are further explored in in this thread as well as in this thread.)
  • All the Wuhan Institute of Virology virus databases were taken down early in 2020 and remain offline. There are estimated to be at least 100 unpublished sequences of bat betacoronaviruses in these databases which need to be sequenced by international scientists. Based on information and links provided here, these databases include:
  • Sirotkin and Sirotkin also state: “Unless the intermediate host necessary for completing a natural zoonotic jump is identified, the dual‐use gain‐of‐function research practice of viral serial passage should be considered a viable route by which the novel coronavirus arose.”
    • “The long‐standing practice of serial passage is a form of gain‐of‐function research that forces zoonosis between species, and requires the same molecular adaptations necessary for a natural zoonotic jump to occur within a laboratory, leaving the same genetic signatures behind as a natural jump but occurring in a much shorter period of time… serial passage through a live animal host simply forces the same molecular processes that occur in nature to happen during a zoonotic jump, and in vitro passage through cell culture mimics many elements of this process—and neither necessarily leaves any distinguishing genetic traces.”
    • “A coronavirus that targets the ACE2 receptor like SARS‐CoV‐2 was first isolated from a wild bat in 2013 by a team out of Wuhan. This research was funded in part by EcoHealth Alliance, and set the stage for the manipulation of bat‐borne coronavirus genomes that target this receptor and can become airborne. Many more viruses have been collected in Wuhan over the years, and one research expedition captured as many as 400 wild viruses, which were added to a private repository that has since grown to over 1500 strains of virus, meaning that the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a massive catalogue of largely undisclosed viruses to draw from for experiments… But for whatever reason, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has refused to release the lab notebooks of its researchers, which are ubiquitous in even the simplest laboratories and are expected to be meticulously detailed given the sensitive and delicate work that takes place in BSL‐4 research labs intent on documenting their intellectual property, despite the fact that these notebooks would likely be enough to exonerate the lab from having any role in the creation of SARS‐CoV‐2.”
    • “The prospect that serial passage through lab animals or on commercial farms may have played a role in the creation of SARS‐CoV‐2 is also raised by an April 2020 preprint, which appears to have been retracted after Chinese authorities implemented the censorship of any papers relating to the origins of the novel coronavirus.” (For the last point, see this link.)
    • “These data do not support the idea that SARS‐CoV‐2 was circulating in humans prior to the outbreak began in Wuhan in the early winter or fall of 2019, making a zoonotic jump even more unlikely since natural jumps leave wide serological footprints in their new host populations as early variants of a prospective virus make limited and unsuccessful jumps into individuals of the new host species, a trial‐and‐error that must occur before mutations that allow adaptation to a new host species are selected.”
  • In a BioEssays paper, issued November 17, 2020, authors Deigin and Segreto assert: “Severe acute respiratory syndrome‐coronavirus (SARS‐CoV)‐2′s origin is still controversial. Genomic analyses show SARS‐CoV‐2 likely to be chimeric, most of its sequence closest to bat CoV RaTG13, whereas its receptor binding domain (RBD) is almost identical to that of a pangolin CoV. Chimeric viruses can arise via natural recombination or human intervention. The furin cleavage site in the spike protein of SARS‐CoV‐2 confers to the virus the ability to cross species and tissue barriers, but was previously unseen in other SARS‐like CoVs. Might genetic manipulations have been performed in order to evaluate pangolins as possible intermediate hosts for bat‐derived CoVs that were originally unable to bind to human receptors? Both cleavage site and specific RBD could result from site‐directed mutagenesis, a procedure that does not leave a trace. Considering the devastating impact of SARS‐CoV‐2 and importance of preventing future pandemics, researchers have a responsibility to carry out a thorough analysis of all possible SARS‐CoV‐2 origins.” At very least, this paper credibly raises a serious hypothesis worthy of far deeper exploration. Some key points made in the paper include:
    • “the two main SARS‐CoV‐2 features, (1) the presence of a furin cleavage site missing in other CoVs of the same group and (2) an receptor binding domain (RBD) optimized to bind to human cells might be the result of lab manipulation techniques such as site‐directed mutagenesis.”
    • “In order to evaluate the emergence potential of novel CoVs, researchers have created a number of chimeric CoVs, consisting of bat CoV backbones, normally unable to infect human cells, whose spike proteins were replaced by those from CoVs compatible with human ACE2. These chimeras were meant to simulate recombination events that might occur in nature… Synthetically generating diverse panels of potential pre‐emergent CoVs was declared a goal of active grants for the EcoHealth Alliance, which funded some of such research at WIV, in collaboration with laboratories in the USA and other international partners.”
    • “Due to the broad‐spectrum of research conducted over almost 20 years on bat SARS‐CoVs justified by their potential to spill over from animal to human, a possible synthetic origin by laboratory engineering of SARS‐CoV‐2 cannot be excluded… SARS‐CoV‐2 could have been synthesized by combining a backbone similar to RaTG13 with the RBD of CoV similar to the one recently isolated from pangolins.”
    • “Another open question is the reason for modification and subsequent deletion of WIV’s own viral database.”
  • China has taken a series of steps since the beginning of this crisis which seem consistent with a coverup. Although the coverup began with local and provincial Wuhan authorities, it later involved decisions made by the Chinese leadership at the highest level. These steps include:
    • On December 31, Chinese authorities started censoring news of the virus from search engines, deleting terms including “SARS variation,” “Wuhan Seafood market” and “Wuhan Unknown Pneumonia.” (Daily Telegraph)
    • Officials closed the market the day after notifying the WHO and sent in teams with strong disinfectants. Samples from animals were taken but, four months later, the results have not been shared with foreign scientists. The actions led to claims that they were deliberately wiping away crucial traces. (Daily Telegraph)
    • Many China scholars noted that it was quite unusual for Chinese government authorities to identify Wuhan’s Huanan South China Seafood Market so quickly as the source of the outbreak. They thought this behavior so uncharacteristic that it raised suspicions in their minds.
    • The Hubei health commission ordered genomics companies to stop testing for the new virus and to destroy all samples.
    • On January 1, an employee of a genomics company in Wuhan received a phone call from an official at the Hubei Provincial Health Commission, ordering the company to stop testing samples from Wuhan related to the new disease and to destroy all existing samples. (Caixin Global)
    • On January 1, Wuhan Institute of Virology’s director general, Yanyi Wang, messaged her colleagues, saying the National Health Commission told her the lab’s COVID-19 data shall not be published on social media and shall not be disclosed to the media. And on January 3, the commission sent this document, never posted online, but saved by researchers, telling labs to destroy COVID-19 samples or send them to the depository institutions designated by the state. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
    • On January 3, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) ordered institutions not to publish any information related to the unknown disease and ordered labs to transfer any samples they had to designated testing institutions or destroy them. (Caixin Global)
    • Even with full sequences decoded by three state labs independently, Chinese health officials remained silent. (AP)
    • China sat on releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information. Tight controls on information and competition within the Chinese public health system were to blame, according to dozens of interviews and internal documents. (AP)
    • WHO officials complained in internal meetings that they were making repeated requests to the Chinese authorities for more data, especially to find out if the virus could spread efficiently between humans, but to no avail. “We have informally and formally been requesting more epidemiological information,” WHO’s China representative Galea said. “But when asked for specifics, we could get nothing.” (AP)
    • Beijing did not notify the World Health Organization of the outbreak for at least four days after Wuhan officials were notified. A WHO investigation team was not allowed to visit Wuhan until three weeks after that, and the team was not given full and unrestricted access even during this preliminary field visit
    • The Chinese government closed the laboratory in Shanghai that first published the genome of COVID-19 on January 10, explaining that it had been shuttered for “rectification.” Chinese citizens who reported on the coronavirus were censured and, in some cases, “disappeared.” These have included businessman Fang Bin, lawyer Chen Qiushi, former state TV reporter Li Zehua and, most recently, Zhang Zhan, a lawyer. They are reportedly being held in extrajudicial detention centers for speaking out about China’s response to the pandemic. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
    • Chinese government labs only released the genome after another lab published it ahead of authorities on a virologist website on Jan. 11. Even then, China stalled for at least two weeks more on providing WHO with detailed data on patients and cases, according to recordings of internal meetings held by the U.N. health agency through January — all at a time when the outbreak arguably might have been dramatically slowed. (AP)
    • Although international law obliges countries to report information to WHO that could have an impact on public health, the U.N. agency has no enforcement powers and cannot independently investigate epidemics within countries. Instead, it must rely on the cooperation of member states. According to WHO’s chief of emergencies, Dr. Michael Ryan, this type of obfuscation and interference “would not happen in Congo and did not happen in Congo and other places.” (AP)
    • Not only did China block the WHO investigation team from going to Wuhan for nearly a month, it also severely curtailed its activities after that.
    • On Jan. 14, the head of China’s National Health Commission said in a confidential teleconference with provincial health officials that the situation was “severe and complex,” that “clustered cases suggest that human-to-human transmission is possible,” and that “the risk of transmission and spread is high.” The Commission issued a 63-page document on response procedures that same day that was labeled “internal” and “not to be publicly disclosed.” The next day, the head of China’s disease control emergency center, announced on state television that “the risk of sustained human-to-human transmission is low.” This same message was delivered to the World Health Organization. (Washington Post)
    • Between the day the full genome was first decoded by a government lab on Jan. 2 and the day WHO declared a global emergency on Jan. 30, the outbreak spread by a factor of 100 to 200 times, according to retrospective infection data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (AP) Chinese officials actively lobbied the WHO to prevent the emergency declaration, which almost certainly slowed the international response,
    • Offers from the United States to send medical experts Wuhan in early January were rejected by the central government. (Diplomat)
    • This Chinese preprint paper was released in February 2020 and then mysteriously retracted. In it, two Chinese experts assert that, ” Somebody was entangled with the evolution of 2019-nCoV coronavirus. In addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan… Regulations may be taken to relocate these laboratories far away from city center and other densely populated places.”
    • Although WIV officials have commented publicly about social media posting alleging that one of their prior researchers may be “patient zero,” the WIV has not provided any information about that person
    • A WIV researcher who publicly accused the director of the Institute of selling infected lab animals to vendors on Weibo (with pictures of herself and her employee ID included) later claimed she was ’hacked’ and disavowed her prior allegation
    • In contrast to its earlier (and inaccurate) assertion that the outbreak originated in the Wuhan seafood market, a Ministry of foreign Affairs spokesperson on March 12 accused the United States Army of intentionally bringing SARS-CoV-2 to Wuhan
    • Beijing disinfected the Wuhan market before a full international investigation could be conducted and has yet to provide U.S. experts with samples of the novel coronavirus collected from the earliest cases.
    • The Shanghai lab that published the novel coronavirus genome on Jan. 11 was quickly shut down by authorities for “rectification.” Several of the doctors and journalists who reported on the spread early on have disappeared. (Washington Post)
    • On Feb. 14, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a new biosecurity law to be accelerated. On Wednesday, The Chinese government has placed severe restrictions requiring approval before any research institution publishes anything on the origin of the novel coronavirus. (Washington Post)
    • This was followed immediately by a China Ministry of Science & Technology announcement of new guidelines for laboratories, especially in handling viruses. Almost at the same time, the Chinese newspaper Global Times published an article on “chronic inadequate management issues at laboratories, including problems of biological wastes.”
    • Labs analyzing the pathogen were instructed to destroy samples, a health center that had published the virus’s genome sequence was temporarily shut down the following day, and doctors were prevented from submitting case information to the country’s infectious disease tracking network. (Diplomat)
    • Reports of health care workers falling ill, an early indicator of human-to-human transmission, were suppressed. More indirectly, state media coverage of doctors being penalized reportedly had a chilling effect on other medical professionals who might have sounded the alarm. (Diplomat)
    • In an official document marked “internal document, please keep confidential” reported out by CNN, Hubei provincial officials listed 5,918 new cases for Feb. 10, more than twice what was reported publicly for all of China on that day. On March 7, the total death toll in Hubei was listed in the report at 3,456 but publicly stated as 2,986. According to the Washington Post, “the Hubei documents add weight to the conclusion that China deliberately hid the true dimensions of the disaster.”
    • In March 2020, Beijing announced the expulsion of American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, the media organizations who have exposed some of the most significant misdeeds and coverups by the Chinese government over recent decades
    • In April 2020, with the outbreak in full swing, the WIV deleted a press release detailing the January 2019 U.S. State Department visit
    • The Chinese government has now banned any researcher from publishing anything on the origins of this crisis without prior approval of the Ministry of Science and Technology (Nature)
    • On April 24, the New York Times reported that Beijing has successfully pressured European Union officials to water down references to China an an EU report. The original language had stated, “China has continued to run a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image… Both overt and covert tactics have been observed.”
    • It appears there may have been a sudden drop in cellphone usage at WIV in early October followed be a cellphone blackout, suggesting the possibility of an accident inside WIV on October 6 followed by a traffic closure. Without further detail about sourcing, however, this information remains speculative. (E-PAI report)
