The hypothesis suggesting that SARS-COV-2 leaked from a Chinese lab in Wuhan is "plausible" and "deserves further investigation," says a study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
Although the study was prepared in May 2020, it has attracted fresh interest in Congress as the White House investigates the theory coronavirus leaked from a lab, something that was previously regarded as a crackpot idea. However, China's Foreign Ministry has denounced the probe and accused Washington of "political manipulation and blame shifting."
Abrupt Change of Mind
"The speed with which we moved from sneering at and even canceling views that COVID-19 may have been engineered, to the present, when media, social media, and academia accept this theory as being possible, reasonable, or even probable is noteworthy," says Wall Street analyst and investigative journalist Charles Ortel.
On 23 May, a previously undisclosed US intelligence report surfaced claiming that several researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November 2019 and were hospitalised shortly before the confirmed COVID outbreak.
Earlier, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told American senators on 11 May that the possibility of the virus having escaped from the lab "certainly exists," adding that he was "totally in favour of a full investigation of whether that could have happened." The statement came in contradiction with his earlier assertions that available evidence on the origins of the virus "are totally consistent with a jump from a species from an animal to a human." Thus, on 17 April 2020, Fauci rejected the notion that the coronavirus was created in a lab during a White House press conference.
On 25 and 26 May, Fauci said the National Institutes of Health (NIH) designated a modest grant of $600,000 for China's Wuhan Institute of Virology to study whether bat coronaviruses could be transmitted to humans. Although he denied that the NIH funded any "gain-of-function research" into whether a virus can change in a way that increases pathogenesis, transmissibility, or host range, he didn't rule out that the grantees could do that on their own. "You never know," Fauci said, while testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health & Human Services.
Big Tech has shifted the goalposts too. Despite issuing a warning in February 2021 that it would remove claims that COVID-19 is "man-made or manufactured" from its platform, Facebook has announced that it will no longer take down posts suggesting that.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also appears unsure about the origins of the virus. Despite the entity's March 2021 report concluding the disease most likely originated in a bat or other animal and spread to humans through an intermediate host, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that further studies are needed to find out the roots of SARS-COV-2.
"I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing," Adhanom stated on 30 March. "I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough."
Controversy Surrounds Peter Daszak's EcoHealth
Meanwhile, a trove of Fauci emails released by BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post earlier this month fuelled the ongoing controversy.
One of the emails was from Peter Daszak, a zoologist and president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit that funnelled NIH money into the Wuhan Institute of Virology. On 18 April 2020, Daszak personally thanked Fauci for rejecting the theory that the coronavirus leaked from a lab.
"I just wanted to say a personal thank you on behalf of our staff and collaborators, for publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for COVID-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology," Daszak wrote to the White House chief medical adviser.
According to documents available in the public domain, the NIH announced a grant for a research project titled "Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence" in 2014. The funds were sent through EcoHealth Alliance, a nongovernmental research group that focuses on emerging diseases caused by human and animal interactions. In total, EcoHealth received $3,378,896 in NIH funding for the project with just $600,000 going to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
As then-President Donald Trump doubled down on the Wuhan lab leak theory last year, Daszak drafted an open letter signed by 27 scientists for the reputable peer-reviewed general medical journal The Lancet. The statement that strongly condemned the theory that COVID-19 did not have natural origins was published on 19 February 2020.
Emails obtained by US Right to Know showed that Daszak intended the statement to "not be identifiable as coming from any one organisation or person" but rather to be seen as "simply a letter from leading scientists." The zoologist also remarked that he wanted "to avoid the appearance of a political statement."
In addition to this, Daszak later joined a group of the WHO investigators probing the origins of the coronavirus in China in February 2021, triggering a wave of conflict-of-interest accusations: being part of the WHO and The Lancet investigation teams, the EcoHealth president has had long financial and professional ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Commenting on Daszak's conduct, Nicolas Wade, a British author and former science writer at Nature, Science, and The New York Times, wrote on 5 May 2021 that "virologists like Daszak had much at stake in the assigning of blame for the pandemic." Wade suggested that "if the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Daszak would be potentially culpable." At the same time, however, the author underscored that "so far there is no direct evidence" either for the lab leak theory or the natural origin of the virus.
What is EcoHealth Really Up to?
According to Ortel, there is more controversy surrounding Daszak and his EcoHealth Alliance. For example, the non-profit IRS filings "are replete with apparent errors, and explain that EcoHealth has strayed far from its original authorised tax-exempt purpose which was protecting wildlife facing extinction," the analyst notes.
"As in the case of numerous Clinton 'charities,' Daszak seems to have operated EcoHealth in ways where government grants slipped out of control, potentially to monstrous consequences," the Wall Street analyst who specialises in charity fraud issues suggests.
It also raises questions as to why in addition to NIH and USAID, EcoHealth was funded by the US Department of Defence. According to the Independent Science News website, the Pentagon provided nearly $39 million for the EcoHealth Alliance "including contracts, grants, and subcontracts" between 2013 and 2020. Of this amount, $34.6 million came from the Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a DoD branch tasked with "counter[ing] and deter[ring] weapons of mass destruction and improvised threat networks."
The Independent Science News suggests that for some unknown reason EcoHealth "obscures its Pentagon funding" on its website.
The abrupt change of mind on part of Joe Biden, Anthony Fauci, Big Media, and Big Tech as well as Peter Daszak's EcoHealth programmes give more questions than answers, according to the Wall Street analyst.
On the other hand, the Biden administration's investigation into the origins of the virus appears to be aimed at diverting the public attention from potential questions about the US' virology research to China's role in the alleged "leak," according to a 1 June op-ed by award-winning British journalist Jonathan Cook.
"The Wuhan story provides a chance to understand more deeply how elites wield their narrative power over us – to control what we think, or are even capable of thinking," Cook wrote. "They can twist any narrative to their advantage."