June 15, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – As journalists and government agencies continue to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears increasingly likely that the novel coronavirus was unleashed, inadvertently or not, by a Chinese virology lab in Wuhan, where dangerous “gain of function” research was being done on bat coronaviruses of the COVID-19 variety.
However, the potential scandal is magnified by the fact that the Chinese were not conducting these dangerous experiments on their own; much of the research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology labs was being advocated, defended, and funded by the leadership of the United States National Institutes of Health and the United States Agency for International Development, in coordination with the World Health Organization and various U.S. universities and institutes.
If it is ultimately proven true that the Wuhan Institute of Virology unleashed the novel coronavirus upon the world, then not only China, but the United States and the global health establishment as well will be implicated in the worst socioeconomic and political crisis of the 21st century, a pandemic that has now taken the lives of over 400,000 people and has wreaked havoc on the global economy.
The circumstantial case against the laboratories operated by the Wuhan Institute of Virology is strong, even if it is not definitive. The researchers at the WIV specialized in bat coronaviruses that are most closely related to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and they admit that they sampled at least one such virus that was identical in 96% of its genome. This relative of the novel coronavirus, RaTG13, is the closest one known to scientists, with the second being a Pangolin coronavirus that is only 91% the same.
Moreover, the theory initially embraced by the Chinese government, that the pandemic arose from the handling of wild animals at a market in Wuhan, has been so thoroughly debunked that it now has been officially discarded by Chinese authorities themselves. This theory was the most viable alternative to the lab origin theory of COVID-19.
Now a new study by Australian researchers has highlighted evidence that the virus developed in human cells, possibly in a laboratory cell culture, before being unleashed upon the world. Confronted with the Australian study, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, seems to have backtracked in his narrative about the novel coronavirus. In the past he has trumpeted a study that concluded the virus was of natural origin, and is now stating that he cannot rule out the possibility that, whatever its origin, it escaped from a laboratory.
Even the former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service MI6 believes that the evidence favors the lab origin theory. Sir Richard Dearlove recently told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that “I do think that this started as an accident,” in a Chinese lab, although he holds that more research is necessary to confirm or discard the theory. “It raises the issue, if China ever were to admit responsibility, does it pay reparations? I think it will make every country in the world rethink how it treats its relationship with China and how the international community behaves towards the Chinese leadership,” Dearlove told The Telegraph’s podcast program Planet Normal.
After exhaustively reviewing the evidence in favor of the Wuhan lab theory, two eminent virologists, Jonathan R. Latham and Allison Wilson, concluded recently that “a lab escape is by far the leading hypothesis to explain the origins of Sars-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists approvingly cites Lathamm and Wilson’s article, and states that the lab origin theory is a “plausible, if unproven, possibility.” They add that “it is most definitely not ‘a conspiracy theory’”
The disturbing possibility that a Wuhan virology lab is the source of the outbreak would not only inculpate Chinese researchers, but the global health establishment itself, which cooperated in the research through a collaboration between U.S. health agencies, the communist Chinese government, and the United Nations. The moral leadership in this international research effort was, indisputably, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, led by Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose names are now famous for their leadership in the coronavirus pandemic as well.
Adding to the potential scandal is the futile motive for such dangerous research: an obsessive drive for vaccines and anti-viral treatments to address mass outbreaks of disease, an approach that has been largely discredited over more than 60 years of experience. While vaccines have had relatively little effect on new pandemic forms of influenza, scientists have repeatedly warned against the increasingly hazardous research on viruses that could unleash plagues of the very type they are meant to address.
In the meantime, the United States and most of the nations of the world have remained woefully unprepared for pandemic disease outbreaks. In the U.S., Fauci, Collins, and other top health officials found themselves unable to prevent an epidemic that they had supposedly spent decades preparing for, dithering and bickering for six weeks over developing a test for the novel coronavirus while the disease spread undetected through the American population. In other countries, such as Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, testing and contact tracing on inbound travelers and their contacts was deployed immediately, saving their people and economies from devastating “lockdowns.”
Following their bungling of the crisis, Fauci and other health leaders essentially dictated the imprisonment of millions of people in their homes and the shutdown of the global economy, in imitation of Communist China, a country with which they have collaborated for decades despite its dismal record of lies and cover-ups regarding disease outbreaks. Until recently, they were encouraging states to continue in a state of confinement and enforced “distancing” until a vaccine can be produced, a project that could take years. They have also issued a stream of questionable and often contradictory guidelines that may have aggravated the COVID-19 death toll rather than suppressing it.
How did this happen? How was the world thrown into chaos by the poor decisions of a small elite of health officials and global bureaucrats? The story may well begin with Anthony Fauci’s obsession with vaccines and antiviral treatments, rather than testing and confinement of disease outbreaks. The desire for treatment over prevention led Fauci and Collins to endorse controversial and dangerous “gain of function” research on viruses, which was, in effect, outsourced to China while it was prohibited in the U.S.A.
Dangerous “gain of function” studies on animal viruses promoted by Fauci and Collins
Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins have been publicly promoting and defending dangerous “gain of function” studies on viruses since the first experiments of the kind were announced in 2011. Such studies, which seek to make viruses infectious in new species of mammals and even humans, were being done in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the suspected source of the COVID-19 outbreak that is now sweeping the world – and they were being done in part with funding from the National Institutes of Health, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Fauci has long held that the principal way to respond to epidemics of disease is to produce vaccines and other treatments for the disease. This has led him to push for controversial virus research universally recognized as highly dangerous, even more so than earlier research that has resulted in past outbreaks and even pandemics.
“Gain of Function” research seeks to take animal viruses from bats, birds, and other non-human virus carriers, and to genetically modify them to alter their mode of functioning, enabling them to become infectious in other animal species, even in humans. Medical researchers have repeatedly expressed alarm regarding such experiments, arguing that they could inadvertently cause new pandemics.