    • Zhang Zan, a Chinese citizen journalist arrested by Chines authorities in May for asking tough questions about the origin of the pandemic and accused, absurdly, of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” was sentenced to four years in prison on December 28, 2020. According to Quartz: Three other citizen journalists—Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin, and Li Zehua—all disappeared in February as soon as their coverage of Wuhan during the pandemic started to gain traction online. Li Zehua resurfaced in April, saying he had been taken by police on suspicion of disturbing public order but was later released as the authorities did not press charges. Meanwhile, Chen and Fang’s whereabouts still aren’t known, though Chen is reportedly staying under home surveillance at his parents’ house.
    • On November 25, 2020, Kyodo News reported that “Chinese authorities warned doctors, who responded to the novel coronavirus in the early stage of the outbreak in Wuhan, that they could be punished for espionage if they revealed what went on during the period.”
    • Also in November, 2020, the this Chinese government launched a concerted propaganda campaign claiming, without meaningful evidence, that the pandemic began in the Indian subcontinent.
    • This December 19, 2020 New York Times article outlines in stunning detail the extent to which China actively and aggressively suppressed information about the pandemic, silenced whistleblowers and people raising essential questions, the manipulated outgoing information in order to hoard essential supplies from abroad. This history, in the context of COVID-19 and many other “sensitive” issues, suggests that an international investigation into the origins of COVID-19 that relies primarily on data gathered and information provided by the Chinese authorities, as the WHO investigation appears to do, can not be considered legitimate.
    • According to a December 30, 2020 AP article, “More than a year since the first known person was infected with the coronavirus, an AP investigation shows the Chinese government is strictly controlling all research into its origins, clamping down on some while actively promoting fringe theories that it could have come from outside China. The government is handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to scientists researching the virus’ origins in southern China and affiliated with the military, the AP has found. But it is monitoring their findings and mandating that the publication of any data or research must be approved by a new task force managed by China’s cabinet, under direct orders from President Xi Jinping, according to internal documents obtained by the AP. A rare leak from within the government, the dozens of pages of unpublished documents confirm what many have long suspected: The clampdown comes from the top.”
    • Here is a link to the official Chinese regulation.
    • This excellent Independent Science News commentary outlines the many inconsistencies in the assertions made by Shi Zhengli and others. It highlights how essential information that would be material to any pandemic origins investigation has been hidden by Chinese authorities and government-affiliated scholars. The commentary also show how essential independent sleuths have been in uncovering important information that was being at best obfuscated and at worst concealed by Chinese officials and key scholars. As I stated on Twitter: When the history of efforts to uncover the pandemic’s origins is written, I believe it will expose the massive failure of scientific journals & mainstream media & recognize the essential & relentless work of independent sleuths around the world.
    • As detailed in this Daily Caller article, on May 23, 2021 I asked Shi Zhengli during a Rutgers University webinar if she was fully aware of all the research being carried out at WIV and whether she agreed with the US government assessment that the Chinese military was engaged in or with secret animal pathogen research at the WIV. Her response was an unequivocal “no.” Here is a link to my Twitter thread describing the significance on this exchange. The key points:
      • Dr. Shi said today that there was no Chinese military activity at the WIV. The US government finding released January 15 asserts that there was. Both of these claims cannot simultaneously be true.
      • If Shi Zhengli is correct, the credibility of the US State Dept & ODNIgov
        wld be undermined significantly. If the US gov’t is correct, then all of Dr. Shi’s claims regarding WIV research & the absence of SARS-CoV-2 or precursor viruses in WIV repositories wld be in doubt.
      • Given that the case made by Chinese officials & the WHO-organized int’l cttee against a lab leak rests on Dr. Shi’s credibility & claims of no SARS-CoV-2 or backbone virus in the WIV repository, the destruction of her credibility would fatally undermine that line of argument.
      • If the Chinese military was doing secret animal pathogen research at or w/ the WIV & Chinese government/WIV officials were lying about this to the WHO, media, & world, the case for an accidental lab leak followed by a cover up would grow significantly stronger.
  • But while it is, perhaps, understandable that the authoritarian Chinese government would seek to perpetrate a coverup, it is far more difficult to understand why scientists like Peter Daszak, Kristian Andersen, and others went to such great lengths to make claims about pandemic origins in early 2020 that were based on pure conjecture and not supportable by the available evidence. As I have written, the February 2020 Lancet letter and March 2020 Nature Medicine paper can only be described as “scientific propaganda.” By labeling anyone with different views a conspiracy theorist, the Lancet letter was the worst form of bullying in full contravention of the scientific method.
  • On April 18, 2020, Director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in an interview that “there is no way this virus came from us.”
  • In early May, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, Gauden Galea, publicly complained that China had refused repeated requests to permit the WHO to participate in whatever investigations the Chinese government was undertaking itself. He said that the WHO had not been given access to laboratory logs at the WIV or the Wuhan Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
  • On May 3, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “There is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.” China’s Global Times, run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in an editorial responding to this interview that “The Trump administration continues to engage in unprecedented propaganda warfare while trying to impede global efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • On May 4, the Guardian claimed its sources insisted a “15-page dossier” highlighted by the Australian Daily Telegraph accusing China of a deadly cover up was not culled from intelligence from the Five Eyes Network, an alliance between the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
  • Bloomberg reported on May 5 that a majority of the 17 agencies that provide and analyze intelligence for the U.S. government believe the pandemic started after the virus was leaked from the Wuhan lab, but based mostly on circumstantial evidence.
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Britain’s National Cyber Security Center recently issued a statement saying hackers are “actively targeting organisations … that include healthcare bodies, pharmaceutical companies, academia, medical research organisations, and local government.” This was widely construed as suggesting that state-sponsored Chinese hackers were attempting to steal COVD-19 research. (NPR)
  • On May 19, the World Health Assembly agreed to an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the international response to COVID-19. China did not object to the resolution but Chinese president Xi Jinping said the investigation should only take place after the pandemic is contained. This is not likely to happen any time soon.
  • Investigating the range of possible spillover sites—from the wet market, to an accidental lab or fieldwork infection, or an unnoticed lab leak—requires a forensic investigation. Obtaining case histories, epidemiological data, and viral samples from different times and places, including the earliest possible samples from infected individuals and samples from wildlife, is paramount… A forensic investigation would additionally involve auditing and sampling viral collections at relevant labs that had been studying coronaviruses, examining the types of experiments carried out and the viruses used, and reviewing the safety and security practices in place… A COVID-19 origins investigation will need to be negotiated and begun rapidly before relevant data diminishes or disappears entirely as time passes. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
  • Determining whether WIV had anything to do with the virus will require a forensic investigation, say several scientists. Investigators would be looking for viruses that matched the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 and, if they found one, any evidence that it could have escaped. To do that, authorities would need to take samples from the lab, interview staff, review lab books and records of safety incidents, and see what types of experiment researchers had been doing. An independent investigation at the WIV facility is probably the only way to convincingly rule out the lab as a possible source of the outbreak, but such a probe is still being blocked by the Chinese authorities. (Nature) This is outrageous.
  • On June 7, China issued a white paper called, “China’s Actions to Fight the Covid-19 Epidemic.” This document asserted: “China’s action composes the heroic paean to the people’s lives above all else, highlighting the responsibility of a great power to life, the people, history and the international community. China has always adhered to the concept of a community of a shared future for mankind. It has always worked hand in hand with other countries and fought side by side, making unremitting efforts to fight for an early global epidemic prevention and control.” Some observers noted this narrative did not reflect an accurate assessment of the historical record of the COVID-19 pandemic or Chinese history more generally. It is estimated that 47 million people died senselessly under former Chinese Leader Mao Tse Tung.
  • On July 10, the WHO announced that a two-member advance team of experts has left for China to organize an investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus. It is unlikely this team will have the authority to conduct the type of full forensic investigation that is required.
  • In fact, the WHO has agreed with the Chinese government that investigations into the first patients in China and the market’s role in the outbreak will be led by Chinese scientists, with WHO experts able to review and “augment, rather than duplicate,” studies undertaken by China officials. The exact language from the WHO Terms of Reference document states that “Some of the abovementioned work may already be partially done or documented by the time the international team initiates its work, and the study will therefore build on existing information and augment, rather than duplicate, ongoing or existing efforts.” It also asserts that “The final composition of the international team should be agreed by both China and WHO.” In light of all the evidence of active efforts by the Chinese government to destroy evidence, deny access to key records, and silence relevant domestic (and even international) voices, this level of deference to Beijing falls well below the standard of even basic accountability. As I have written elsewhere, it would be wrong to blame the WHO for this given the designed weakness of its mandate, the result of efforts by many states over decades to defend state sovereignty at the expense of our common good as humans sharing the same planet (sorry to throw in more idealism here, but I invite you to join OneShared.World if you are interested in addressing our world’s dangerous collective action problem).
  • Here is an annotated version of the WHO Terms of Reference with comments provided by Gilles Demaneuf. It is abundantly clear that the Chinese government aggressively negotiated compromises, structural limitations, and borderline falsehoods into the document. I have great faith in the personal integrity of many of the ten people chosen to represent the international community in this investigation, but they will almost certainly not be able to fulfill their obligation to humanity and future generations if they follow the terms of reference to the letter. It is my hope they will demand the most thorough investigation of all possible hypotheses, demand full access to all relevant people and materials, demonstrate full transparency, and speak publicly and forcefully, in their collective and/or personal capacities, if they don’t have full access to everything and everyone they need.
  • On July 15, Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, the noted WIV bat virus specialist, sent written comments to Science magazine refuting allegations of a leak. Nothing in her comments in any way reduces the pressing need for a full and unrestricted international investigation into the origins of the pandemic.
  • In my July 29, 2020 Wall Street Journal editorial, I write: “The closest known relative to SARS-CoV-2 is a virus sampled by Chinese researchers from six miners infected while working in a bat-infested cave in southern China in 2012. These miners developed symptoms we now associate with Covid-19. Half of them died. These viral samples were then taken to the Wuhan Institute of Virology—the only facility in China that’s a biosafety Level 4 laboratory, the highest possible safety designation. The Level 4 designation is reserved for facilities dealing with the most dangerous pathogens. Wuhan is more than 1,000 miles north of Yunnan province, where the cave is located. If the virus jumped to humans through a series of human-animal encounters in the wild or in wet markets, as Beijing has claimed, we would likely have seen evidence of people being infected elsewhere in China before the Wuhan outbreak. We have not. The alternative explanation, a lab escape, is far more plausible. We know the Wuhan Institute of Virology was using controversial ‘gain of function’ techniques to make viruses more virulent for research purposes. A confidential 2018 State Department cable released this month highlighting the lab’s alarming safety record should heighten our concern. Suggesting that an outbreak of a deadly bat coronavirus coincidentally occurred near the only level 4 virology institute in all of China—which happened to be studying the closest known relative of that exact virus—strains credulity.”
  • Understanding the link between the Chinese miners exposed in the Yunnan cave in 2012 and the potential outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019 is essential. Anyone with a serious interest in getting to the bottom of the origins questions should be require to read the July 15 Latham and Wilson Independent Science News paper in full. It states: “We suggest, first, that inside the miners RaTG13 (or a very similar virus) evolved into SARS-CoV-2, an unusually pathogenic coronavirus highly adapted to humans. Second, that the Shi lab used medical samples taken from the miners and sent to them by Kunming University Hospital for their research. It was this human-adapted virus, now known as SARS-CoV-2­, that escaped from the WIV in 2019.” This Frontiers in Public Health article raises similar questions.
  • It is impossible to overstate the implications of the SARS-CoV-2­ virus being so well adapted to humans from the outset. Zhan and Chan in their May 2 paper state that “by the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV. However, no precursors or branches of evolution stemming from a less human-adapted SARS-CoV-2-like virus have been detected… In comparison to the SARS-CoV epidemic, the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic appears to be missing an early phase during which the virus would be expected to accumulate adaptive mutations for human transmission. However, if this were the origin story of SARS-CoV-2, there is a surprising absence of precursors or branches emerging from a less recent, less adapted common ancestor among humans and animals.” The Latham and Wilson July 15 paper provides by far the best explanation: this virus that escaped from the lab had likely come from a human sample (one of the miners).
