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The Wuhan lab leak is now the most likely origin of the coronavirus pandemic because Beijing tried to cover it up, MPs were told today.
Harvard scientist Dr Alina Chan told the Science and Technology Select Committee that it is ‘reasonable’ to believe that Covid was genetically engineered in China.
She also said that the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up of the initial outbreak in Wuhan two years ago and attempts to sabotage the World Health Organisation’s inquiry into the origins of the pandemic made the lab-leak theory likely.
Tory peer Lord Ridley, who has co-authored a book on the origin of the virus with Dr Chan, said the fact that experts have still not found the animal host that would support a natural origin despite two years of research supports claim that Covid came from a lab.
Recent revelations of China’s attempted cover-up have forced British and US intelligence officials to take seriously the lab-leak hypothesis, once dismissed as a crank conspiracy theory.
However, the bombshell allegations are likely to heap pressure on the UK Government to challenge Beijing’s assurances that the virus came from the natural world. They are also likely to raise further questions about the relationship between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the WHO, which last year was accused of publishing a whitewash report into the outbreak.
Dr Chan told MPs: ‘I think the lab origin is more likely than not. Right now, it’s not safe for people who know about the origin of the pandemic to come forward.
‘But we live in an era where there is so much information being stored that it will eventually come out. We have heard from many top virologists that a genetically-engineered origin is reasonable, and that includes virologists who made modifications to the first SARS virus.’
During the same session, the editor of the Lancet Richard Horton was forced to explain why he allowed the publication of a letter denouncing the lab leak theory as a conspiracy, despite its lead author having financial affiliations to the WIV.
Mr Horton said he found out about Dr Peter Daszak’s link ‘very quickly’ after the Lancet published the letter in February last year.
Dr Daszak persuaded 26 other scientists to sign off on the letter he had written claiming the virus could only have been natural in origin and to suggest otherwise creates ‘fear, rumours, and prejudice’.
But the EcoHealth Alliance boss was revealed to have been funneling US tax-payer funds into the Wuhan lab, which investigated and modified coronaviruses before the pandemic.
The Lancet published an addendum to the letter in June this year – 16 months after it was initially published – acknowledging Dr Dazak’s competing interests.
Dr Chan added: ‘We know this virus (Covid) has a unique feature, called the furin cleavage site, and without this feature there is no way this would be causing this pandemic.
‘A proposals was leaked showing that EcoHealth and the Wuhan Institute of Virology were developing a pipeline for inserting novel furin cleavage sites. So, you find these scientists who said in early 2018 ‘I’m going to put horns on horses’ and at the end of 2019 a unicorn turns up in Wuhan city.’
Lord Ridley said: ‘I also think it’s more likely than not because we have to face the fact after two months we knew the origins of SARS, and after a couple of months we knew MERS was though through camels, but after two years we still haven’t found a single infected animal that could be the progenitor, and that’s incredibly surprising.
‘We need to find out so we can prevent the next pandemic. We need to know whether we should be tightening up work in laboratories or whether we should be tightening up regulations related to wildlife markets. At the moment we are really not doing either.
‘We also need to know to deter bad actors who are watching this episode and thinking that unleashing a pandemic is something they could get away with.’
A May 2021 report from The Wall Street Journal cited an undisclosed intelligence report detailing how three scientists from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the Covid pandemic.
The lab specialised in engineering dangerous coronaviruses and is the only level four biochemical lab in China.
An article in the respected Science journal on May 14 kick-started the surge in interest for the lab-leak theory.
Some 18 experts wrote in the journal that ‘we must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data’.
Later that month, a study by British Professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sørensen claimed it had ‘prima facie evidence of retro-engineering in China’ for a year.
The study included accusations of ‘deliberate destruction, concealment or contamination of data’ at Chinese labs.
It followed statements from the WHO Director General, US and EU that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve.
Previously, the theory had been dismissed as conspiracy by most experts, partly because of its association with Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden in May ordered a full investigation into the origin of the pandemic virus and demanded scientists work out whether there is truth to the theory.
The head of the WHO insisted just a day earlier that the theory that Covid emerged from a Wuhan lab has not been ruled out – as he said China should help solve the mystery out of ‘respect’ for the dead.
The body’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggested that Beijing had not cooperated fully as he urged more ‘transparency’ in the continuing investigation.
However, several other sects of the scientific community continue to suggest the virus could only be natural in origin.
A series of recent papers pointed to the virus evolving in animals before being transmitted to humans, in the same way as all other previously discovered coronaviruses.
The first study, published in Scientific Reports , showed some 47,000 wild animals from 38 species were sold across four markets in Wuhan between May 2017 and November 2019.
The authors, including Dr Chris Newman, an evolutionary ecologist at Oxford University, claimed the evidence showed the conditions for animal-to-human transmission were in place in Wuhan.
But they acknowledged there was no proof Sars-CoV-2 was present or originated in any of these animals.
A joint WHO-China investigation also concluded it was ‘very likely’ the virus jumped from bats to humans via an as-yet-unknown intermediary animal.
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