The most ‘credible’ theory about the origin of COVID-19 is that it escaped from a Chinese laboratory, according to US National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, who made the comment during a Zoom meeting with UK officials.
“There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus,” said Pottinger, referring to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to the Daily Mail, which notes that ‘even China’s leaders openly admit their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.’
Pottinger was one of the first US officials to sound the alarm at the White House over the origins of the virus in January 2020, when he initially suspected that the outbreak originated in a Chinese lab – after which Pottinger ordered US intelligence agencies to search for evidence. Good thing he kept this theory to himself, or Twitter may have banned him.
He also slammed the World Health Organization’s probe as a ruse – saying “MPs around the world have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise,” referring to the facade villages created in 18th Century Crimea to convince the visiting Russian Empress Catherine the Great that the region was doing well.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory Party leader who attended the meeting, said Mr Pottinger’s comments represented a ‘stiffening’ of the US position on the theory that the virus came from a leak at the laboratory, amid reports that the Americans are talking to a whistleblower from the Wuhan institute.
‘I was told the US have an ex-scientist from the laboratory in America at the moment,’ he said. ‘That was what I heard a few weeks ago.
‘I was led to believe this is how they have been able to stiffen up their position on how this outbreak originated.’
He added that Beijing’s refusal to allow journalists to visit the laboratory only served to increase suspicion that it was ‘ground zero’ for the pandemic. ‘The truth is there are people who have been in those labs who maintain that this is the case,’ he said.
‘We don’t know what they have been doing in that laboratory. They may well have been fiddling with bat coronaviruses and looking at them and they made a mistake. I’ve spoken to various people who believe that to be the case.’ –Daily Mail
“Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story,” Pottinger told the call participants.
Meanwhile, emails obtained via a public records request revealed that influential scientists have been hard at work crafting the ‘natural origin’ thesis, while suggesting a lab leak as a ‘fringe conspiracy theory.’ Via USRTK.org:
* * *
Influential scientists and many news outlets have described the evidence as “overwhelming” that the virus originated in wildlife, not from a lab. However, a year after the first reported cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, little is known how or where the virus originated. Understanding the origins of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19, may be crucial to preventing the next pandemic.
The emails of coronavirus expert Professor Ralph Baric – obtained through a public records request by U.S. Right to Know – show conversations between National Academy of Sciences (NAS) representatives, and experts in biosecurity and infectious diseases from U.S. universities and the EcoHealth Alliance.
On Feb. 3, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) to “convene meeting of experts… to assess what data, information and samples are needed to address the unknowns, in order to understand the evolutionary origins of 2019-nCoV, and more effectively respond to both the outbreak and any resulting misinformation.”
The early draft described “initial views of the experts” that “the available genomic data are consistent with natural evolution and that there is currently no evidence that the virus was engineered to spread more quickly among humans.” This draft sentence posed a question, in parentheses:
“[ask experts to add specifics re binding sites?]” It also included a footnote in parentheses: “[possibly add brief explanation that this does not preclude an unintentional release from a laboratory studying the evolution of related coronaviruses].”
In one email, dated Feb. 4, infectious disease expert Trevor Bedford commented:
“I wouldn’t mention binding sites here. If you start weighing evidence there’s a lot to consider for both scenarios.”
By “both scenarios,” Bedford appears to refer to lab-origin and natural-origin scenarios.
The question of binding sites is important to the debate about the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Distinctive binding sites on SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein confer “near-optimal” binding and entry of the virus into human cells, and make SARS-CoV-2 more contagious than SARS-CoV. Scientists have argued that SARS-CoV-2’s unique binding sites could have originated either as a result of natural spillover in the wild or deliberate laboratory recombination of an as-yet-undisclosed natural ancestor of SARS-CoV-2.
The final letter published Feb. 6 did not mention binding sites or the possibility of a laboratory origin. It does make clear that more information is necessary to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2. The letter states,
“The experts informed us that additional genomic sequence data from geographically – and temporally – diverse viral samples are needed to determine the origin and evolution of the virus. Samples collected as early as possible in the outbreak in Wuhan and samples from wildlife would be particularly valuable.”
The emails show some experts discussing the need for clear language to counter what one described as “crackpot theories” of lab origin. Kristian Andersen, lead author of an influential Nature Medicine paper asserting a natural origin of SARS-CoV-2, said:
the early draft was “great, but I do wonder if we need to be more firm on the question of engineering.”
“If one of the main purposes of this document is to counter those fringe theories, I think it’s very important that we do so strongly and in plain language…”
In his response, Baric aimed at conveying a scientific basis for SARS-CoV-2’s natural origin.
“I do think we need to say that the closest relative to this virus (96%) was identified from bats circulating in a cave in Yunnan, China. This makes a strong statement for animal origin.”
Meanwhile, 27 scientists issued a statement drafted by Daszak (who didn’t want to be identified as its author), in which they “strongly condemn[ed] conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” and reported that scientists from multiple countries “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” The letter included no scientific references to refute a lab-origin theory of the virus.
One scientist, Linda Saif, asked via email whether it would be useful “to add just one or 2 statements in support of why nCOV is not a lab generated virus and is naturally occuring? Seems critical to scientifically refute such claims!”
Daszak responded, “I think we should probably stick to a broad statement.”
The emails show how members of EcoHealth Alliance played an early role in framing questions about possible lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 as “crackpot theories that need to be addressed,” as Daszak told The Guardian.