  • In my Wall Street Journal editorial, I say: “Not getting to the bottom of this crisis would be the height of absurdity. Too much is at stake. To ensure everyone’s safety, the WHO and outside investigators must be empowered to explore all relevant questions about the origins of the pandemic without limits. This comprehensive forensic investigation must include full access to all of the scientists, biological samples, laboratory records and other materials from the Wuhan virology institutes and other relevant Chinese organizations. Denying that access should be considered an admission of guilt by Beijing.”
  • In my August 17 editorial in The Hill, I state that “Congress should immediately establish a bipartisan national commission, modeled on the 9/11 Commission, to prepare a full, complete account of four essential failures and what we can do to address them.” These four failures are ones made by China, the WHO, the US government, and all of us in not preparing for ht full panoply of global existential threats. “Some may feel that establishing such a commission while the pandemic still rages would be like launching the 9/11 commission while the Twin Towers were still falling. But would it not have been better to do exactly that, rather than blindly charge into two wars without deep analysis and a long-term strategy? Getting to the bottom of our current crisis is not just an intellectual exercise. The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over but there are no guarantees that an even worse pandemic, possibly supercharged by a synthetic pathogen, might be just around the corner.”
  • In September 2020, the Lancet released the first statement of its COVID-19 commission. The statement asserts: “The origins of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are yet to be definitively determined, but evidence to date supports the view that SARS-CoV-2 is a naturally occurring virus rather than the result of laboratory creation and release. Research into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 should proceed expeditiously, scientifically, and objectively, unhindered by geopolitical agendas and misinformation.” It makes little sense for an investigation commission to claim an initial finding before a full investigation has been carried out. It would be far more credible to state that the commission would explore all possible hypothesis to help get to the bottom of the origins issue. Further, by contrasting “a naturally occurring virus rather than the result of laboratory creation and release,” the commission completely disregards the possibility of gain of function work followed by a lab leak, the exact scenario that could potentially compromise commission chair, Peter Daszak. (NOTE: on June 21, 2021, the Lancet released this revised conflict statement from Peter Daszak.)
  • Selecting Peter Daszak to lead the Lancet commission is also questionable. As I wrote in my message to Lancet editor, Richard Horton: “Peter’s organization worked closely with the Wuhan Institute of virology and supported gain of function research on bat coronaviruses. If the pandemic stems from an accidental leak of one of these viruses, Peter would potentially be implicated. I am not at all suggesting that he did anything wrong, just that one of the possible origin stories includes him. Because so much is riding on this investigation, I think it essential that we make sure the commission itself represents a balance of perspectives, while excluding conspiracy theorists and people with political axes to grind… Putting together a commission that is both impartial and balanced and seen as being impartial and balanced will be critical for everything that follows.” (Here is a Twitter link to Peter describing in his own words the process for manipulating the spike proteins of coronaviruses in a lab. For more on US financial support for EcoHealth Alliance, see this link) On June 21, 2021, it was announced that Peter Daszak had recused himself from the Lancet commission.
  • In November, 2020, The WHO released the names of the 10 scientists selected in coordination with the Chinese government to visit Wuhan to assess the origins of the pandemic. Surprisingly, Peter Daszak was on this list. As I mentioned in a 11/27 tweet, “I have great respect for Peter but his clear conflict of interest and [prior] funding relationship with WIV should preclude him from these types of roles.” I also tweeted that the key to making this a legitimate process will be “ensuring full & unrestricted access to all samples, records, scientists, etc. as part of a deep forensic investigation with no political interference” and the ability to “interview any scientist in China in conditions of complete privacy & security.” I have deep reservations about the leading role the Chinese government will play in this investigation on its own failure, which already includes significant oversight of which scientists are selected as investigators and the ability to have Chinese government and government-related scientists doing the primary investigations (would we let the DRC negotiate these kinds of terms as Ebola raged?). Doing a serious investigation will absolutely require significant whistleblower protections for any Chinese scientists who may wish to come forward. This should include an anonymous and safe digital portal and significant protective safeguards including the possibility of asylum.
  • This open letter to the WHO COVID-19 international investigations team outlines essential questions which must be addressed by the WHO investigation. A question not included in the petition but which I believe must be asked is: “What was and is the relationship between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Wuhan Institute of Virology? Was the PLA engaged in any research at the WIV and did the PLA store any viral samples in the facility prior to the outbreak?”
  • On January 6, 2021, after the Chinese government failed to provide visa’s for members of the WHO COVID-19 expert committee, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying stated: “on the issue of COVID-19 origin-tracing, China has always been open, transparent and responsible and taken the lead in carrying out scientific cooperation in tracing the origin with WHO with the purpose of promoting international research on origin-tracing. In February and July last year, when China was faced with daunting domestic epidemic prevention and control tasks, China invited WHO experts to China twice to carry out cooperation on origin-tracing and formulate the China part of a global scientific cooperation plan on origin-tracing. In October last year, the Chinese side reached agreement on the members of the international expert group. Since then, the experts of the two sides have maintained frequent interactions. Four video meetings were held on October 30, December 3, December 10 and December 18 respectively. With a scientific attitude, Chinese experts shared the outcomes of China’s origin-tracing efforts in a science-based and candid manner, and the cooperation between the two sides has made positive progress. Recently, in a positive and constructive attitude, China has maintained close communication with WHO on the expert panel’s trip to China for cooperation on origin-tracing. At present, the global pandemic situation remains very serious, and China is also making all-out efforts to prevent and control the epidemic. Chinese health and epidemic prevention departments and experts are devoting themselves to intense anti-epidemic work. Having all this said, in order to support international COVID-19 cooperation, China has overcome difficulties, accelerated preparatory work at home and tried its best to create favorable conditions for the international expert team’s visit to China. WHO knows that clearly. The issue of origin-tracing is very complicated. In order to ensure the smooth progress of the work of the international expert group in China, necessary procedures need to be fulfilled and relevant specific arrangements need to be made. At present, the two sides are in negotiating on this.” This (technical term, baloney) answer begs the question that has been clear from the earliest days of the pandemic — what is China trying to hide?
  • Nature Medicine published on January 13, 2021, an opinion piece by Angela Rasmussen seeking to debunk what she called “often contradictory and sometimes outright ridiculous conspiracy theories that spread faster than the virus itself.” As a foundation of her argument, she asserted that “A favorite version of the laboratory-origin stories relies on the fact that SARS-CoV-2 was engineered for gain-of-function studies that were also previously performed with bat SARS-like coronaviruses to understand cross-species transmission risk (Nat. Med. 21, 1508–1513; 2015). The irony is that those gain-of-function studies provided valuable information about the biology of SARS-CoV-2. Gain-of-function research is also subject to intense scrutiny and governmental oversight, precisely because of the high risk involved in conducting it safely; thus, it is extremely unlikely that gain-of-function research on hard-to-obtain coronaviruses (such as bat SARS-like coronaviruses) could occur under the radar.” By definition, therefore, this argument would fail if it were shown that animal pathogen research was being carried out at WIV in secret and “under the radar.”
  • On January 15, 2021, the US State Department issued a Fact Sheet in which the following assertion was made: “Despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military. The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.” This claim was vetted with all relevant US government agencies and appears credible. In my Twitter response to this assertion I call for additional evidence of this claim to be released and for Five Eyes intelligence services to issue a joint statement assessing this claim.
  • It has always been, and remains, my position, that we need to actively examine all possible origin hypothesis. This certainly includes both zoonotic jump and an accidental lab leak. Any credible investigation into the origins of COVID-19 must actively explore both of these hypotheses.
  • In my January 22, 2021 Newsweek editorial, I make the following assertions:
    • US intelligence reports that suggest the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was conducting secret animal research with highly contagious viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, without notifying the World Health Organization even after the pandemic began, raise new questions about the possible laboratory origins of COVID-19 that must be addressed.
    • This and other evidence of Chinese obfuscation and malfeasance make abundantly clear that an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 overly relying on Chinese transparency and goodwill, including the current and critically important WHO-led effort, can no longer be considered fully credible unless immediately proven otherwise. For all of our sakes, the time has come for an impartial and thorough investigation into how this terrible crisis began.
    • Although the failures of many governments and international organizations during the pandemic must all be analyzed and addressed, knowing how this crisis started is the essential foundation for prioritizing next steps.
    • If the Chinese government feels the current WHO-led investigation has the potential to clear the necessary bar of scope and credibility, it now has a perfect opportunity to prove it. As a first step, it can immediately provide the WHO investigators presently in Wuhan a full account of all research carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology over the past five years, all laboratory notes and records, and a full list of all viruses currently or previously held along with their available sequenced genomes.
    • If the Chinese government fails to immediately change course, however, the Biden administration should bring allies and partners around the world together to demand an impartial and unrestricted international forensic investigation into the origins of COVID-19, with full access to all necessary records, databases, biological samples and key personnel.
    • Updating the terms of reference for the WHO investigation to make this type of process possible is clearly the best way forward, particularly because Chinese participation in the investigation is essential for gaining access to the most relevant information. The Chinese government should be invited to play a central role in the investigation and given every opportunity to present evidence, but only in support of a credible international forensic investigation with the unrestricted ability to do its job.
    • Should China fail to agree to update the terms of the WHO-led investigation, the Biden administration should work with partners across the globe to establish a parallel investigation relying on the collaboration of specialists around the world, the work of national intelligence services, transparent public hearings, generous whistleblower provisions and other means.
  • On January 28, 2021, the WHO investigators left their quarantine and began their process in Wuhan. In an encouraging sign, the WHO tweeted that day that “All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work to understand the origins of the #COVID19 virus.” For this assertion to be meaningful, the credible hypotheses of both zoonotic jump and accidental lab leak must each be examined with equal energy and resources.
  • As I tweeted on January 27, “The @WHO COVID19 investigation team now in Wuhan should demand full access to all relevant records, samples, & personnel as part of an unrestricted int’l forensic investigation. If this request is denied, they should leave. A compromised investigation is worse than none at all.”
  • On February 9, 2021, the WHO COVID-19 investigation team, alongside their Chinese counterparts, held a press conference to announce their preliminary findings. After outlining the four possible hypotheses (direct from bats, from bat through intermediate hosts, from somewhere else through frozen food or other means, and accidental lab leak), the speakers asserted that although they didn’t know much about how the pandemic began, they believed that only the lab leak hypothesis should not be investigated further. This is, in my view, outrageous. We basically have no evidence supporting the other three hypotheses, so why would it make sense to reject the hypothesis that, as seen above, is at very least highly credible and possible? As I tweeted out that day, “As I’ve been saying for a year, we need a full & unrestricted int’l forensic investigation into the origins of #COVID19 w/ full access to all relevant records, samples, & personnel. Without that access & overly managed by #China, the @WHO investigation doesn’t meet that standard.”
  • On February 10, 2021, I issued my statement on the investigation linked here.
  • The day after I released this statement, on February 11, 2021, WHO Director General Adhanom wisely stated in a briefing event for member states: “I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study.” It is certainly my hope that this statement makes clear that all hypotheses, including the possibility of an accidental lab leak, be fully explored by the WHO expert committee and others.
  • I was co-organizer of an international group of experts who, on March 4, 2021, released this open letter, covered widely in the international media, asserting that current international investigative efforts are not sufficient and outlining a better process which could be. The pandemic was, in my view, a totally preventable event. If we don’t ask tough questions about what went wrong and address our greatest shortcomings, we’ll be setting ourselves up for an even worse disaster in the future.
  • As I asserted in a tweet the same day, “@Peterfoodsafety @MarionKoopmans & the other @WHO-appointed independent experts are in a real bind: a consensus report with the Chinese gov’t can’t be fully credible but an honest and full report couldn’t get Chinese gov’t sign off.”
  • The excellent March 25, 2021 Environmental Chemistry Letters editorial by Segreto et al states: “There is a near-consensus view that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of COVID-19, has a natural zoonotic origin; however, several characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 taken together are not easily explained by a natural zoonotic origin hypothesis. These include a low rate of evolution in the early phase of transmission; the lack of evidence for recombination events; a high pre-existing binding to human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2); a novel furin cleavage site (FCS) insert; a flat ganglioside-binding domain (GBD) of the spike protein which conflicts with host evasion survival patterns exhibited by other coronaviruses; and high human and mouse peptide mimicry. Initial assumptions against a laboratory origin by contrast have remained unsubstantiated. Furthermore, over a year after the initial outbreak in Wuhan, there is still no clear evidence of zoonotic transfer from a bat or intermediate species. Given the immense social and economic impact of this pandemic, identifying the true origin of SARS-CoV-2 is fundamental to preventing future outbreaks. The search for SARS-CoV-2′s origin should include an open and unbiased inquiry into a possible laboratory origin.” As I tweeted in reference to this important literature review, this compilation of evidence again makes clear that “any credible examination of the origins of #COVID19 must include a full consideration of & unrestricted investigation into the #Wuhan lab leak hypothesis.”