This new field of experimentation was begun in the late 2000s by Ron Fouchier, a researcher at Erasmus University in Holland, in response to outbreaks of another virus, an “avian flu virus” of the H5N1 variety that could infect people but could not be transmitted from person to person. Fouchier wanted to know if a mutation could enable the H5N1 virus to become transmissible in mammals, so he modified it and attempted to pass it through a Ferret population. He succeeded and announced his results in 2011, and published them in Science in 2012. Another scientist, Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, published similar results the same year in Nature after infecting ferrets with a hybrid virus created in his lab.
The publication of both studies generated alarm and met with serious resistance. Before their publication the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) urged that certain details be removed from the published version of the studies because of the danger they could be used for bioterrorism. However, their advice was ultimately rejected and the papers were published in full.
In reaction to the controversy, Dr. Fauci and his superior, Dr. Collins, came to the defense of the controversial new research in December of 2011, in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post, in which they admitted that the studies had been funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. In the piece, the two gave an impassioned defense of Gain of Function studies. The statement’s title was frank, and to the point: “A flu virus risk worth taking.”
“Important information and insights can come from generating a potentially dangerous virus in the laboratory,” the two wrote, along with Gary Nabel, NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center director.
However, they assured the public that “high-security” measures would protect them from the danger of outbreaks. “The engineered viruses developed in the ferret experiments are maintained in high-security laboratories,” they wrote. “The scientists, journal editors and funding agencies involved are working together to ensure that access to specific information that could be used to create dangerous pathogens is limited to those with an established and legitimate need to know.”
Following the publication of the articles, eminent scientists such as Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, repeatedly sounded the alarm against the research. In 2014 he organized a large coalition of eminent virology researchers, called the Cambridge Working Group, which published a “Statement on the Creation of Potential Pandemic Pathogens” expressing their concern that a pandemic could be unleashed from a virology lab, especially given the large number of security breaches that had recently occurred.
“Recent incidents involving smallpox, anthrax and bird flu in some of the top US laboratories remind us of the fallibility of even the most secure laboratories, reinforcing the urgent need for a thorough reassessment of biosafety,” the group declared. “Such incidents have been accelerating and have been occurring on average over twice a week with regulated pathogens in academic and government labs across the country.”
Regarding the controversial Gain of Function studies, the group noted that, “accident risks with newly created ‘potential pandemic pathogens’ raise grave new concerns. Laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses, especially but not limited to influenza, poses substantially increased risks. An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger outbreaks that would be difficult or impossible to control. Historically, new strains of influenza, once they establish transmission in the human population, have infected a quarter or more of the world’s population within two years.”
Lipsitch and the Cambridge Working Group’s efforts seemed to meet success: in the same year, 2014, the National Institutes of Health defunded such research and launched a massive reform of procedures after the discovery of long-discarded, uncontrolled vials of deadly pathogens at a Food and Drug Administration lab on its campus that revealed systematic failures of lab security in the U.S.
However, advocates of gain of function research ultimately prevailed when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began to allow funding for such experiments in 2018 – a decision that was publicly applauded by Anthony Fauci, whose NIAID began paying for the research at a U.S. facility. The approval, which appears in the document “Guiding Funding Decisions about Proposed Research Involving Enhanced Potential Pandemic Pathogens” explicitly allowed for the creation of viruses that could cause a pandemic, that is, a “potential pandemic pathogen” (PPP), even one whose potency has been enhanced artificially, if certain criteria are met.
However, in the interim, the National Institutes of Health already had begun funding coronavirus research at another organization outside of the United States: the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China. The institute, which had been receiving money from the U.S. Agency for International Development for years, would now receive part of a $3.7 million grant from the NIH funneled through another organization, the “EcoHealth Alliance.”
Enter the Wuhan Institute of Virology
The origins of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) go back to 1956, when the Chinese Academy of Sciences founded it as the “Wuhan Microbiology Laboratory.” After several name changes, it received its current name in 1977. Its main purpose was the study of disease for the purpose of improving agriculture, and was known for having created a highly-effective insecticide for killing insects using insect viruses.
However, in 2002 a new disease broke out in China: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which has been called “the most severe socio-political crisis for the Chinese leadership since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.” A total of 8,098 people were infected in 29 countries, and 774 died. It was caused, like COVID-19, by a coronavirus, and like COVID-19, the SARS outbreak was initially covered up by the Chinese government, allowing it to spread to a large number of foreign countries. In response to the crisis, the WIV’s scope of investigation was expanded for the purpose of researching viral disease in humans.
Given that SARS coronavirus was believed to have originated in bats, researchers at the WIV began to collect and study such viruses from various bat caves in China. They would enter the caves, capture bats, take blood and saliva samples, swab their anuses, and obtain fecal matter and urine that might contain SARS-like coronaviruses.
The research was dangerous from the beginning. Simply collecting and studying coronaviruses can cause new outbreaks if security protocols are not followed to the letter, and this is precisely what happened in a Chinese lab in 2004, where two different outbreaks of SARS were caused by security breaches. The outbreaks occurred despite the fact that the security protocols were rated as an “acceptable” biosafety level three, but it appears that the rules were not really obeyed at the Beijing facility. Nine individuals were infected, and one died – and again, the Chinese government waited weeks to inform the public. Other, smaller outbreaks were also reportedly caused by labs in Taiwan and Singapore in 2003.
The leading expert at the WIV on bat coronaviruses was Shi Zhengli, an eminent researcher who became known internationally as the “bat lady.” During the 2000s, Shi led an international team of researchers to sample viruses from thousands of horseshoe bats throughout China, and published their initial findings with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in 2007. They finally found bats living in caves in the province of Yunnan in the southeast of China that were infected with human-like coronaviruses, and spent five years swabbing their rear ends and collecting their feces. By the early 2010s, the WIV’s research was receiving funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of its now-defunct “PREDICT” program.
