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Washington Post editorial board: China’s stonewalling on the coronavirus is unacceptable

The Washington Post editorial board published a piece today pointing out that two years since the initial spread of the coronavirus, we still don’t really know where it came from. The piece is broken into three parts that consider the three most likely origins of the virus, starting with the natural spillover theory. Here the Post notes there have been serious scientific efforts to find the source of the virus or at least to find where it is spreading but they have so far turned up empty.

If zoonotic spillover in China triggered the pandemic, one might expect to find the pandemic strain in some of these places. But so far, researchers have not.

Recently, a group of scientists led by Zhiqiang Wu published the preliminary results of a study in which they cast a very wide net looking for the pandemic virus — or a progenitor closely related to it — among bats in China. They examined 703 sampling sites in urban, rural and wild areas across China where bats are suspected or confirmed to carry sarbecoviruses. Swabs from 13,064 bats were examined. They found plenty of samples related to the first SARS virus from 2002-2004. But “we did not find any” viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 in the samples, they said, indicating the pandemic virus “might not actively circulate among bats in China.” Similarly, in the joint China-World Health Organization report issued in March, it was reported that, in “sampling and testing of 38,515 livestock and poultry samples and 41,696 wild animal samples from 31 provinces in China from 2018 to 2020, “no positive samples were found” for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies or nucleic acid tests…

Is China seeking answers? The leadership covered up the human transmissibility of the virus for the first three weeks of January 2020. Then the government advanced a propaganda campaign claiming the virus originated outside China, perhaps in the United States at the biodefense facility at Fort Detrick, Md. China is governed by an authoritarian party-state. Would a researcher dare to contradict the propaganda now?

Another possibility is that the virus was picked up by a researcher collecting samples for the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That would be a case of natural spillover but one mediated by the activity of researchers at the Chinese lab. Here there are probably documents that could be examined to rule this possibility out but the Chinese director of the WIV has claimed that no such accidental infection ever happened and that’s all we’re likely to get on that.

Finally, there is the lab leak theory. Here the Post mentions the documents recently turned up by DRASTIC and highlighted in a piece at the Atlantic. Those documents seem to demonstrate that Peter Daszak was proposing research at the WIV in Wuhan which DARPA refused to fund because it was effectively gain-of-function research.

One lab experiment he suggested would engineer a furin cleavage site onto the backbone of a coronavirus. This would enhance the virus to better infect human cells in the same way as the pandemic strain did. The WIV was a partner in the proposal, along with a lab at the University of North Carolina and others.

DARPA rejected Mr. Daszak’s proposal, saying it included potential gain-of-function research. Did the WIV go ahead with any such research on its own? Could it have replicated Mr. Daszak’s proposal?

Again, the only word from China on this is that it didn’t happen and then they have their foreign minister and state media repeatedly suggest that maybe this was a lab lead emanating from Fort Detrick in the US.

The coronavirus is literally the biggest story in the world two years in a row. The fact that we don’t know more about how it happened and that China is still playing games blaming it on the US really should be unacceptable. These questions can’t be allowed to fade away. It’s good to see the Post continuing to demand answers. The piece concludes, “No investigation will succeed as long as China’s doors remain shut. The silence is deafening.”

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