  • On March 30, 2020 the WHO-organized independent committee/Chinese government joint committee released its report. The report was, in my view deeply and fatally flawed. This twitter thread details my critique of this overall process and work product. In it, I state “Having read the int’l cttee/Chinese gov’t #COVID19 origins report & watched the @WHO presser, it’s clear 1) the report is fatally flawed, 2) there’s currently no credible int’l investigation into pandemic origins, & 3) we desperately need one. Follow this thread for more… The core problem is clearly structural. The int’l team saw its task as finding a zoonotic source of animal transition in the wild, not seeking the actual source of the pandemic. There’s a big difference. They set out to prove one hypothesis, not fairly examine all of them… The int’l team bent over backwards trying to validate the zoonotic jump and frozen food theses but didn’t lift a finger to seriously consider the lab leak hypothesis, I’m guessing out of fear their Chinese gov’t hosts would stop tossing them table scraps if offended… @Peterfoodsafety admitted that the joint mission remit did not include exploring a possible lab leak. So how could they possibly have determined a lab leak was “highly unlikely” w/o the most basic of examination and with no access to relevant resources? It doesn’t make sense… I’ve called the join study process non-credible because it’s examining some hypotheses but not others & using different evidentiary standards for different theories. Absurd to say there’s no evidence for lab leak when charging forward on zoonosis & cold chain w/o evidence… The hero of the day was clearly @DrTedros, who brilliantly protected the credibility of the @WHO… The tragedy is that over a yr after the pandemic began, with millions dead & billions disrupted, there’s no credible int’l pandemic origins investigation. Because our future safety depends on understanding how this tragedy began & our ensuing failures, that should terrify us.”
  • The same day, the governments of the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom issued a very important joint statement asserting that they “support a transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic… [and] join in expressing shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China.” They also expressed their “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.”
  • On April 7, 2020, our experts group released this open letter calling for a full investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was featured in the New York Times and in media around the world. Our open letter calls for the existing World Health Organization-organized independent committee/Chinese government process to be significantly revamped to allow for a full investigation into all COVID-19 origin hypotheses, including the possibility of a laboratory accident. Should the Chinese government refuse to negotiate new terms to recast the existing process, the letter calls for a new resolution to be passed in the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s governing body, when it convenes next month. If neither of these options can be realized quickly, the letter calls on interested governments to develop a new and independent process for comprehensively investigating pandemic origins — with China’s cooperation if possible but without it if necessary. As we stated in the open letter, “Calling for a full investigation into the origins of the pandemic by the best available means is not intended to point fingers at any one country. Its purpose is to leave no stone unturned in seeking to understand how this catastrophe began so we can prioritize efforts to address our greatest shortcomings for the benefit of all people and all nations.”
  • On March 8, 2021, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian condemned our “so called open letter” in the following language: “This reminds me of the previous so-called “open letter of scientists” that came out on March 4. It was also drafted by Jamie Metzl, a former member of the White House National Security Council and signed by almost the same group of people. The purpose of these two so-called open letters, one issued right before the WHO joint study report was to be made public and the other shortly after the report was released, is obviously to mount pressure on the WHO and the joint mission. These signatories can deceive no one as to whether their letters are meant to make a true proposal for scientific and professional origin-tracing or target a specific country with presumption of guilt.” In addition to not addressing the substance of our open letter, the absurdity of the statement is amplified by his unwillingness to call our document an open letter.
  • In response the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman’s attack on our group and me personally from the ministry podium in Beijing, I released this blog post on April 13, 2021 entitled 10 Questions for Zhao Lijian, in which I invite him to answer ten essential questions on the origins of the pandemic.
  • In my April 22, 2020 The Hill editorial, I state:
    • As terrible as COVID-19 has been, it’s entirely possible — likely, even — that we’ll face another pandemic unless we identify how this crisis began and fix our biggest shortcomings. Yet, well more than a year after the outbreak, we still lack a credible, comprehensive international investigation into the origins of the pandemic. That should frighten everyone.
    • Why might the Chinese government be more partial to the possibility the pandemic sprang from nature rather than leaked from a lab? For the same reason there’s a big difference in perception between getting cancer from sun exposure and getting it from Chernobyl. Although no one could blame China for a natural occurrence, people around the world and in China would be enraged if it were discovered that COVID-19 stemmed from an accidental lab leak and coverup. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grip on power could be threatened.
    • It’s harder to understand why the international expert committee recommended no further examination of the lab incident hypothesis. Perhaps some of its members felt that even limited collaboration with their Chinese counterparts, made possible through a restricted process, was better than none at all.
    • But any effort to prevent a full investigation into all pandemic-origin hypotheses with unrestricted access to all relevant records, samples and personnel in China and beyond should be recognized for what it is — a threat to all of us and to future generations. Everyone on Earth is a stakeholder in getting to the bottom of how this terrible crisis began and our many other ensuing failures as essential first steps towards addressing our greatest vulnerabilities.
  • On April 30, 2021, our experts group released our third open letter, this time addressed to Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the Director General of the WHO and to the member state representatives of the WHO Executive Board. The letter makes the following points:
    • Understanding the origins of the pandemic is essential to addressing our vulnerabilities and preventing future crises. Unfortunately, as outlined in previous open letters released on March 4 and April 7, structural, procedural, and analytical shortcomings of the WHO-convened joint study into COVID-19 origins have created unnecessary barriers to this understanding.
    • On March 30, 2021, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom made a number of important assertions following the release of the WHO-convened joint study report. These include:
      • “I do not believe that [the joint’s team] assessment [of a possible lab incident] was extensive enough. Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions… potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.”
      • “As far as WHO is concerned all hypotheses remain on the table… We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do… It is clear that we need more research across a range of areas, which will entail further field visits.”
    • As scientists and science communicators, we welcome this courageous defense of the scientific method and of the WHO’s integrity. We also hope that Dr. Tedros’s clear articulation of critical next steps will be fully supported by all concerned countries and parties.
    • [After outlining critical steps that must be part of any credible COVID-19 origins investigation, the letter concludes with the following:]
    • As terrible as COVID-19 has been, this is almost certainly not the last pandemic we will face — and possibly not even the worst. Taking all necessary measures to understand the origins of this pandemic as an essential foundation for addressing our dangerous vulnerabilities is therefore a matter of great urgency. Doing so will also establish an important precedent for fully and transparently investigating any such outbreaks in the future wherever and however they might originate.
    • We call on the World Health Organization and its Executive Board to fully address the recommendations and questions raised in this letter as a critical step toward protecting everyone on earth and future generations.
  • In a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article released on May 5, 2021, Nicholas Wade writes: “When I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus,” said David Baltimore, an eminent virologist and former president of the California Institute of Technology, often known as CalTech. “These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2,” he said.” Wade should also mention that David Baltimore is a Nobel Prize winner. Although Baltimore later walked back this statement a bit (see this), he still asserts the SARS-CoV-2 furin cleavage site genome editing could be the result of genome editing (again, that’s why we need a full investigation of all origin hypotheses).
  • On May 12, 2021, the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, chaired by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Helen Clark, issued their much anticipated report. The report was a masterpiece in many ways. It outlined a very sensible way forward for addressing the crisis today and the threat of future pandemics in the future. At the same time, however, and as I tweeted that day, the report was also dangerously and fundamentally flawed. First, it presented a highly sanitized version of the history of the pandemic which was clearly written as such to avoid ruffling China’s feathers. Second, and most significantly, it blindly repeated the by then largely discredited finding of the February 9 joint team press report and their shockingly incomplete March 30 report. Because the report does not even mention the possibility of a lab incident origin for the pandemic, it does not include any recommendations for addressing the threat of proliferating under-regulated high-containment labs doing dangerous work on highly pathogenic viruses, including “gain of function.”
  • On May 13, 2021, 18 leading scientists published this letter in the journal Science calling for a full investigation into all pandemic origin hypotheses, including a lab incident. Although this message was fully aligned with the messages in our three open letters, the fact that this was published in a leading journal was highly significant. As I tweeted on that day:
    • If it wasn’t already clear, this essential Science letter should make it 100% obvious that ANY credible examination of #pandemic origins MUST include a comprehensive investigation into whether COVID19 stems from an accidental lab incident & cover up. [link]
    • The chokehold on public consideration of an accidental lab incident as a possible pandemic origin has just been broken. Following publication of the Science letter, it will be irresponsible for any scientific journal or news outlet to not fully represent this viable hypothesis. [link]
    • If Ralph Baric, the US scientist with the greatest knowledge of chimeric coronaviruses & the strongest working relationship with the Wuhan lab thinks a lab incident pandemic origin is possible, how could anyone legitimately claim otherwise? [link]
  • On May 11, 2021, Senator Rand Paul grilled Anthony Fauci on whether the NIAID/HIH funded “gain of function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Fauci vehemently denied this assertion. In this interview with Fox’s Brian Kilmeade that evening, I gave my take on this issue. Fauci expressed his support for a full investigation into what happened in the Wuhan labs. It should be all of our position to support a full investigation of NIAID/NIH/USAID/DOD funding that went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology as well as a comprehensive investigation into the origins of the pandemic in China. The trick will be to advocate for and carry this out in a responsible, bipartisan manner.
  • On May 19, 2021, US National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins released a statement, linked here, denying that the NIH ever funded “gain of function” research at the WIV. Although people I respect, like Richard Ebright, call this an outright falsehood, my sense is that the imprecision of the “gain of function” moniker and the text of some government documents (2017) might make Collins technically truthful even though it’s pretty clear from the EcoHealth Alliance NIH grant application that work was to be carried out at WIV that would enable some frightening viruses to gain function.
  • This FactCheck.org post does an excellent and fair job of unpacking the gain of function issue. It is my view that the technical issue of whether the US government funding supported what could be called “gain of function” is far less important than understanding what may have gone so terribly wrong in Wuhan and how that happened. We must fearlessly and dispassionately follow the data wherever it leads, understand our mistakes in all places and at all levels, and then fix them. As I said on the day I began this post in April 2020, we must point fingers, at China and ourselves, as an essential first step toward addressing our greatest vulnerabilities.
  • Alina Chan, whom I greatly respect, makes the definitional argument supporting the Fauci/Collins assertions in this important Twitter thread.
  • Because Richard Ebright has paid such close attention to the gain of function issue, I asked him if he’d be comfortable with my sharing the content from his private email on this topic, which was highly critical of Francis Collins. Here is the text of Richard’s email:
    • The policy in effect in the US In 2014-2107 covered “research projects that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route” (https://www.phe.gov/s3/dualuse/documents/gain-of-function.pdf).
    • This definition clearly encompassed both: (1) NIH-funded work at UNC with WIV as collaborator published in Nature Medicine in 2015 (i.e., construction of novel chimeric coronavirus with a spike gene from a bat SARS-related coronavirus and q backbone from SARS-CoV–work that has been deemed for six years to epitomize the highest possible risk level of gain of function research of concern); and (2) NIH-funded work at WIV with EcoHealth Alliance as collaborator published in 2017 in PLOS Pathogens (i.e,. construction of novel chimeric coronaviruses with spike genes from bat SARS-related coronaviruses and a backbone from a different bat SARS-related coronavirus).
    • The policy in effect in the US In 2017 through the present covers “research…reasonably anticipated to create, transfer, or use enhanced PPPs,” wherein “enhanced PPP is defined as a PPP resulting from the enhancement of the transmissibility and/or virulence of a pathogen,” and wherein “A potential pandemic pathogen (PPP) is a pathogen that satisfies both of the following: 1. It is likely highly transmissible and likely capable of wide and uncontrollable spread in human populations; and 2. It is likely highly virulent and likely to cause significant morbidity and/or mortality in humans” (https://www.phe.gov/s3/dualuse/documents/p3co.pdf).