By 2013 the researchers had found a SARS-like coronavirus in the Yunnan caves, and by 2017, they had demonstrated that all of the genetic material to make the original SARS virus was present in those coronaviruses,, and that it was possible to spawn such a virus through the process of genetic exchange. However, the theory that the bats of the Yunnan caves were the source of the original SARS outbreak was a weak one at best, given that the caves were thousands of miles away from the original place of the outbreak, Guangdong province, and local residents had never shown signs of SARS. Nonetheless, it was hailed as a great breakthrough by fellow researchers.
Gain of function research of the kind defended by Fauci and Collins was also going on at the WIV lab. As early as 2015 the lab did an experiment in which it combined a part of the original SARS virus, the “spike protein” that enabled it to penetrate human cells, and placed it in a “wild” bat coronavirus to create a hybrid or “chimera” pathogen that was able to infect human cells as well as the lungs of mice in a way similar to the SARS virus that caused the 2002 outbreak.
“The results indicate [that the chimeric viruses] . . . replicate efficiently in primary human airway cells and achieve in vitro titers equivalent to epidemic strains of SARS-CoV,” wrote Shi Zhengli and her colleagues in their article for Nature. “Additionally, in vivo experiments demonstrate replication of the chimeric virus in mouse lung with notable pathogenesis.”
Alarmingly, the researchers also found that their new chimera virus could not be stopped by human antibodies nor the equivalent of a vaccine. “Evaluation of available SARS-based immune-therapeutic and prophylactic modalities revealed poor efficacy; both monoclonal antibody and vaccine approaches failed to neutralize and protect from infection with CoVs using the novel spike protein,” they wrote.
The results were met with expressions of grave concern by scientists critical of gain of function studies. Simon Wain-Hobson, a virus researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, told Nature magazine that he disapproved of the research, pointing out that the WIV had created a new virus hybrid that “grows remarkably well” in human cells. “If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,” he told the publication.
Molecular biologist Richard Ebright concurred, and dismissed the usefulness of the research to human medicine. “The only impact of this work is the creation, in a lab, of a new, non-natural risk,” he told Nature.
Despite the riskiness of the research and despite its own moratorium on funding experiments of this kind in the USA, in 2014 the U.S. National Institutes of Health began giving a total of $600,000 to the WIV through an intermediary organization called the “EcoHealth Alliance,” as part of a $3.4 million grant for coronavirus research, most of which went to Chinese organizations (some sources, however, report that the total grant was $3.7 million). According to Politico, the NIH was joined in its funding of the WIV by several U.S. universities and the National Wildlife Federation. The WIV was also included in a network of labs recognized by the World Health Organization, and it was upgraded to a biosafety level lab (BSL-4), the highest security rating available, in 2015, the year of the chimera experiment.
The funds coming from the National Institutes of Health were therefore going to an institute that was conducting the very kinds of research that the NIH had temporarily defunded in the United States due to security concerns.. The dangerous research, in effect, had been outsourced to China, a country with comparatively little experience in sophisticated virus research and a long track record of safety breaches.
The journal Nature reported again in 2017 on the controversial research that was being done by the WIV, noting that “some scientists outside China worry about pathogens escaping, and the addition of a biological dimension to geopolitical tensions between China and other nations.” However, added Nature, “Chinese microbiologists are celebrating their entrance to the elite cadre empowered to wrestle with the world’s greatest biological threats.”
The Nature article also noted that the concerns about the lab were in part based on the fact that “the SARS virus has escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times” in the early 2000s.”
A second phase of funding by the National Institutes of Health for viral research by the WIV was approved in 2019. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and under pressure from President Trump and others in his administration, the NIH has now canceled all funding to the WIV, to the consternation of gain of function research proponents. The NIH claims that the second phase of funding was not intended to support gain of function research at WIV laboratories.
Sinister behavior by Wuhan lab concern French and Canadian collaborators
In the wake of the SARS pandemic in 2004, the French government had agreed to help China build a BSL-4 laboratory for studying viruses, a lab that would permit the Chinese to carry out the most dangerous sort of viral research.
According to Chinese officials, the main purpose of the lab would be to develop treatments for disease. “The Wuhan lab will give his group a chance to study how such viruses cause disease, and to develop treatments based on antibodies and small molecules,” said Nature paraphrasing George Gao, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Key Laboratory of Pathogenic Microbiology and Immunology in Beijing. However, according to some reports, from the beginning some French officials were wary about the project, concerned that the Chinese government would not give them clear information about what had happened to BSL-3 laboratories that France had helped China construct for the SARS pandemic in 2004.
Nonetheless, construction of the new facility finally began in Wuhan in 2010 under the auspices of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The French oversaw the construction, with input from the billionaire bioindustrialist Alain Merieux, although Chinese companies did most of the work. The building was completed in 2015 and began a testing phase, but already a major problem regarding lab security had arisen: due to the questionable competence of the Chinese construction companies, the French organization charged with certifying the lab, Technip, refused to do so.
In 2016, the WIV lab provoked concern among French national security officials when they made a request for more BSL-4 anti-viral suits than they needed, raising suspicions that the extra suits would be diverted to viral research labs run by the military, presumably for biowarfare research. Their request was denied by the French.
“The order was much higher than the real needs of the Wuhan lab,” an anonymous diplomat knowledgeable about the case told the French publication Challanges, explaining that the excess suits might have been destined for research purposes at a military laboratory. “China has long been suspected of having such a place in the north of the country, but we don't have enough evidence,” he told the publication.
Moreover, relations began to break down between French health officials and the lab. In 2015, Alain Merieux resigned from the co-chairmanship of the French-Chinese joint committee overseeing the operation, calling the lab a “very Chinese tool,” and adding, “It belongs to them, even if it was developed with technical assistance from France.” In the following year, the committee ceased to have meetings altogether, according to Merieux. In 2017, the French health minister Marisol Touraine announced a collaboration in which 50 French researchers would work at the new lab for five years, but it never came to pass. It appears that the Chinese government was no longer sharing information with their former French helpers.
