A new probe carried out by the Telegraph has revealed that 26 out of 27 scientists who wrote a letter in the Lancet medical journal trashing the lab-leak theory of the COVID-19 outbreak have or had links to researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Ever since the coronavirus outbreak flared up in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the ground zero of the pandemic that later swept across the world, scientists have been debating about the origins of the contagion, with the virus being leaked from a lab being one of the most widely believed hypothesis. Many had suspected that the virus was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China where researches on the virus are regularly conducted.
But the clamour surrounding the leak of the virus from Wuhan was quelled after 27 scientists in the Lancet rejected the theory as baseless and insisted that the virus originated through conventional means. A letter written by the 27 scientists published by The Lancet in February 2020 had said that they “strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” and had claimed that scientists from multiple countries “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.”
Being published in a respected medical journal, this letter had effectively shut down any serious probe into the lab leak theory for the origin of the virus at that time. While the authors of the letter had not revealed any link with the Wuhan lab, soon it was revealed that the letter was orchestrated by British zoologist Peter Daszak, president of the US-based EcoHealth Alliance, which funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In June last year, the journal was forced to issue a clarification regarding Peter Daszak’s link with the laboratory, admitting that vital information was not revealed earlier when the letter was published.
At the time of publishing the letter, Daszak had failed to disclose his conflict of interest when signing the letter. Daszak’s organization, the EcoHealth Alliance, funnelled $3.4 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to study bat coronaviruses between 2014 and 2019.
Now, the investigation by the Telegraph reveals that not just Daszak, but baring one all the signatories to the letter published in The Lancet medical journal were associated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, raising concerns over the possible prejudice in dishing out a clean chit to their Chinese counterparts.
According to emails made public through Freedom of Information requests, Daszak had reportedly admitted on February 8 that he composed the letter after being shown support by his collaborators in China.
Besides, other researchers who are tied to the Wuhan Institute of Virology include, Dr Jeremy Farrar, a Tropical medicine expert and SAGE adviser & The Wellcome Trust, London. A member of the UK’s Sage and the director of the Trust, Farrar had also been a part of Britain’s Wellcome Trust, and has in the past published work with George Gao, the head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, whom he has described as ‘an old friend’. Gao reportedly has close links to Dr Shi Zhengli, the infamous Chinese scientist have known by her moniker ‘batwoman’ for her research into bat coronaviruses in Wuhan.
Professor Linda Saif, a Microbiology expert, is another signatory who was found to be associated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and was one of the signatories in the Lancet letter. Saif had earlier participated in a workshop partly organised by the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2017, along with Gao and Dr Shi.
The investigation also revealed that the signatories were interlinked and had a symbiotic relationship with each other. For instance, two other signatories in the Lancet letter were also a part of the Global Virome Project, whose treasurer is none other than Dr Peter Daszak. The Global Virome Project, an organisation whose goal is to detect and identify 99 per cent or more of potential zoonotic viral threats, was launched with the help of Dr Gao, and EcoHealth Alliance is listed as one of the partners.
Intriguingly, the Global Virome Project succeeded the Predict project, which founded more than 1,000 unique viruses in animals and humans. It was also revealed in the investigation by the Telegraph that the Predict Project had also partly funded the controversial work of Wuhan researchers on bat coronaviruses, who researched ways to infect humans with the viruses.
Another scientist who was found to have links to Wuhan researchers is Professor John Mackenzie. A Tropical infectious diseases expert from Curtin University in Perth, Australia, Mackenzie did not reveal that he was still listed as a committee member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan institute while signing the letter disregarding the lab-leak theory.
In addition, several other scientists, including Professor Kanta Subbarao, Professor Prof Ralph Baric, Professor Peter Palese, Professor Charles Calisher, Professor Bernard Roizman, were found to have some or other link to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
While The Lancet had published an addendum on the link of Peter Daszak with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, it has not published any clarification regarding the other authors of the letter.
Out of 27 researchers who signed the Lancet letter, only one – Dr Ronald Corley, a microbiology expert from Boston University – was found to have no links back to funders or researchers at the Wuhan Institute.