    • This definition clearly encompassed wok proposed in a 2019 NIH grant proposal by EcoHealth Alliance with UNC and WIV as subcontractors (i.e,. construction of novel chimeric coronaviruses with spike genes from bat SARS-related coronaviruses and backbones from a different bat SARS-related coronavirus).
    • The NIH Director now is claiming that “neither NIH nor NIAID have ever approved any grant that would have supported ‘gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans” (https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we-are/nih-director/statements/statement-misinformation-about-nih-support-specific-gain-function-research“).
    • Unless the NIH Director is using the phrase “for humans” to mean “in infection studies with human subjects” (Uighur detainees? Falun Gong dissidents?), his statement is false. And, if the NIH Director is using the phrase “for humans” to mean “in infection studies with human subjects,” his statement is irrelevant to the policies for gain-of function research in effect in the US in 2014-2017 and 2017-present, neither of which limits coverage to activities demonstrated to enhance transmissibility or lethality for humans.
  • Steve Quay added the following critical point, again in a private email quoted here with permission, regarding what is and is not gain of function:
    • Richard’s links to the language make this work clearly GoF. And Baric agrees! A quote from the 2015 paper:
    • “In addition to offering preparation against future emerging viruses, this approach must be considered in the context of the US government–mandated pause on gain-of-function (GOF) studies22. On the basis of previous models of emergence (Fig. 4a,b), the creation of chimeric viruses such as SHC014-MA15 was not expected to increase pathogenicity. Although SHC014-MA15 is attenuated relative to its parental mouse-adapted SARS-CoV, similar studies examining the pathogenicity of CoVs with the wild-type Urbani spike within the MA15 backbone showed no weight loss in mice and reduced viral replication23. Thus, relative to the Urbani spike–MA15 CoV, SHC014-MA15 shows a gain in pathogenesis (Fig. 1). On the basis of these findings, scientific review panels may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue, as increased pathogenicity in mammalian models cannot be excluded.” https://www.nature.com/articles/nm.3985
  • This Independent Science News article sheds additional light on the “gain of function issue.” It’s my view that we should focus on the propriety of what was done rather than on the narrow sematic issue of whether or not it should be labelled “gain of function.”
  • In my The Hill editorial released May 23, 2021, the day before the opening of the 2021 World Health Assembly, I state:
    • Although the Chinese government is needed as a collaborator in addressing the issues of the present and future, their price for doing so may well be at the expense of honesty and accountability about the past. Because China has levers of influence and control over many governments, there will likely be a tendency to let bygones be bygones and forget the issue of pandemic origins. Other countries, including the United States, also have much accounting to do for failures that made it possible for the pandemic grow as much as it has.
    • But papering over the past would be a self-defeating and tragic mistake. If we don’t establish a model of accountability, how can we prevent other governments, including our own, from taking unnecessary risks in the future? A house built on weak foundations will eventually collapse.
    • Now is the moment for fearless honesty by all of us, including our health ministers meeting today. We must demand that our leaders summon the courage to face our toughest challenges head-on.
  • On May 26, 2021, with public awareness of a possible lab incident origin for the pandemic skyrocketing, President Biden issued this statement asserting: “I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days.”
  • Also on May 26, 2021, the bipartisan Marshall-Gillibrand Amendment passed the US Senate in a unanimous voice vote. The significant but non-binding Sense of the Senate resolution called on the World Health Assembly to mandate a full investigation into pandemic origins during its 2021 session but stated that the US and its partners must develop their own investigation process should China continue to block this effort.
  • As a result of the work a relatively small community of us have been carrying out since last year, and the accumulation of strongly suggestive circumstantial evidence, public perceptions about the origins of the pandemic began to shift massively around the world over the first half of 2021. The internet sleuths who call themselves #DRASTIC, a number of whom participated in and signed our three open letters, played a critically important role in digging for answers when the mainstream media was not. This important Newsweek article by Rowan Jacobson describes their contribution in some detail.
  • This important Vanity Fair article, released on June 3, 2021, outlines the efforts by a number of us to raise tough questions about pandemic origins, particularly regarding the possibility of a lab incident origin, from the early days following the outbreak. For me, the first serious red flags were raised in later January 2019 when a paper published in the Lancet showed that nearly half of the earliest known infections were of people who’d had no contact with the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan. That made it quite likely that the outbreak started elsewhere and was only amplified in the market. When Chinese authorities, who clearly must have understood this, kept pushing this very likely false narrative, I immediately became suspicious. The pandemic may not have begun in the seafood market, but certainly something smelled fishy. The more deeply I examined the available evidence, the more obvious it seemed to me that the pandemic could very well have leaked from a lab. I did not assert then, as I do not claim now, that I know it came from a lab – just that this was a very real possibility. I was far more naïve then and just assumed that most everyone would come to the same conclusion and join me in demanding a full investigation into all pandemic origin hypotheses. I was wrong. Over the course of 2020, I reached out to scores of journalists and editors, literally begging them to look into the lab incident origin hypothesis and sending them a link to the case I had compiled. The responses ranged from disappointing to insulting.
  • On June 13, 2021, G7 leaders meeting in Cornwall, England released an important statement covering multiple issue, including the need to better understand pandemic origins. The exact language called for call for a “timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened” investigation into the origins of Covid-19, including in China. Although this language disappointed many observers, including most members of our experts’ group, who had identified the fundamental shortcoming of the WHO-convened joint study process to date and were hoping for something stronger, it was still a step forward. This twitter thread, which I released on June 14, 2021, outlines my views on how we should give China 60 days to allow a full investigation into pandemic origins, launching a robust alternative international process at the end of that period of such a comprehensive process has not yet begun.
  • On July 15, 2021, WHO Director General Tedros told reporters that the WHO is “asking China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic,” and expressed his view that there had been a “premature push” to rule out the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, saying, “I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen. It’s common.”
  • On July 16, 2021, Dr. Tedros made the following essential points in his opening remarks at the WHO Member State Information Session on Pandemic Origins:
    • As you know, at the end of March this year, the WHO-led international scientific team delivered its report following its mission to China in January, in line with World Health Assembly resolution 73.1.
    • That report filled in several knowledge gaps, and identified areas for further study.
    • Earlier this week, Member States received a circular letter detailing the proposed next steps that the Secretariat will take to advance those studies, in several areas:
    • First, integrated studies of humans, wildlife, captive and farmed animals, and environment, as part of a One Health approach.
    • Second, studies prioritizing geographic areas with the earliest indication of circulation of SARS-CoV-2, and neighbouring areas where other SARS-related coronaviruses have been found in non-human reservoirs;
    • Third, studies of animal markets in and around Wuhan, including continuing studies on animals sold at the Huanan wholesale market;
    • Fourth, studies related to animal trace-back activities, with additional epidemiology and molecular epidemiology work, including early sequences of the virus;
    • And fifth, audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019.
    • The Secretariat will continue to develop operational plans and terms of reference for the next series of studies, in collaboration and consultation with Member States and the international scientific community.
    • I thank China and the other Member States who wrote to me yesterday, and I agree that finding the origins of this virus is a scientific exercise that must be kept free from politics.
    • For that to happen, we expect China to support this next phase of the scientific process by sharing all relevant data in a spirit of transparency. Equally, we expect all Member States to support the scientific process by refraining from politicising it.
    • Finding where this virus came from is essential not just for understanding how the pandemic started and preventing future outbreaks, but it’s also important as an obligation to the families of the 4 million people who have lost someone they love, and the millions who have suffered.
    • But we also know that SARS-CoV-2 will not be the last new pathogen with pandemic potential. There will be more, and we will need to understand the origins of those pathogens too.
    • It is therefore our view that the world needs a more stable and predictable framework for studying the origins of new pathogens with epidemic or pandemic potential.
    • Accordingly, I am pleased to announce that the Secretariat is establishing a permanent International Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO. SAGO will play a vital role in the next phase of studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, as well as the origins of future new pathogens.
  • Not surprisingly, the Chinese government attacked Tedros in an editorial released the same day in the Global Times. Worse, the Chinese government made clear that it had no intention of cooperating with any comprehensive investigation into pandemic origins in China. Beijing’s language could not be more clear: “Chinese society will not accept Washington’s hegemonic and hooligan practices, nor will it allow an insulting probe based on the presumption of guilt, which is a serious violation of China’s sovereignty.”
  • It should, I hope, be clear to everyone that Director General Tedros is doing everything he can to ensure a full investigation into pandemic origins. He is doing this at a significant personal cost and in spite of the fact that the World Health Assembly has not given the WHO a mandate to carry out such an investigation. While Tedros’s efforts to make the most of a bad situation are highly laudable, what we really need is a mandate for a comprehensive international investigation with full access to all relevant records, samples, and personnel in China.
  • On July 22, 2021, Vice Minister of the Chinese National Health Commission Zeng Yixin said at a Beijing press conference that he was “extremely shocked” at the WHO call for greater Chinese transparency and for the Chinese government to share raw data, as well as DG Tedros’s call for an audit of Wuhan labs. “I could feel that this plan revealed a lack of respect for common sense and an arrogant attitude toward science,” he said. “We can’t possibly accept such a plan for investigating the origins.”
  • It should also by now be clear to everyone that the Chinese government will not allow any full and unrestricted investigation into pandemic origins to be carried out in China. This means that if we want a comprehensive investigation to be carried out, which we should, this process must be organized in a manner that does not afford Beijing a veto. While we must do everything possible to support Tedros and the WHO-organized process, the time has come to begin actively exploring alternative mechanisms (to learn more about this, see our fourth open letter).
  • On July 22, 2021, I published this editorial in CNN.com, where I state:
    • Now that the Chinese government has rejected the World Health Organization’s proposal to step up efforts probing this critical issue, the time has come for a new approach for understanding how this terrible tragedy began.
    • Given the critical importance of fully investigating the origin of Covid-19 and preventing future pandemics, China’s rejection of a full investigation poses a threat to the world that cannot be tolerated.
    • Although a comprehensive investigation with Chinese cooperation and full access to all relevant records, samples, and personnel is the gold standard, we cannot accept China’s obstruction as the final word on the matter. Beijing cannot be given the veto power over an investigation into the worst pandemic in a century.
    • That’s why we need a new strategy for moving forward, even without China’s cooperation.
    • Given the leadership and moral courage Tedros has shown by calling for a full examination into the pandemic origins, the United States and its partners around the world must come together in support of the integrity of the WHO and his leadership.
    • Even though it is all but certain the Chinese government will block any meaningful probe inside the country, the US and its partners must do everything possible to let the WHO process play out, not least to offer Beijing an ongoing chance to do the right thing.
    • Because China has now made its intentions clear, however, it would be absurd to rely solely on a WHO-organized process. That’s why the US and its partners must immediately begin planning alternative means to carry out the fullest possible investigation into the pandemic origins in a way the Chinese government cannot block.
    • While US President Joe Biden has tasked the intelligence community with collecting and analyzing information on the origins of Covid-19, the US should work with its allies, and involve the G7, Quad or other coalitions along with a team of international experts. Although not having full access to all of the relevant resources in China would hamper this investigation, a great deal of progress can be made by pooling efforts, accessing materials available outside of China, and creating secure whistleblower provisions empowering Chinese experts to share information.
    • In addition to this international effort, the United States should immediately establish a bipartisan Covid-19 commission, based loosely on the 9-11 Commission. This high-profile effort would look at the pandemic origins in China as well as our failures to stem the crisis both in the United States and globally.
    • The commission could recommend steps to address both national and international shortcomings with the goal of bolstering pandemic preparedness.
    • As we work to understand what went wrong this time, we must take immediate steps to ensure we are never again caught off guard with another emergent disease. The United States should work closely with partners around the world to develop and implement structural reforms at all levels to make future pandemics far less likely.
    • While proposals from the WHO-convened Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response and for an international pandemic treaty are critically important steps in the right direction, strong US government leadership will be required to turn aspirations and ideas like these into realities on the ground across the globe.
    • As terrible as this crisis has been, it’s easy to imagine future pandemics being far deadlier as we enter our new age of synthetic biology. If we don’t hold China, ourselves, and the world to the highest standards today, we will all be at far greater risk tomorrow.
29 Comments
  • Keep on keeping on Jaime! We’re here for the truth. I’m sure your going to dig it up …. somehow?…. balanced but true.???