Further concern was raised about the WIV when a Chinese researcher affiliated with the Wuhan lab, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, as well as her husband Keding Cheng and a number of Xianuggo’s students from China were escorted out of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory (NBL) on July 5, 2019, and their security access to the lab was revoked.
The actions were taken as a result of an investigation launched by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the behest of officials at the NBL. Canadian media reported that in the process, Xianuggo’s computer had been confiscated and her requests to travel to China had begun to be denied. Later, the couple were also removed from their teaching positions at the University of Manitoba. Police told reporters that they were investigating a “policy breach” at the facility, but would not speak further about the matter.
Subsequent reports in the Canadian press indicated that three months earlier, unnamed scientists at the lab had sent live samples of the highly dangerous Ebola and Henipah viruses to Beijing on an Air Canada flight. Anonymous sources told the Canadian Broadcasting Company that the viruses “may have been shipped to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in a way that circumvented the lab's operating procedures, and without a document protecting Canada's intellectual property rights,” in the words of the CBC. The Public Health Agency of Canada refused to tell the CBC whether or not the shipment had to do with the removal of the two scientists, but claimed that “all protocols were followed” in the shipments.
In October of 2019, the CBC reported that Xiangguo Qiu had made five different trips to the Wuhan Institute of Virology BSL-4 lab during 2017-18, in one case for training the WIV researchers. Personnel at the Canadian lab had found the trips to be troubling and suspicious.
According to the CBC article, “there have always been questions about Qiu's trips to China — and what information and technology she was sharing with researchers there.” An employee of the Canadian lab told the CBC, ”It's not right that she's a Canadian government employee providing details of top-secret work and know-how to set up a high-containment lab for a foreign nation.”
Finally, on January 26th of this year, the lab’s affiliation with the Chinese military was confirmed when leadership of the operation was given to a major general in China’s People’s Liberation Army, Chen Wei, who leads the Institute of Bioengineering at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences.
Australia’s Daily Telegraph has also revealed recently that a member of the board of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Professor Wu-Chun Cao, is the director of the State Key Laboratory of Pathogen and Biosecurity, which is a part of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences. He holds the rank of colonel in the People’s Liberation Army.
The government’s portrayal of Chen as a heroic fighter against disease has been naively echoed by American mainstream media sources such as Anna Fifield of the Washington Post. However, experts who study the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction say that Chen’s Institute of Bioengineering is involved in what the Chinese government calls “bio-defense,” that is, the use of disease agents in warfare – purportedly for defensive purposes.
American diplomats sound alarm about safety at new WIV lab
Despite the touted security precautions taken at the lab, by early 2018 American diplomats in Wuhan were beginning to express grave concerns about the level of safety at the WIV’s new BSL-4 lab, which was in a pre-opening testing phase. Following a visit by a diplomatic delegation to the lab in January, embassy officials sent two cables to Washington expressing their concerns about the findings. The text of one of the two cables was recently leaked to the Washington Post.
“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” one of the cables stated, according to the Post.
“The cable was a warning shot,” an unnamed U.S. official told the newspaper. “They were begging people to pay attention to what was going on.”
Strong circumstantial evidence of lab origin first recognized by Chinese researchers
The theory that a lab accident in Wuhan might be the cause of the novel coronavirus outbreak has become increasingly supported by circumstantial evidence. The theory was first brought to the attention of the public by two Chinese scientists, Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao of the South China University of Technology, who published a pre-print of their article in February of this year on ResearchGate before it disappeared without explanation (a web archive version can still be found here).
The pair point out that the two most likely sources of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan are two laboratories that were collecting and conducting experiments on bat coronaviruses at the time of the outbreak, not Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market, which is the source originally named by the Chinese government.
The two scientists note that, although a high percentage of people who had COVID-19 symptoms in Wuhan had visited the Huanan Seafood Market, and a large number of positives were found in samples collected in the market after the outbreak, the market itself was not selling bats, and was more than 1000 miles away from the bat caves where such SARS-like coronaviruses are known to exist. However, the two labs studying the same virus were very close to the seafood market.
The closest of the two labs to the Huanan Seafood Market was the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention (WHCDC), which was about 280 meters away. According to the two scientists, the center was doing collection of pathogens from bats and other animals.
The “WHCDC hosted animals in laboratories for research purpose [sic], one of which was specialized in pathogens collection and identification,” the authors write. “In one of their studies, 155 bats including Rhinolophus affinis were captured in Hubei province, and other 450 bats were captured in Zhejiang province.” They also note that the lab’s collection expert had had to quarantine himself after bats bled and urinated on him, and that the first doctors infected by the novel coronavirus were working in the Union Hospital adjacent to the WHCDC.
However, the authors note, a Wuhan Institute of Virology lab was also fairly close, only 7.5 miles away from the seafood market. Moreover, it was the Wuhan Institute of Virology that was doing research on the very kind of bat coronaviruses that cause COVID-19, which included research involving the creation of virus hybrids that could infect humans. The authors also note that concerns had been raised about the dangers of unleashing a pandemic from the lab.
The Huanan Seafood Market theory is further discredited by a study published in January by the Lancet, which notes that the earliest known case of COVID-19, which arose on December 1 of 2019, had no known link to the market. Recently the Chinese government abandoned the seafood market origin theory altogether, but is now claiming that the pandemic began outside of Wuhan.
The novel coronavirus has “gain of function” modification not found in others of its type
Given the WIV’s ongoing research involving gain of function in coronaviruses, it has been noted by researchers that the novel coronaviru (SARS-CoV-2), has a strange modification that is not found in other coronaviruses of its type, according to a study published online on February 10 of this year by the National Institutes of Health. This modification appears to be crucial for the deadly “spike protein” that allows the virus to penetrate the cells of human beings.
