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Finally, the World Health Organization has sent investigators to Wuhan, China, ground zero for COVID-19, to begin the belated search for the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Today they will emerge from 14 days of quarantine. They should go straight to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where high-risk research, funded by US taxpayers, was being conducted into animal-to-human transmission of bat coronaviruses, a few miles from where the first COVID-19 cases were discovered.
Reputable virologists around the world point to the Wuhan lab as the most likely source of the pandemic, probably due to an accidental leak, because of its research into a bat virus named RaTG13, the closest known relative of the new coronavirus that has killed 2 million people worldwide.
And yet WHO’s team of crack investigators say they may not ever go to the lab. They may not even meet the scientist who was conducting that risky research, China’s so-called bat woman, Shi Zhengli.
There is no more vociferous opponents of the “lab leak” hypothesis than Peter Daszak, the British-born head of New York based nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, and the only US representative of the WHO team.
Daszak, as other scientists have pointed out, has a conflict of interest, because he worked closely with Zhengli in her bat research, co-authored scientific papers with her and funneled to the Wuhan Institute part of the $100 million in US government funding he received.
Daszak did not reply to e-mailed questions yesterday but he told the Going Viral podcast last week, from quarantine in his Wuhan hotel room, that while the WHO team would be inspecting the Wuhan seafood market, it had no plans to visit the nearby Wuhan Institute, although “if evidence says we should go to the lab, we will.”
He has to be kidding.
The evidence is overwhelming that the pandemic emanated from Wuhan, and the most likely origin is the Wuhan Institute where Daszak’s research partners had been doing risky “gain of function” research on bat coronaviruses to genetically manipulate them to infect human cells.
If the WHO team does not investigate the Wuhan Institute, it is party to a cover-up.
We know the institute obtained samples of bat coronaviruses sourced in 2013 from the Mojiang Mine some 600 miles away, where three miners who had prolonged contact with bat feces became ill and died from a COVID-like illness. We also know the institute obtained blood and tissue samples from the ailing miners.
We know Daszak was co-author with Shi of a November 2017 paper in the PLOS Pathogens journal about SARS-related viruses collected from that mineshaft.
We know that Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is listed as a funding source for the paper that identified the virus BtCoV/4991 in the mineshaft under a subcontracted grant from Daszak’s EcoHealth to the Wuhan Institute.
Without a forensic examination of the institute’s records, we don’t know for certain what was done with these virus samples between 2013 and October 2019 when the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan.
But we do know from its published papers that the Wuhan Institute was doing gain-of-function research on other bat coronaviruses.
Shi declared last year: “I swear with my life, [the virus] has nothing to do with the lab.”
But suspicions linger. If the virus had leaped spontaneously from animals to humans in the Wuhan seafood market, as Daszak and others suggest, it would immediately have started to mutate to better adapt to its human hosts.
Instead, it has been remarkably stable, which suggests either it had been circulating silently in China before the outbreak, which is unlikely given strict Chinese surveillance of viruses after the SARS epidemic, or it was trained to adapt to human hosts at the Wuhan Institute, and leaked.
Most virologists are loath to support the lab-leak theory for fear gain-of-function research will be banned and their funding dry up.
But Nikolai Petrovsky, professor of medicine at Flinders University in South Australia, who is developing a promising recombinant protein vaccine for COVID-19, is one of the few willing to speak out for the public good.
“It came as a surprise when our research and that of other scientists suggested that, from the very first strains of COVID-19 isolated in December 2019, the virus was already perfectly adapted to infect and transmit between human hosts. How this pre-adaptation to humans came about still needs to be satisfactorily explained.”
Petrovsky says it is “simply not credible” that the Wuhan Institute would have failed to study the new virus until it had used up all the sample.
However, Daszak is adamant that the institute was not interested in the new bat coronavirus and just “put it in the freezer” for six years until 2020 when the similarity to COVID-19 was realized. That is what he told Wired magazine last February.
Yet Shi admitted in July to Science Magazine that she was sequencing that virus in 2018. Daszak also claimed the Wuhan Institute researchers “don’t keep the bats.”
However, the Wuhan Institute lodged a patent in 2018 for bat-rearing cages and in November 2019 filed its only patent, for treating wounds sustained while working with viruses in a biosafety lab.
So there are inconsistencies between what Daszak and Shi are telling the world about activities at the institute and what the evidence suggests.
Daszak was also quick to shape the media narrative on the origins of the pandemic. E-mails released under Freedom of Information laws reveal that he drafted an influential letter from 26 scientists published in The Lancet in February 2020 dismissing the lab-leak hypothesis as a “conspiracy theory” and insisting the virus emerged naturally.
Yet at the same time, a Wuhan-based professor, Botao Xiao, and a Wuhan hospital employee, Lei Xiao, published a preprint paper saying “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. Safety level may need to be reinforced in high-risk biohazardous laboratories. Regulations may be taken to relocate these laboratories far away . . . densely populated places.”
Tighter regulations around virus experimentation are the least we should expect, but with vested interests pouring scorn on the lab-leak theory and WHO investigators perversely incurious, don’t hold your breath.
Prioritize kids, not teachers unions
As an avowed “union man,” Joe Biden is in a unique position to reason with recalcitrant teacher unions to get schools open.
Instead, as evidence mounts of the tragic cost of school closures, including a surge in student suicides, the president is siding with the unions.
Despite scientific consensus that children are not COVID “superspreaders,” and are less likely than adults to become infected, teachers want to keep drawing a paycheck for staying at home.
Unions have pushed teachers to the front of the vaccination queue and in New Jersey are demanding that students be immunized before schools fully open even though vaccines have not been approved for children.
In Chicago the union refusing to reopen schools is crying “sexism, racism and misogyny.”
The fact is teachers are not at high risk of COVID infection. In November Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza reported 0.2 percent positive tests among 120,000 teachers and students, far lower than the city average.
Offered the opportunity to stop the child abuse, Biden this week blathered about making classrooms “safe and secure” with new ventilation systems, more testing, more taxpayer money and endless delays until every outrageous union demand is met. Meanwhile, millions of children wither on the vine, especially low-income black and Hispanic kids trapped in public schools. So much for “equity.”
Biden is big on following “the science,” so he should tell teachers to ignore union scaremongering and get back to work or resign.
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