    • The triple truth ruth May 19, 2020 at 1:55 am

      The problem with speculation concerning the possibility of an accident is that we still end up in the same place A TWO to THREE YEAR PANDEMIC that can go either way—–deadlier orr benign. As it is it will be hard enough for the rest of the world to get back to the task at hand rebuilding the global economy. I remember past futurists and they all ended up talking what ended up being garbage crystal eyeballing. Anything that makes this worse is exactly the sort of stupidity that got us all here. No one is looking good. Even New Zealand will sooner or later have to deal with the economic consequences. Enough with the blaming and scapegoating. IT’S THE RNA, STUPID and the stupid too.

      • As the author lays out clearly at the beginning of the article the point is to fully investigate the origin of this outbreak so as to implement measures that are most likely to prevent future pandemic outbreaks. It’s not about blaming – it’s about fact-finding and improving safety. No one with an egregious conflict of interest such as Peter Daszak should be a party to the forensic investigation of the WIV lab(s) that needs to be conducted.

  • Just FYI, that wet market in Wuhan did sell a lot wild animals in addition to seafood. It even had a wild animal restaurant inside. Apparently not many seafood on the menu.

    • There are identical wet markets in every small and large city all over China with it’s vast 1.3 billion population. Certainly Guandong and Yunan where the suspects are from host countless such markets, and are ~1000 miles away from Wuhan. Everyone please I appeal to your commonsense and try not to believe that somehow this bat virus “choose” Wuhan all places in China to jump to humans, which would be an insane coincidence with no comparison in history.