The study “identified a peculiar furin-like cleavage site in the Spike protein of the [novel coronavirus] 2019-nCoV, lacking in the other SARS-like coronaviruses,” according to the authors. This cleavage site allows the virus to infect lung tissue more easily.
“Since furin is highly expressed in lungs, an enveloped virus that infects the respiratory tract may successfully exploit this convertase to activate its surface glycoprotein,” the authors write. “Before the emergence of the [novel coronavirus] 2019-nCoV, this important feature was not observed in the lineage b of betacoronaviruses.”
Another study published in May of 2020, supports this conclusion, stating that “our findings confirm (Coutard et al., 2020) that the SARS-CoV-2 contains a furin-like cleavage site absent in CoV of the same clade,” and that “The SARS-CoV-2 spike is significantly different from any other SARS that we have studied.” The study’s authors are reportedly preparing to issue another analysis stating that “the Covid-19 virus has ‘unique fingerprints that cannot have evolved naturally and are instead ‘indicative of purposive manipulation,’” in the words of Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.
This powerful modification in the spike protein, which appears to have increased the penetrating power of the novel coronavirus, seems eerily consistent with the kind of “chimera” gain of function studies already occurring at the WIV lab in 2015. Then, the lab’s researchers openly proclaimed that they had spliced a SARS-like spike protein onto a bat coronavirus that enabled it to penetrate human cells.
Such a modification could theoretically occur in nature, but how likely was such an event, and moreover, how likely was it to happen in Wuhan, China, without the massive transport of such viruses from hundreds of miles away that is known to have been carried out by researchers? The authors of the initial NIH study do not answer this question; in fact, they do not state their opinion at all about the origin of this “gain of function” modification.
Some researchers claim that the spike protein, indeed, appears to be a genetic mutation that occurred naturally rather than through genetic splicing in a lab. The most cited source for this claim is a letter sent to Science Medicine by several researchers working at different institutes, published March 17 under the title “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2.”
The researchers acknowledge the existence of the “furin cleavage site” that appears in the spike protein, but argue that it hasn’t yet been proven to enhance the penetrating capacity of a virus. They also claim that the spike protein isn’t really “ideal” for penetrating human cells in comparison to the original SARS virus, and that the novel coronavirus “is not derived from any previously used virus backbone.”
These arguments require the public to take the word of the WIV researchers regarding what viruses they have or have not used in their laboratory, and given the Chinese government’s secrecy and even attempts to destroy evidence in the case, such trust would seem ill founded.
The strong opposition among many virologists to the lab origin theory may be explained in part because of the commitment of the US CDC’s leadership to gain of function studies, as well as the very intimate working relationship so many researchers have with Chinese virologists and with the international organizations that support their research.
Steven Mosher, a social scientist specializing in China and President of the Population Research Institute, noted to LifeSite that if the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab is “is guilty of releasing a plague on the planet–which I believe is clearly the case–then all of those associated with [Shi Zhingli] in one way or another are tainted by association. I believe this is why so many virologists continue to claim that the virus ‘came from nature’ when the evidence clearly points to an ‘unnatural’ origin.”
“Animal passage” studies not ruled out as source of pandemic, say scientists
Moreover, the alternative “animal intermediary” theory does not rule out the WIV laboratory or any other lab as a potential source for the COVID-19 pandemic. The most common alternative theory holds that the modifications probably occurred within an intermediate species of mammal, such as a pangolin, that the virus passed through on its way to humans, or perhaps occurred after passing directly from a bat into a human subject. However, researchers say that neither of these scenarios require a natural cause — both could be brought about by experiments in a lab that have gone awry.
“Animal passage” experiments, which seek to pass a virus from one species into another for the purpose of bringing about a modification that makes the virus contagious in the second species, is one of the two alternative ways of doing “gain of function” research in the first place. If the WIV did experiments similar to those announced by Fouchier in 2011, then they could have caused the mutations that produced the novel coronavirus by passing bat coronaviruses through ferrets or some other type of mammal.
Yet strangely, the authors of the Science Medicine letter claim that they have ruled out “animal passage” studies as a possible source of the virus, an assertion strongly rejected by Dr. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University.
Ebright told Newsweek in a recent interview that the Science Medicine letter’s reasoning is “unsound” on this point. “They favor the possibility that the virus mutated in an animal host such as a pangolins' yet, simultaneously, they disfavor the possibility that the virus mutated in animal passage,” Ebright said. “Because the two possibilities are identical, apart from location, one can't logically favor one and disfavor the other.” He added that a field worker working with animal viruses could contract a virus and act as an intermediary for transmission as well.
New evidence from Australian researchers favors lab origin theory
Moreover, the very kinds of experiments described by the WIV in 2015 could produce, even if unintentionally, modifications to a coronavirus that would make it contagious in humans, according to Nikolai Petrovsky, a Professor in the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University in Australia.
Petrovsky, who is working on a vaccine for COVID-19, agrees that the structure of the virus does not indicate it was deliberately spliced together, but he notes that if a bat coronavirus were cultured in human cells, as the WIV researchers say they were doing, the virus might be “forced” to adapt its spike protein to those cells, and therefore become particularly infectious in humans.
“Take a bat coronavirus that is not infectious to humans, and force its selection by culturing it with cells that express human ACE2 receptor, such cells having been created many years ago to culture SARS coronaviruses and you can force the bat virus to adapt to infect human cells via mutations in its spike protein, which would have the effect of increasing the strength of its binding to human ACE2, and inevitably reducing the strength of its binding to bat ACE2,” writes Petrovsky in a statement published by the Australian Science Media Center on April 17.
Petrovsky, together with three other scientists, recently published the preliminary, non-peer-reviewed results of a computer simulation that tested the binding strength of the novel coronavirus with the ACE2 receptor of humans as well as a variety of animals, and found that the coronavirus was optimized for binding with human ACE2, more than any of the animals tested.
