Last week, medical journalist Katherine Eban posted at Vanity Fair the results of a long and detailed investigation into the lab-leak theory of the origins of SARS-CoV-2. The subject is moving ever more to the front-and-center of efforts to find out exactly what was going on at the highest levels in early 2020 that resulted in the greatest societal, political, and economic upheaval of our lives.
How precisely did we move so quickly from the “germ games” of October 2019 – when the virus was already circulating in the US – to full-scale global lockdown by March? Why did Anthony Fauci, who in early February was downplaying the seriousness of the virus, flip to the other side (which we know from emails)? It was Fauci, according to many reporters, who tapped Deborah Birx to huddle with Trump and convince him that the only way to battle the virus was to “shut down” the economy – as if anything like that was possible much less effective for controlling a respiratory virus.
For two years now, and despite endless writing and reflection, this change from the top has puzzled me. Lockdowns contradicted not only a century of public-health practice but even WHO guidelines. Even on March 2, 2020, 850 scientists signed a letter to the White House warning against lockdowns, closures, and travel restrictions. Within days, everything changed.
There were hints of extreme measures in the CDC pandemic planning manuals since 2006 but the idea was hardly orthodoxy in the profession. It’s also true that there were elite scientists who longed for the chance to try out the new theory of virus suppression. But how did Fauci and Birx, to say nothing of Jared Kushner, become converts of the idea to the point that they were able to convince Trump to betray everything he believed in?
This is quite probably where the lab-leak theory comes in. It’s not so much about whether the virus was an accidental or even deliberate leak that matters so much as whether Fauci, Francis Collins, and Jeremy Farrrar of the UK’s Wellcome Trust believed it was possible or even likely. In that case, we have our motive. Did they deploy the chaos of lockdowns as a genuine if wildly misguided attempt to suppress the virus as a way of avoiding culpability? Or perhaps it was deployed as a kind of smokescreen to distract from a closer examination of the Wuhan’s lab’s funding sources? Or possibly there is a third reason.
We have a very long way to go before the full truth is out. But Eban’s article adds tremendous detail about the great lengths to which our Fauci-led cabal of officials worked hard to suppress dissent on the question of lab-vs-natural origin. They kept papers from being posted on preprint servers, held Zoom sessions with authors in an attempt to intimidate them, and spent tremendous energy making it clear that there would be a no-leak “united front” no matter what.
Writes Eban: “At the highest levels of the U.S. government, alarm was growing over the question of where the virus had originated and whether research performed at the WIV, and funded in part by U.S. taxpayers, had played some role in its emergence.”
Eban’s intrepid journalism now has former CDC director Robert Redfield opening up about how he not only warned about the possibility of a lab leak but also that he was then excluded from all strategy meetings thereafter.
To Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC at the time, it seemed not only possible but likely that the virus had originated in a lab. “I personally felt it wasn’t biologically plausible that [SARS CoV-2] went from bats to humans through an [intermediate] animal and became one of the most infectious viruses to humans,” he told Vanity Fair. Neither the 2002 SARS virus nor the 2012 MERS virus had transmitted with such devastating efficiency from one person to another.
What had changed? The difference, Redfield believed, was the gain-of-function research that Shi and Baric had published in 2015, and that EcoHealth Alliance had helped to fund. They had established that it was possible to alter a SARS-like bat coronavirus so that it would infect human cells via a protein called the ACE2 receptor. Although their experiments had taken place in Baric’s well-secured laboratory in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who was to say that the WIV had not continued the research on its own?
In mid-January of 2020, Vanity Fair can reveal, Redfield expressed his concerns in separate phone conversations with three scientific leaders: Fauci; Jeremy Farrar, the director of the U.K.’s Wellcome Trust; and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). Redfield’s message, he says, was simple: “We had to take the lab-leak hypothesis with extreme seriousness.”
In sessions from which Redfield was excluded from early February, Fauci’s chosen participants strategized a statement published in the form of a medical paper: “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2.” The publication date was March 17, 2020, the day following Trump’s lockdown press conference. The paper was in fact written as early as February 4. Eban makes the salient point: “How they arrived at such certainty within four days remains unclear.”
[Redfield] concluded there’d been a concerted effort not just to suppress the lab-leak theory but to manufacture the appearance of a scientific consensus in favor of a natural origin. “They made a decision, almost a P.R. decision, that they were going to push one point of view only” and suppress rigorous debate, said Redfield. “They argued they did it in defense of science, but it was antithetical to science.”
Two weeks following the drafting of the paper, “in a letter published in the influential medical journal the Lancet, [Peter Dazsak of EcoHealth, which had funneled US money to the Wuhan lab] joined 26 scientists in asserting, ‘We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.’”
A conspiracy theory! We know for sure that those never turn out to be true! Surely there was no such thing as a powerful cabal plotting to force a single orthodoxy on science in order to protect themselves from too much investigation into their own role in funding gain-of-function research! Except that this appears to be exactly what was happening.
This strategy of information suppression and intimidation of dissent, along with the manufacturing of a fake consensus that in fact did not exist, continued through 2020 and arguably to the present. Among the other victims of such propaganda and smears were the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration. We know from emails that Fauci and Collins collaborated in a deliberate attempt to drum up a “quick and devastating” takedown.
It was a rather bizarre thing to do. The GBD was a rather conventional statement of public health principles along with a warning against the devastating consequences of extreme measures of coercion. Today it reads almost like a summary of what most people have come to believe after long and terrible experiences. Why did the Fauci cabal believe it was so very important to stop this statement?
What we need now is a clearer linkage behind the now-documented attempt to forge a single narrative on the lab leak question and the decision to forge a single narrative about the need to lock down, and thus overthrow a century of public-health practice. What was the motivation here? What were they discussing in private in those crucial weeks in February 2020 leading up to the disaster?
What is unbearably clear at this point is that this gang’s obsession with covering up a possible lab leak, in the interest of keeping their own fingerprints off the deed, completely distracted the leadership of the National Institutes of Health from what it was supposed to be doing at the time. And what was that? It’s not complicated. If you have a new pathogen sweeping a country, you want to focus on ways to keep vulnerable populations safe (for example, not forcing nursing homes to admit Covid-infected people) and discovering the best therapeutics to minimize severity for the general population.
This is not what happened. Instead, we had a plot against the US president, the deliberate cultivation of mass panic, forced closures of schools and businesses, wild demands for mass human separation, travel restrictions, ineffective mask and vaccine mandates, and the general triumph of crank science over experience, at the great cost of human liberties and rights and hence social and economic well-being.
The reason for the chaos appears, in part, that during those crucial early months, public-health leadership in the US had another private agenda centered not on health but their own reputations and professional standing. Two years later, we live with the devastating consequences that have affected the whole of our lives.