  • I have an article proving that they were studying Corona type viruses derived from bats at the wuhan lab.
    If you are interested email me at
    aaron@riderzlaw.com

  • Thank you sharing your insight and review methodology. If you haven’t you may want to look at Curtards published paper that came out early April. It was detailed and thorough. Curtard made the observation that he had only seen this combination of strains expiermently. The link to the full paper is in pubmed. Thank you for asking the difficult questions which it seems for whatever reason the majority in postions of influence, media, institutions or policy arent asking at best or worst censoring those who are. This applies to questions not only of origin but of treatments and management including public policy decisions. Unfortunately the general public en masse are also getting angry about these questions being raised which is baffling; you cant make robust and critical decisions that affect many without vigirous review of all the data, science and scenarios especially from the perspective of cost benefit analysis and therapeutic management.

  • This is in that Nature Medicine paper you reference first:
    “Theories of SARS-CoV-2 origins
    It is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus. As noted above, the RBD of SARS-CoV-2 is optimized for binding to human ACE2 with an efficient solution different from those previously predicted7,11. Furthermore, if genetic manipulation had been performed, one of the several reverse-genetic systems available for betacoronaviruses would probably have been used19. However, the genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone20. Instead, we propose two scenarios that can plausibly explain the origin of SARS-CoV-2: (i) natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer; and (ii) natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer. We also discuss whether selection during passage could have given rise to SARS-CoV-2.”

    • No one is asserting that this virus was manipulated with genome editing tools or even that it was grown via in vitro culture (evidence of immunoevasive adaptations make it most likely to have evolved in a host); but there is evidence that these labs were collecting wild type viruses and doing animal passage gain of function experiments, both of which could have brought this strain to Wuhan before an accidental release.

  • I referenced a paper looking at the covid19 strains earlier. In error I listed the scientist name as Curtard. Its Coutard. You can access it here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166354220300528

  • Thank you so much for putting together this excellent summary. I’ve been following this closely since the beginning and you brought out some points that I was not aware of.
    We have the freedom to speak out and if we don’t speak out we might find some day in the near future that we can no longer. So thank you and keep on keepin on.

    • Steven Atukwase May 3, 2020 at 6:47 am

      As some one with some knowledge in zoology, i think that it would be necessary for the habitat of the alleged animals ie bats that could have been the source of COVID-19 virus to be thoroughly scanned in minute detail to confirm or dismiss that hypothesis. Because if the virus was from bats that were taken from a natural ecosystem, then there must be other bats over the habitat which carry those pathogens. There is no way that only one animal ( one bat) could have contracted and spread the virus because they normally live in large groups., there should be others which have it. If it is discovered that there are no other bats carrying the virus then this is likely to help question the validity of that hypothesis. With the natural occurrence of the virus eliminated, that would leave the scientists to highly suspect the artificial (lab) hypothesis.
      At the same time there is need to ask: If infected bats were experimented on, didn’t other people e.g hunters at a different location or traders at a different market get into contact with bats from the same source and get infected? The assumption here is that the habitat was not restricted, but freely accessed. If it was restricted then the controller should be contacted for information.
      The inquiry into the origin of COVID-19 is essential to prevent the resurgence of the disease after some time so it should be highly encouraged.
      Mr Jamie Metzl, thank you for the interest to conduct that research as it will contribute to preventing the likely resurfacing of that virus.

  • Hi Jamie, keep up your good work. At the moment we don’t know why China behaved the way it did. This makes for conspiratorial thinking. While we have the freedoms to question China’s behaviour and motives we should. If our conspiratorial ideas turn out to wrong at least we shall be sure of this. Keep up the investigating,
    Diane

  • I used to manage a BSL-3 virology lab. I agree the most likely explanation is a laboratory accident. If this had occurred anywhere else in China I would have believed otherwise. As stated in the article these accidents happen, for instance, a very uncommon but highly lethal infection is monkey B virus which has killed researchers in the past:

    https://www.cdc.gov/herpesbvirus/cause.html

    A comment that has troubled me coming out of the Chinese government was along the lines of how their authoritarian government was superior for fighting pandemic outbreaks. This was likely a reaction to some White House comment, but China is definitely a student of history and one has to wonder what steps they would take to finally become the biggest power in the world and have the Renminbi become the world’s reserve currency. The later would require an enormous debt event, which we are now facing.

  • Hazel Henderson May 11, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    Thank you for this very useful summary. I co- wrote an article in March, 2020 with physicist Fritjof Capra, as a global systems -oriented futurist scenario , pointing to feedback loops from natural ecosystems to our unsustainable industrial lifestyles which not only make pandemics more likely, but also relate to all the crises in natural systems resulting from fossilized sectors emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants..This article ” Pandemics :Lessons Looking Back from 2050 ” is at http://www.ethicalmarkets.com , which is a global alternative media Certified B.Corporation I founded and have personally funded with my book royalties and our global TV series since 2004. We take no advertising and have 30,000 professional users .We would be happy to serve pro bono as one of your ” media partners”.I just signed up for your Newsletter .

  • Thank you so much Jamie for helping everyone to focus on the “on the record” facts, common sense, and logic.
    As someone with a strong connection to China, I can say that there are identical wet markets in every small, medium, and large city all over China with it’s vast 1.3 billion population. Certainly Guangdong and Yunnan province where the suspects bats are from, 1000 miles from Wuhan, have countless such markets. Everyone please I appeal to your commonsense and try not to believe that somehow this bat virus “choose” Wuhan near the WIV of all places in all of China to jump to humans, which would be an unbelievable coincidence with no comparison in history.
    On more thing that is little mentioned. is that this prolific “bat woman” coronavirus research program based out of the WIV regularly treks to bat cave in Yunnan and elsewhere to collect virus samples. So the accident itself does not necessarily have to have happened inside the WIV. Despite the requirement for full hazmat suits and virus deactivation at collection, humans make mistakes and they could have accidentally infected themselves and brought it back to Wuhan where they work and live.
    A final point is that the WIV is a very new lab, only commissioned 2-3 years ago as the flagship lab in China, widely praised by state media in print and even video documentaries. It’s China’s first attempt at the top BSL4 security. Again, common sense: new lab, new practices = higher likelihood of accidents.

  • I didn’t want to believe you at first because it’s the same theory that Chump is pushing but science is science and we must get to the bottom of this! 🙂 I believe you now because you don’t have a dog in the hunt and you said:

    – There weren’t any bats for sale;
    – They would’ve been hibernating during that time;
    – The virus was a 96.4% match;
    – China has a history of poor security; and
    – Although you didn’t say this, I believe this theory now because Pompous said that he had significant evidence that he couldn’t share with a smug look on his face. It’s like he’s got the smoking gun document and he’s going to release it right before the election…

    Anyway, what I don’t understand is why you don’t think the virus hasn’t been genetically manipulated? I’m not a scientist, but as a layman, I have been following COVID-19 closely, and I’ve noticed that it has attacked in sequence:

    1) The elderly;
    2) Those with comorbidities;
    3) Those with latent comorbidities — almost like it’s accelerating whatever is going to kill you when you grow old;
    4) People of color;
    5) Now children; and
    6) Possibly hiding and coming out later.

    It’s acting like a bioweapon?

  • Hi Jamie, it’s a great summary and analysis, thanks.
    I’d as well add here a link to the withdrawn paper of dr. Xiao, cited as well in
    https://project-evidence.github.io/
    https://chanworld.org/wp-content/uploads/wpforo/default_attachments/1581810860-447056518-Originsof2019-NCoV-XiaoB-Res.pdf

    I think that this is really important for these reasons:
    – I think it’s the first (only?) Chinese scientist paper which tries to explain the outbreak.
    Some statements are actually also pretty seious and wild like
    “the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.”
    and
    “In summary, somebody was entangled with the evolution of 2019-nCoV coronavirus”

    – dr Xiao also hypothesized two possible ways in which the contamination might have occurred:

    1) from the WCDC to the market:

    “Surgery was performed on the caged animals and the tissue samples were collected for DNA and RNA extraction and sequencing
    The tissue samples and contaminated trashes were source of pathogens. They were only ~280 meters from the seafood market.”

    2) in another hypothesis he links a possible contamination between the WHCDC (WIV)
    and the adjacent Union hospital:

    “The WHCDC was also adjacent to the Union Hospital where the first group of doctors were infected during this epidemic.
    It is plausible that the virus leaked around and some of them contaminated the initial patients in this epidemic, though solid proofs are needed in future study. ”

    – and then he goes on explaining the chimeric researches performed at the WHCDC(or WIV) and why a lab accident is likely.

    “The second laboratory was 12 kilometers from the seafood market and belonged to Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
    This laboratory reported that the Chinese horseshoe bats were natural reservoirs for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) which caused the 2002-3 pandemic
    . The principle investigator participated in a project which generated a chimeric virus using
    the SARS-CoV reverse genetics system, and reported the potential for human emergence
    . A direct speculation was that SARS-CoV or its derivative might leak from
    the laboratory.”
    p.s.
    typo: the market is 280 meters away from the WCDC not 3 miles
    “The market is also less than 3 miles away from the Wuhan Centre”

  • Typo: “It ((is)) my view that Chinese researchers at these institutes were studying these viruses with the best intentions of developing surveillance systems, treatments, and vaccines for the good of humanity. “

  • “47 million people died senselessly under former Chinese Leader Mao Tse Tung”——it is a lie.

    • The death of 36million Chinese citizens by mass starvation under Mao’s rule in 1959 is very thoroughly documented in the seminal work: TOMBSTONE researched and written by life long CCP member and senior Xinhua News Agency correspondent for over 3 decades, Yang Jisheng. I advise “Green” order a copy and become better informed.

  • why does the scientific community ignore these facts? You do not have to be a corona virologist to figure this sequence of events out! It is basic detective work: the viral sequence is the equivalent of finger prints.