The scientists write that “this finding is particularly surprising as, typically, a virus would be expected to have highest affinity for the receptor in its original host species, e.g. bat, with a lower initial binding affinity for the receptor of any new host, e.g. humans. However, in this case, the affinity of SARS-CoV-2 is higher for humans than for the putative original host species, bats, or for any potential intermediary host species.”
The study shows, “that the strength of binding of COVID-19 to human ACE2 far exceeds the predicted strength of its binding to the ACE2 of any of the other species,” wrote Petrovsky on April 17. “This points to the virus having been selected for its high binding to human ACE2. In the absence of evidence of historic human infections with this virus, which could result in such selection, this either is a remarkable coincidence or a sign of human intervention.”
Petrovosky also notes that “no natural virus matching to COVID-19 has been found in nature despite an intensive search to find its origins,” adding that this “raises the very legitimate question of whether the COVID-19 virus might be the result of human intervention.”
He concludes that it is “entirely plausible that the virus was created in the biosecurity facility in Wuhan by selection on cells expressing human ACE2, a laboratory that was known to be cultivating exotic bat coronaviruses at the time,” and speculates that in such a case “the cultured virus could have escaped the facility” in various ways, through infection of a staff member, inappropriate waste disposal. He calls for “a full and independent international enquiry” into the matter.
Richard Ebright told LifeSite in an email interview that the results of Petrovsky’s study “are plausible,” but cautioned that the results “are from computational modelling, not from experiments, and therefore must be considered as provisional at best.” The study’s results would have to be verified by physical experiments, Ebright told LifeSite.
An amazing coincidence?
The theory that the outbreak came from the consumption of or contact with an exotic animal species, one that acted as an intermediary for the virus between bats and humans and presumably sold in the Huanan market or some other similar market in Wuhan, is made even more unlikely by the fact that the bats that are known to carry SARS-like coronaviruses similar to the novel coronavirus live in caves in Yunnan province almost 1000 miles away from Wuhan. The only confirmed form of connection to those locations is the research being conducted by the WIV, which repeatedly sent researchers to the cave in order to collect the same kind of SARS-like coronaviruses that cause COVID-19.
Although the virus may not have been deliberately constructed in a Wuhan laboratory, it is possible that it was picked up by a field worker from the WIV while collecting virus samples from bats. Even scientists who have been quick to close ranks and play down or even deny any possible connection to the WIV lab admit that such accidents can happen.
The Washington Post, while duly noting that most scientists have rejected the theory that the novel coronavirus escaped from a lab, reports that U.S. scientists with experience in the field told them that the protective gear used by the WIV “while helpful, would not necessarily have shielded the workers from being scratched or bitten by horseshoe bats” and that the N95 masks used by WIV personnel “are inadequate for blocking all viruses, even when used properly.”
One anonymous scientist who studies pathogens in wild animals told the Post, “Whether the staff are interacting with bats in the wild or in the lab, they are routinely putting themselves at risk of infection.”
Although the WIV lab had a biosafety level four rating, the highest level of security for such labs, the protocols are only as good as those who are charged with maintaining them. In the 2004 incident in which two different SARS outbreaks were caused by a Beijing lab, the protocols would have prevented the incidents if they had been followed, scientists say.
Antoine Danchin, an epidemiologist with the Hong Kong University Pasteur Research Center, in 2004 told the online publication The Scientist that normally “it's not possible to contaminate people even under level two confinement, if the security rules are obeyed, with the appropriate hoods, and so on. So it suggests there has been some mishandling of something” in the SARS outbreak of that year.
“The lab might have all the right rules, but the people may not comply!” Danchin added. “For example, notebooks are not supposed to be taken out, a lot of things like that. A virus doesn't jump on people!”
Richard Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, told the Washington Post that it is “not credible” to claim that the WIV lab could not have been involved in the release of the virus.
Ebright has long opposed gain of function research, concerned that it could unleash a potential pandemic virus on the world. He holds that such research has created massive risks and has yielded no positive results for fighting disease.
Chinese government’s own behavior indicates it has something to hide
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has vigorously denied that the novel coronavirus came from their lab. The WIV’s lead coronavirus researcher, Shi Zhengli, says that she compared the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, to the viruses her team at the WIV had collected from bat caves and found no matches. The closest relative recorded by the WIV, according to Shi, is only 96% the same, and she and a team of researchers reported the existence of this similar virus, called “RaTG13,” on January 22. She claimed that this discovery “took a load off my mind,” and says “I swear with my life” that the novel coronavirus did not come from a WIV lab.
Shi’s claim, however, remains unverifiable, as the Chinese government has continued to deny access to the laboratory to foreign observers, and to refuse to allow an international investigation of the origins of the novel coronavirus. The government’s consistent pattern of lying, cover-up, and concealment, has made such claims virtually worthless.
From the moment that the outbreak became evident to doctors in Wuhan, Chinese government authorities have attempted to hide the truth from the public. Doctors who tried to sound the alarm were censored by the local provincial government, which sought to hide the very existence of a dangerous epidemic. One doctor, Li Wenliang, who later died of COVID-19, sought to warn colleagues about the danger of the disease in late December and was forced by local police to sign a statement repenting of his statements and promising to cease making them after they spread through social media. A total of eight doctors were reportedly investigated by Wuhan authorities. Li Wenliang eventually died of the disease and is now considered a hero in China.
The muzzling of disease experts did not end with doctors such as Li Wenliang. The Wuhan Institute of Virology itself reportedly was muzzled after it sequenced the genome of the novel coronavirus on January 2. According to the Daily Mail, on that very day the director of the institute, Yanyi Wang, sent an email to “staff and key officials” ordering them to not reveal information about the disease to others.
According to social media posts that the Daily Mail says were “confirmed by activists and Hong Kong media,” Wenliang warned in the email that “general panic” was being caused by “inappropriate and inaccurate information,” presumably about the novel coronavirus.
