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Wuhan's Unsolved Question

Wuhan’s Unsolved Question


There’s now a lot of evidence suggesting that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, was an engineered pathogen that leaked from a lab in Wuhan.

But there’s still an unsolved question of where it was engineered and which Wuhan lab it escaped from.

The mainstream lab-leak theory tends to assume it was engineered in and leaked from Shi Zhengli’s lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

One big problem with this theory is that Shi Zhengli says that she checked whether it was one of her viruses at the end of December 2019, and there’s little reason to doubt that she did this (she admitted in March 2020 that her first thought on hearing it was a coronavirus was that she didn’t expect such an outbreak in Wuhan and wondered if it could have “come from our lab”).

This means that if it was from her lab, we can be pretty sure the Chinese authorities would have known this was the case at the start of January 2020 and would have behaved accordingly. Yet what they actually did, of course, is close, clear, and clean the Huanan wet market and then spend those first two weeks saying they weren’t sure if it was spreading between humans and taking no obvious further action to contain the spread.

In addition, early definitions of a coronavirus case included a connection with the market, underlining how seriously the authorities were taking the assumption of a market origin. Insider information relayed to the Associated Press confirms that in the early days, Beijing was being kept in the dark by local government officials worried about getting into trouble. This suggests that the Beijing Government was not carrying out some grand plan or coverup at the time and these early actions, based on an assumption of a zoonotic market origin, were authentic.

Assuming this is right, it would seem to rule out Shi’s lab being the source of the virus, as she would already have checked and relayed this information to the Government. So where did it leak from?

I think a big clue is that the Chinese approach to the virus changed radically after the sequence was published on January 10th. Shortly after that date, in a private teleconference with provincial officials on January 14th, the head of China’s National Health Commission called the situation “severe and complex” as he signalled a pivot from downplaying to suppressing the virus. Just over a week later, of course, Wuhan was locked down.

Now, it could be that China was just responding to the emerging situation on the ground as it became obvious the virus was spreading rapidly. However, there are other reasons to think that China may have been alerted to the leak after the sequence was published. Such as its response quickly becoming so extreme – even for China – and more in line with biosecurity protocols than a measured response to a natural virus.

Before the genome was published, Linfa Wang, the Singapore-based Director of Duke’s Emerging Infectious Disease programme, told the New York Times he was frustrated that scientists in China were not allowed to speak to him about the outbreak. On the day it was published, Linfa unexpectedly resigned from his post as Director of the Duke programme (a position he had held for nearly a decade) for reasons that have never been disclosed. He later called January 10th “the most important day in the Covid-19 outbreak” because it was when the genome was published.

Linfa was a close collaborator of EcoHealth Alliance’s Peter Daszak and was named in the leaked 2018 DEFUSE proposal that top virologists have called a ‘blueprint’ for the creation of SARS-CoV-2. Linfa was supervisor of Dr. Danielle Anderson, known as Dani and dubbed the “last and only foreign scientist in the Wuhan lab.” Dani was based on and off at the WIV in the high-security BSL4 lab (not Shi Zhengli’s BSL2 lab) and her role in DEFUSE (and presumably in other projects) was to test the creations of American virologists like Ralph Baric on the bats held at the WIV.

So, one scenario consistent with this is that, upon publication of the genome sequence, Linfa realised the virus was his – which is to say, an EcoHealth Alliance research product from the US that Dani was testing in the WIV’s BSL4 lab – and notified Beijing, triggering the shift to a biosecurity response.

What Linfa did next is also consistent with this scenario. He says he went to Wuhan and discussed the as-yet unpublished RaTG13 with Shi Zhengli. RaTG13 was famously published by Shi on January 23rd 2020 to push, as per the paper’s eventual title, a “probable bat origin” of the new coronavirus. This paper is widely thought to be part of the coverup (Shi may have been ordered to publish this by the Chinese Government, which may explain why she did it even though it drew unwelcome attention to her lab).

Other scenarios are available of course, such as a leak from Shi’s lab (somehow accounting for the evidence above) or a leak from a different lab in Wuhan, as Robert Kogon has suggested

In my view, the striking similarity to the DEFUSE proposal makes the virus more likely than not to be an EcoHealth Alliance research product, and Linfa’s resignation and apparent involvement in the coverup add to this picture.

But either way, the apparent cluelessness of the Chinese Government until the sequence was published, and the abrupt switch afterwards to something that looks a lot like a biosecurity response, indicates the Chinese Government may have been alerted to the leak only after the sequence was published. This is consistent with, and even suggestive of, an American origin with the EcoHealth Alliance crowd, via Linfa and Dani.

Republished from The Daily Sceptic

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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