  • Jamie: Your collection of information looks like a collection of partial conspiracy theories, not one compact coherent theory of how SARS-CoV-2 came to infect humans. It seems designed to appeal to our biases and emotions, not our reason. Some particulars:

    The Chinese government would be behaving exactly the same way no matter how this pandemic began: The Chinese release information that places the Communist government in a good light or that punishes individuals and organizations the government wants to blame. Any information that reflects badly on the government is suppressed. It doesn’t matter if the pandemic began with the transfer of the virus to people or wild animals eaten by people in bat-infested Southern China (the logical location) or the escape of the virus from a lab in Wuhan, the Chinese government would not permit an international investigation of the origins of the pandemic. They destroyed all of the samples from the Hunan Seafood (wild animal) Market, so no one could discover what role this market played a role in the pandemic – a danger that had been recognized from the first SARS outbreak and should have been eliminated. Some, but not all, of the December 2019 cases were linked to this wild animal market, but the earliest known case today dates apparently dates back to at least November 17, so the first transmission to humans could have occurred in this market in November or October. Alternatively, If the virus escaped from a lab, it wouldn’t have made any difference if that virus evolved naturally, was the product of gain of function experiments or was produced for more nefarious purposes. We can’t logically draw any reliable conclusions from China’s behavior, because totalitarian governments suppress information whenever it is in their best interest. China would not want an international team discovering or confirming ANY of these possible origins.

    Since SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted by asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infected patients, we can’t be sure that the pandemic originated in Wuhan, a location where bats aren’t a major problem. Two cases of COVID were identified in France in late December in 2019. Somehow, before even being identified, the virus had traveled halfway around be world, was transmitted between humans at least once in France, and the trail apparently ended. We now know the virus had infected a number of Americans in Washington (state), California, and probably elsewhere by late January without being detected – even though doctors knew what to look for by then. Given that no one was alerted to the new disease until late December 2019 and given that asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infected patients can transmit the virus to others, Patient Zero could have been infected ALMOST ANYWHERE AND TRAVELED TO WUHAN UNDETECTED. The disease could have been transmitted between humans a number of times in less densely populated areas without leaving a detectable trail.. What probably made Wuhan special and the “origin” of the pandemic is that it may have the site of the first super-spreader events that converted the infection into an epidemic.

    The viruses from the first three SARS-CoV-2 patients were genetically different, so the disease pre-dated them. Analysis of all know variants suggests that the common ancestor to known strains existed in November 2019, or possibly October. The Chinese reported a suspected infection on November 17 in the vicinity of Wuhan. The South China Morning Post obtained a report showing the government has identified hundreds or suspected cases in December in the vicinity of Wuhan. The virus likely evolved in the logical location, bat-infected Southern China, and then traveled north to Wuhan undetected in a human or wild animal. We know that all of the December cases in Wuhan were not linked to wild animal market, but the November cases might have originated there.

    Of course, it is suspicious that Wuhan contained two institutions where dangerous viruses were studied, especially a new BSL 4 institution. However, Wuhan was ALSO the site of the Hunan Seafood Market, the largest wild animal market in Central China. Wuhan is bigger than New York City, where the US pandemic first exploded. Wuhan had the sophisticate medical system needed to detect a new disease and the high population density to permit rapid growth of the pandemic.. There are probably institutes of virology half of Chinese large cities where the pandemic could have begun. There are 9 BSL 4 facilities in the US, all but one near or in a major city. There is nothing suspicious about the presence of a virology institute in the Chinese city where the pandemic began. Thew fact that research was being done on SARS-like viruses is also not surprising given the outbreak of SARS-CoV-1 in Chine two decades earlier.. News reports that US visitors to that new lab were concerned about safety were totally misrepresented; the US personnel who visited the institute reported it was being under-utilized, because a nervous Chinese government was unwilling to sanction work with dangerous viruses the facility was designed to handle and because of a shortage of trained staff. However they noted that the latter problems was being addressed by training some staff at laboratories outside the US.

    “Gain of function” experiments are performed in laboratories to rapidly simulate the evolutionary process by which viruses acquire the ability to efficiently replicate in different types of cell. Such mutated viruses are studied as models of viruses that might evolve naturally and cause pandemics. Since SARS-CoV-2 was not closely related to any known SARS-like virus and appears to have arisen from recombination (not mutation) of sequences from several different coronaviruses (most likely in bats), it probably is NOT the product of a gain of function experiment. Nor does it appear to have been genetically engineered. US funding agencies stopped gain-of-function experiments for several years (including experiments in Wuhan) while experts debated whether the information gained was worth the CUMULATIVE risk of running such experiments in dozens of labs over decades. The calculated cumulative risk was small and the risk from any one laboratory in any month (Wuhan in November 2019) was microscopic. EVERY VIRAL PANDEMIC BEFORE COVID BEGAN WHEN A VIRUS THAT REPLICATED IN A SPECIES IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH HUMANS MUTATED AND ACQUIRED THE ABILITY TO REPLICATE TO THE HIGH LEVELS IN HUMANS NEEDED FOR EFFECTIVE TRANSMISSION: Swine influenza, avian influenza. HIV (from a monkey virus that causes immunosuppression), SARS-CoV-1 (pangolins), MERS (camels), measles (cattle), smallpox (rodents), chickenpox, Hepatitis (birds?) etc. It is possible – BUT CERTAINLY NOT LIKELY ENOUGH TO WARRANT SUPPORTING CONSPIRACY THEORIES – that COVID is the first man-made pandemic. No evidence that this pandemic didn’t evolve like every other pandemic in history.

  • It’s a question that may never be conclusively answered: Was the SARS-CoV-2 virus inside one of the Wuhan labs (Wuhan Institute of Virology, Wuhan CDC) before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic?

    At the start of the outbreak, Shi Zhengli, head of the WIV’s centre for emerging infectious diseases, thought it was possible that the virus had come from the WIV. She admitted she was worried and said she lost sleep thinking about it. She spoke of her relief when she checked and found no record of the virus in her lab’s records. A lab-leak hypothesis is clearly not far-fetched if Shi Zhengli herself thought it was possible and was worried sick by the idea.

    It’s worth re-reading Shi Zhengli’s quotes from Scientific American’s profile of her in March 2020: “If coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers thinking, ‘Could they have come from our lab?’ … she frantically went through her own lab’s records from the past few years to check for any mishandling of experimental materials, especially during disposal. Shi breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back: none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves. ‘That really took a load off my mind,’ she says. ‘I had not slept a wink for days.’”

    If you accept Shi Zhengli’s reassurances that there was no record of the virus in her lab, the matter is closed as far as the WIV goes. But there is good reason to be sceptical.

    For one thing, Shi Zhengli would not have been the one to decide whether to disclose to the world that the virus was stored in her lab. The Chinese state alone would have made that decision. And if the virus was in the lab, it is almost certain that the Chinese state would have covered it up. This is a government that recently detained up to one million Uyghurs in concentration camps and then denied the fact despite being confronted with irrefutable evidence.

    And then there’s the issue of the WIV virus database being deleted. Whether or not there’s anything incriminating in the virus database, the decision to delete comes across as though they’re hiding something. Surely the Chinese authorities must understand that their recent behaviour and their history of cover-ups makes the lab-leak hypothesis more believable.

    If the virus was inside either of the labs, it does not seem likely that it will be uncovered by the WHO’s investigation into the origins of the virus. Indeed, if the virus was in the labs, it may take years or decades for the facts to emerge. In time, scientists, journalists, and others will perhaps uncover conclusive evidence. Or a whistleblower in China may get the word out. Or, as happens from time to time with authoritarian regimes, future Chinese leaders may reveal the truth if they think it’s in their interests to discredit their predecessors.

    For now, anyone interested in the virus’s origins will remain in one of three camps: 1. Convinced of natural zoonosis 2. Convinced of a lab leak 3. Undecided and awaiting more evidence.

    • That the entire world has been forced to wait for over a year by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) before a full WHO team was permitted reasonable access to “Ground Zero” is the outrage of the century.

      We still have no publicly know “Patient Zero” nor the exact location of “Ground Zero” – BioHazard Level 4 BioLab or Wet Market?

      This is unheard of in the world of epidemiology – although it is highly likely that the CCP knows exactly the circumstances but dare not share the information with the global community for fear of losing massive “face”.

      When Africa experiences Ebola outbreaks the nations in which the outbreaks occur immediately grant full, unfettered access to teams from the WHO and other organizations to the epicenter to get the world leading experts to rapidly analyze, evaluate and immediately formulate a coordinate global strategy. This is why Ebola, even though far more lethal than Covid19 is always quickly contained.

      If only the Chinese Communist Party had the same sense of global responsibility and co-operation as the people of Africa who are willing to put stubborn national pride to the side for the sake of humanity. The illogical desire to save face caused the unnecessary death of millions.

    • ….. sampled from bat caves. i.e. the search did not include sequences that were the result of manipulations or from gain of function experiments.

  • Here’s a question for visitors to this blog: How often do you think a coronavirus pandemic might emerge accidently out of a laboratory where coronaviruses are being stored and researched?

    Do you think it might happen once every 500 years? Or once in 2,000 years?

    Or do you think the risk is much less likely — perhaps it would only happen once in 1 million years, or once in 100 million years?

    Where you stand on this question may indicate whether you think lab-leak or natural zoonosis is the more likely cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Let’s consider the natural zoonosis hypothesis: An animal source leading to a coronavirus pandemic emerging out of Wuhan (no lab-related involvement in this hypothesis). What’s the likelihood of this?

    Before the SARS-CoV-2 virus, there were only four coronaviruses endemic in the human population. Just four. Natural zoonosis causing a coronavirus pandemic is a rare event.

    So how often do you think a coronavirus pandemic might emerge naturally out of Wuhan? Specifically a coronavirus. Specifically Wuhan. Once every few thousand years? Or more often? And if you think it would be more often, why?

    You’ll lean towards the lab-leak hypothesis if you believe a pandemic caused by a lab-leak is a 1-in-500-year event. (Because this is more likely than the natural-zoonosis-in-Wuhan scenario.)

    But you’ll favour the natural zoonosis hypothesis if you believe a pandemic caused by a lab-leak is a 1-in-a-100-million-year event. (Because this is less likely than the natural-zoonosis-in-Wuhan scenario.)

    In my view, there’s a reasonable possibility it was a lab-leak — certainly it’s likely enough that it warrants a proper forensic investigation. Two reasons:

    1. We were warned of the risks long before the pandemic. Biosecurity experts repeatedly warned that human error in a biosafety lab might cause a pandemic — and these labs have been proliferating around the world. If the risk of one lab causing a pandemic is as high as once in 500 years then the risk of human error in one of 25 labs causing a pandemic could be more like once in 20 years.

    2. We need to be wary of scientific hubris. The current state of biolab safety brings to mind the hubris that existed in the nuclear power industry. Fifty years ago, experts in the nuclear power industry put the risk of a serious accident involving a nuclear reactor at 1 in a million years. But then came Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. The risk of a serious accident isn’t 1 in a million years — it’s more like 1 in 10,000 years (or worse), and with over 400 nuclear reactors around the world we might expect a major accident at one of them every 25 years or so. Nuclear power plants and biosafety labs are complex systems, and sometimes complex systems go disastrously wrong.