Only eight days later, Chinese scientists at a Shanghai laboratory released the first genome sequence of the novel coronavirus. The government responded by shutting it down the very next day, and prohibited other scientists from studying the virus, requiring them to destroy all samples in their possession. They later claimed that this order was given to reduce the risk of further outbreaks from labs.
The government continued to play down the danger of the virus even while it locked down Wuhan province and dramatically curtailed air travel throughout China, telling foreign governments that they should not stop air travel to and from China. They also insisted to the World Health Organization that there was no great danger to the public, a claim that the WHO repeated to the world. These measures allowed the Chinese to prevent the spread of the virus in China while allowing the virus to move freely to other countries, infecting the world.
“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” said the WHO’s general director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in late January. “We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent.” Even after China began to restrict movement within its own country in February, the WHO was continuing to discourage countries from shutting off travel from China. “WHO continues to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks,” the organization stated on February 27. “In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.”
The Chinese government has also lied repeatedly about the total number of deaths, and when the outcry from an incredulous world became too much, adjusted the official figure by increasing the total number of deaths in Wuhan by 50%, which is still likely to be a serious underestimate of the true number.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have repeatedly stonewalled attempts by foreign researchers to obtain data gathered by authorities that might lead to the origins of the virus, including the World Health Organization. It still has not shared with any foreign lab the earliest samples it took of the virus in December of 2019.
Security breaches are a problem with virology labs worldwide
Security breaches at the WIV would not be surprising, given that such failures have happened in many virology labs worldwide, a problem stretching back decades in the United States and Europe.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2019 noted the dismal track record of such labs, and expressed concern that ongoing gain of function studies could unleash a viral pandemic upon the world, calling such research a “likely pandemic threat,” and opining that “Whatever release probability the world is gambling with, it is clearly far too high a risk to human lives.”
“Incidents causing potential exposures to pathogens occur frequently in the high security laboratories often known by their acronyms, BSL3 (Biosafety Level 3) and BSL4,” noted the Bulletin. “Lab incidents that lead to undetected or unreported laboratory-acquired infections can lead to the release of a disease into the community outside the lab; lab workers with such infections will leave work carrying the pathogen with them.”
“If the agent involved were a potential pandemic pathogen, such a community release could lead to a worldwide pandemic with many fatalities,” they added. “Of greatest concern is a release of a lab-created, mammalian-airborne-transmissible, highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, such as the airborne-transmissible H5N1 viruses created in the laboratories of Ron Fouchier in the Netherlands and Yoshihiro Kawaoka In Madison Wisconsin.”
Numerous lab breaches have been documented by government agencies and the media over the last few decades. In 2009, lab researchers in a Centers for Disease Control BSL-4 facility exited an infectious disease lab into a decontamination chamber where they should have received a chemical shower to kill any pathogens on their suits, but the chemical showers failed, and the door to the lab began repeatedly to open, potentially recontaminating the chamber, while pressure alarms went off. The dangerous incident, which USA Today compared to a “screenplay for a disaster movie” was hidden from the public for over five years.
In another case in 2014, seventy-five federal employees were accidentally exposed to the deadly disease agent anthrax at a CDC lab, the fifth of a series of similar incidents over the previous decade which led to the total shutdown of the laboratory. The mass anthrax exposure also followed several other recent revelations of accidental exposure to dangerous pathogens occurring at CDC labs, which led to restrictions on research on such pathogens and a moratorium on more dangerous “gain of function” research.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota told Scientific American that the security breaches at the labs have “become a very dark cloud on lab science,” and called it a “shot heard round the world,” indicating that the same could happen in foreign labs. “This could easily have been one of them,” he said.
Security breach at Chinese laboratory led to H1N1 pandemic in 1977
The worst confirmed fiasco in the history of the quest for vaccines as a response to viral pandemics was the 1977 H1N1 pandemic, which today most researchers believe was unleashed by a laboratory, one that may have been doing vaccine research on a new flu that caused panic in 1976. The sequence of events leading to the pandemic was a comedy of errors on the part of health officials that cost taxpayers millions of dollars in unneeded research, killed dozens of vaccine recipients, and finally caused the very kind of disease outbreak the research was meant to prevent.
The panic began in the United States, when an outbreak of flu caused by an H1N1 “swine flu” virus caused 13 hospitalizations and one death at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The outbreak was stopped at the fort but it raised fears in the administration of U.S. President Gerald Ford, which saw the virus as potentially as dangerous as the 1918 H1N1 virus that had killed 50 million worldwide. Ford therefore decided to push for the quick implementation of a vaccine to protect the population, with the declared purpose of vaccinating every American.
By the time the vaccine was prepared, the flu had already disappeared, but the Ford administration decided to launch a national vaccination campaign anyway. Forty-eight million Americans received the vaccine, which, because it had been made in haste with live virus, ultimately provoked the paralyzing Guillain-Barré syndrome in over 500 people. A total of 25 people ultimately died from the reaction and others suffered permanent damage.
However, the expensive vaccine and associated deaths were not the end of the story. In response to the H1N1 outbreak, labs around the world began to experiment with existing stocks of H1N1 that they had kept in freezers for decades, following the disappearance of the H1N1 influenza A virus 20 years earlier. Suddenly, in May 1977, the H1N1 influenza A virus reappeared in exactly the same form it had had twenty years earlier, proving conclusively that it was released from a lab – probably one in China, where the disease first reappeared.
The revived H1N1 virus then swept the world in a now-forgotten pandemic misnamed the “Russian flu” that mostly affected children, and fortunately appears to have had no detectable effect on seasonal flu death rates. The global scramble to investigate H1N1 for the purpose of making a vaccine for a non-existent pandemic had now created a true pandemic, albeit one that was mild in its effects.
