A United Nations (UN) inquiry is the only way of getting to the bottom of whether Covid emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, leading experts have said.
One Cambridge University academic and No10 adviser said the theory has not been ‘adequately explored’, while a respected Harvard epidemiologist said the belief the virus escaped from a secure facility was no longer a ‘fringe position’.
The WHO has already sent a team to the Chinese city, the ground zero of the Covid pandemic, but was not given full access to early records, so the theory has yet to be properly scrutinised.
Today a British scientist said he feels vindicated that the theory the coronavirus may have escaped from a lab is now being considered seriously.
Angus Dalgleish, 71, a vaccine researcher and professor of oncology at St George’s Hospital, last year struggled to find a publisher for his paper suggesting the virus’s spike protein contains artificially inserted sequences.
He said the research was shunned by the scientific community, who did not want to threaten China or be seen to be agreeing with President Donald Trump — who was a big advocate for the theory the virus was leaked from a lab at the time.
Professor David Relman (left), a microbiologist at Stanford University, said the theory that coronavirus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab needs to be investigated by an international consortium of scientists in collaboration with the UN. Angus Dalgleish, 71, a vaccine researcher and professor of oncology at St George’s Hospital, said he feels vindicated that the suggestion is now being considered seriously
A UN inquiry is the only way of getting to the bottom of whether Covid emerged from a lab in Wuhan, experts have said. Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology in China
The oncologist said: ‘The changes required to infect humans are extremely unlikely to have occurred naturally.’
Professor Dalgleish — who ran for Parliament as a UKIP candidate in 2015 — said the President’s use of the terms ‘Wuhan flu’ and ‘China virus’ damaged scientific debate on the subject.
He told The Times: ‘I was basically ostracised. I was fearful — really frightened by the way I was being treated. I was told I was not an expert on coronaviruses and I should just shut up.
Did Covid originate in Chinese lab?
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been collecting numerous coronaviruses from bats ever since the SARS outbreak in 2002.
They have also published papers describing how these bat viruses have interacted with human cells.
US Embassy staff visited the lab in 2018 and ‘had grave safety concerns’ over the protocols which were being observed at the facility.
The lab is just eight miles from the Huanan wet market which is where the first cluster of infections erupted in Wuhan.
The market is just a few hundred yards from another lab called the Wuhan Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (WHCDC).
The WHCDC kept disease-ridden animals in its labs, including some 605 bats.
Those who support the theory argue that Covid-19 could have leaked from either or both of these facilities and spread to the wet market.
Most argue that this would have been a virus they were studying rather than one which was engineered.
Last year a bombshell paper from the Beijing-sponsored South China University of Technology recounted how bats once attacked a researcher at the WHCDC and ‘blood of bat was on his skin.’
The report says: ‘Genome sequences from patients were 96% or 89% identical to the Bat CoV ZC45 coronavirus originally found in Rhinolophus affinis (intermediate horseshoe bat).’
It describes how the only native bats are found around 600 miles away from the Wuhan seafood market and that the probability of bats flying from Yunnan and Zhejiang provinces was minimal.
In addition there is little to suggest the local populace eat the bats as evidenced by testimonies of 31 residents and 28 visitors.
Instead the authors point to research being carried out within 300 yards at the WHCDC.
One of the researchers at the WHCDC described quarantining himself for two weeks after a bat’s blood got on his skin, according to the report. That same man also quarantined himself after a bat urinated on him.
And he also mentions discovering a live tick from a bat – parasites known for their ability to pass infections through a host animal’s blood.
‘The WHCDC was also adjacent to the Union Hospital (Figure 1, bottom) where the first group of doctors were infected during this epidemic.’ The report says.
‘It is plausible that the virus leaked around and some of them contaminated the initial patients in this epidemic, though solid proofs are needed in future study.’
‘We couldn’t believe that people with whom we’d collaborated and published papers with in the past would shun us — I was warned I was out of my depth and I shouldn’t get into this and I’d make a fool of myself.’
The theory the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology was originally dismissed by left-leaning media outlets last year as a conspiracy theory after it was mentioned by Mr Trump, but they have now changed course with the launch of the US investigation.
The liberal media in the US, who slammed Mr Trump when he said a year ago said he had ‘a high degree of confidence’ that the virus escaped from a lab, have finally conceded that he may have been right — after a year ridiculing the suggestion.
Facebook ruled in February it would ‘remove’ any posts that claimed that coronavirus was ‘man-made’ or that the virus was ‘created by an individual, government or country’ — branding it ‘misinformation’ and a ‘debunked claim’ that required ‘aggressive action’ from moderators.
But yesterday the tech giant reversed its ban on its users discussing the theory, just hours after President Biden announced the probe.
It came after it was revealed three workers at the Wuhan lab fell ill in November, 2019, adding to the mounting body of evidence that the virus originated there.
China claims the virus was transmitted to humans from an animal host, with bats and pangolins both named as potential sources.
No10 has not ruled either scenario out, XX
Today, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge Ravi Gupta, a member of Nervtag, said the theory has not yet been investigated with ‘scientific rigour’.
He told The Telegraph: ‘The possibility was not adequately explored due to lack of access to primary records by the WHO group. Lab leak has not been scientifically rejected as a cause using [the] scientific rigour that one would expect.’
A soon to be published report by a team of British and Norwegian experts suggests it is possible to trace the creation of the virus to research in China that began in 2008.
Professor David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University, said the theory needs to be investigated by an international consortium of scientists in collaboration with the UN.
He said: ‘Ideally, an investigation would rely on an international consortium of scientists under the auspices of many national academies of science working in partnership, in collaboration with an international governance entity, the UN Secretary General’s Office, or something of that sort.’
And Harvard epidemiologist Professor Marc Lipsitch said alab escape scenario ‘remains plausible enough that it should be looked into rigorously’.
He told the paper: ‘This is not a fringe position, given that multiple European governments and Dr Tedros have said the same.’
He said that while scientists are not saying a lab origin is more likely than a natural one, a thorough investigation is needed to reveal the cause of the pandemic.
President Biden’s top epidemiologist Dr Anthony Fauci has also u-turned about where the virus may have originated this week, saying ‘you never know’.
Last year he insisted there was ‘no evidence’ to point to coronavirus having been manufactured when Trump raised it as a possibility.
America is looking at the theory seriously, leading to China hitting out at the ‘dark history’ of the US intelligence community after President Biden’s probe was announced.
Lijian Zhao, foreign ministry spokesman who has been Beijing’s point-man in trying to pin blame for the pandemic outside the country’s borders, accused the US of trying to shift blame away from its own high Covid case and death counts – and suggested security services may be involved in a cover-up.
Meanwhile Hu Xijin, editor of the state mouthpiece Global Times newspaper, accused Biden of trying to discredit a WHO investigation which concluded that a lab leak is ‘unlikely’ — although critics have previously blasted that report as a China-centric whitewash.
China’s American embassy also hit out, accusing Biden and his security services of being ‘fixated on political manipulation and (the) blame game’ in a statement on its website.
Dominic Cummings on Tuesday revealed Boris Johnson held meetings last year when it was discussed whether Covid-19 had ‘escaped’ from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan and looked at whether the disease had been ‘engineered’.
It is hardly the first time the WHO has faced down criticism – including by Donald Trump back in May last year – that it was too slow to react to the Covid crisis and uncritically swallowed early reassurances given by Beijing.