A little over thirty years later, the world would experience a similar farce with the emergence, again, of an H1N1 “swine flu” outbreak, this time originating in Mexico in 2009. The flu, which tended to be more deadly for the non-elderly, sparked panic in Mexico and worldwide as hospital death toll numbers were published daily. A scramble began for the search for a vaccine at immense expense, causing concern that the rush could produce a dangerous vaccine, as it had in 1976.
However, as the flu spread it became clear that the 2009 swine flu was not much more deadly overall than seasonal flu, although it is estimated to have killed about 12,000 Americans during its initial run, 87% of which were less than 65 years of age. Most of those hospitalized had preexisting conditions.
By the time the vaccine was introduced in late 2009, the pandemic had already fizzled, and there was little interest in the vaccine among Americans, despite prodding from Dr. Anthony Fauci and Barack Obama. Health care workers in New York state protested against rules requiring them to receive the vaccine, concerned that it hadn’t been tested and could create adverse health effects. In the end, more than half of the massive H1N1 vaccine stockpile purchased by the U.S. government was left unused, and most of those doses – 71 million in total, were simply disposed of.
Critics say dangerous research gives “no results” for fighting viral diseases
A more recent example of the same kind of dangerous research is found in the recent funding by Fauci of experiments on avian flu viruses for the sake of creating future vaccines, which involved modifying the flu virus to make it transmissible to humans. Although such research was controversial among scientists and had been prohibited by the Obama administration in 2014 after documentation of alarming security breaches, health officials had again approved the experiments and allowed U.S. government funding, reported the journal Science in February of 2019, followed by the New York Times in March of 2019. The Times article quoted Fauci defending the research, writing that he regarded it as a “sound decision to let the research resume,” and noting that his institute had given more than $600,000 to the effort.
The National Institutes of Health was not the only organization funding research on animal viruses. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) established a program in 2009 called “PREDICT” to attempt to study animal viruses and anticipate possible disease threats in humans. The studies involved the same kind of “gain of function” research condemned by researchers and restricted by U.S. health officials.
In particular, USAID and PREDICT also supported research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The PREDICT program was canceled in 2018, a move that was decried by advocates but supported by scientists who doubted its efficacy and worried about the dangers it created.
Richard Ebright, who studies infectious diseases at Rutgers, told Newsweek in April that despite the touted benefits of such research promoted by PREDICT, the program had had zero beneficial results in fighting disease after ten years of existence.
“The PREDICT program has produced no results—absolutely no results—that are of use for preventing or combating outbreaks,” Ebright said. “There's no information from that project that will contribute in any way, shape or form to addressing the outbreak at hand. The research does not provide information that's useful for developing antiviral drugs. It does not provide information that's useful for developing vaccines.”
Obsession with vaccines rather than disease prevention at root of problem?
Such dangerous research was embraced and promoted by Fauci, Collins, and the American health establishment, because of a general orientation towards vaccine and antiviral drug research, rather than the more traditional methods of addressing infectious disease outbreaks, including contact tracing and quarantine. Such methods, if carried out rigorously and early in a novel disease outbreak, can eliminate a new disease entirely.
Fauci has used his extensive experience with HIV and AIDS as a pretext to approach all viral diseases with the same strategy of researching vaccines and medical treatments. Although after decades no vaccine has been developed for HIV, medical treatments can now extend the lifespan of sufferers for many decades. However, the same success has not been found in many cases of infectious disease, particularly influenza-like pandemics that rapidly sweep populations that quickly develop a “herd immunity” to the disease in question.
A review of recent pandemics illustrates the point. In the 1957 influenza pandemic, a vaccine was developed quickly but was only partially effective and had little impact on the disease. By 1958 the virus had simply become part of seasonal flu. The 1968 influenza pandemic appears also not to have been impacted substantially by the vaccine that was developed to counteract it. The 1976 and 2009 “swine flu” scares also resulted in hasty vaccine production that had little beneficial effect.
The SARS outbreak in 2002 is particularly illustrative. A vaccine was produced for the disease by 2004, but by then it had literally ceased to exist, because traditional contact tracing and quarantining had eliminated the illness.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has long admitted that the United States is unprepared for a pandemic outbreak. However, instead of advocating a system of rapid testing and contact tracing, which if applied properly could save the U.S. from virtually any new contagious illness epidemic, he has pushed for more and more research dollars for vaccines, hoping that new scientific discoveries will somehow eliminate the threat of disease altogether.
Fauci’s unfortunate mentality was on display at two different conferences on pandemic preparedness in 2017. In a conference on the topic organized by the Smithsonian Institution, Fauci gave a talk in which he admitted that vaccine production always comes too late to stop pandemic influenza outbreaks, and so argued for a “universal vaccine” to prevent all forms of influenza. Until then, Fauci claimed, we would be unprepared for global influenza pandemics.
At another conference organized by Bill Gates the same year, Fauci again pursued the theme of a “universal vaccine” even while admitting that the “antiquated measures” of contact tracing and containment had eliminated SARS in 2002 without a vaccine (see 26:00-27:33 on video). By the time of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the United States in January of 2020, Fauci and other U.S. health leaders had still failed to create a rapid-response system of testing and contact tracing, the only method known to effectively suppress potential pandemic disease outbreaks.
The obsessive push for the development of drugs and vaccines through viral research, rather than reasonable preventative measures may ultimately be found to lie at the foundation of the COVID-19 pandemic. It may have led not only to the creation and unleashing of the novel coronavirus itself, but also to a state of unpreparedness with regard to containment.
As beneficial as viral research can be in certain contexts, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins’ excessive focus on dangerous gain of function research and lack of emphasis on traditional epidemic control may now have helped to create the most destructive pandemic the world has seen since the 1918 influenza pandemic. It has driven them and other national health leaders into a dangerous entanglement with China, and a naive dependency on the Chinese-influenced World Health Organization. The current predicament of the world following the COVID-19 pandemic should lead to a rigorous search for the source of the outbreak and ultimately, a reassessment of the state of pandemic control and the science – or lack thereof – of pandemic disease control.
Email the author at [email protected].