A tangible sign of Republicans’ discontent with the Biden administration’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged with a GOP-led effort to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci.
As the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci has served as a White House adviser on COVID-19 under President Joe Biden as well as former President Donald Trump.
A largelysymbolic billofficially titled the Fauci’s Incompetence Requires Early Dismissal Act is being introduced by Republican Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio.
The FIRED Act is scheduled to be introduced Wednesday.
The bill, which has little chance of passage in the Democrat-controlled House, seeks to impose a retroactive 12-year term limit on the jobFaucihas held since 1984, which would effectively force his retirement.
“Few people have earned their termination more visibly,” Davidson said in a statement, according toFox News.
“His excessively long tenure is emblematic of Eisenhower’s farewell address caution against scientific-technical elite steering the country for their own ends — at odds with truth and the national interest,” Davidson said.
Republican Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Ralph Norman of South Carolina are among the bill’s co-sponsors.
Booting Fauci has been proposed before. Last month, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia proposed the “Fire Fauci Act” to cut Fauci’s salary to zero.
“The fact that Fauci was ever paid with tax-payer money is an embarrassment to the United States of America. We should #FireFauci,” he wrote.
“The bill also directs the Government Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct an audit of the policy memos and correspondence within the NIAID. The audit will allow us to see what they knew about COVID-19, when they knew it, and how they responded internally to the disease.”
Massie said Fauci should have been booted by former President Donald Trump over the conflicting and faulty advice Fauci gaveTrump.
“Trump should have fired Dr. Fauci when Trump had the chance,” Massie told theCincinnati Enquirerin April.
“I believe that Trump did a lot of great things for the country, but this is one of his mistakes, letting Dr. Fauci provide the imprimatur of science to all of the governors and encouraging all of them to kill our economy,” he said.
The new bill comes as Republicans are questioning whether the Biden administration mantra of “following the science” is simple PR.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine recently raked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky — a Biden appointee — over the coals.
“I used to have the utmost respect for the guidance from the CDC. I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don’t anymore,” Collins said to Walensky, according toFox News. “[T]he conflicting, confusing guidance from your agency has undermined public confidence and contradicts the scientific guidance of many experts.”
“Way back in the day,” as they say, I pulled a couple of Cold War deployments as a nuclear engineering officer aboard a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser. There was also that submarine experience which was interesting, but the extended nuclear cruiser deployments were richer.
My cruiser was USS Long Beach (CGN-65). We “rode shotgun” for USS Enterprise (CVN-65), providing air and ASW defense on 7th Fleet deployments. Since we were nuclear-powered like Enterprise and had unlimited range at max speed, we both would make Indian Ocean runs for months at a time.
A carrier strike group’s (CSG) operational schedule was punctuated every so often by underway replenishments (“unreps”) for consumables – food, spare parts, mail, etc. Replenishments also refilled Enterprise’s JP-5 fuel tanks. We would use these unreps to top off our JP-5 storage inventory for when ASW helicopters dropped by and needed gas.
Carrier escorts like guided missile cruisers and destroyers often ranged 50-100 miles from the carrier. ASW helicopters would operate off our helo deck so having the refueling option extended their operating capability.
The Navy supported an extended at-sea CSG presence with a supply line comprising a couple of large fast combat support ships called “AOEs”. One would be outbound into the I-O while another would be empty and scampering back to Subic for reload.
Two AOEs were assigned to the “I-O run” to support us:
USS Sacramento (AOE-1) decommissioned in 2004, and
USS Detroit (AOE-4) decommissioned in 2005.
While AOEs were “Costco” – bulk supply delivery, you could also pick up supplies while running by the Indian Ocean base at Diego Garcia. DG was a bit of a convenience store for when you need things and an AOE was still enroute but still far off like transiting the Malacca Straits.
When deployed, AOEs spent as much time at sea as carriers and their guided missile cruiser escorts they supplied – like 80-90% of the time. And most days at sea, AOEs were refueling or resupplying somebody – destroyers, JP-5 for carrier airwings, etc. Once empty, AOEs high-tailed back to Subic or wherever to reload and waved at the other AOE heading into the I-O.
Riding an AOE was anything but a glamorous gig – and a lot of hard work. Especially for the deck and supply departments. Like an Amazon distribution center only moving cargo under difficult conditions a few hundred feet over to a warship. Navy “Sea Knight” helos would also move cargo loaded in nets from the AOE’s pitching deck to the pitching deck of the customer cruiser or destroyer.
Tough duty. Like “Deadliest Catch” tough.
A warship pulling up alongside and hooking up to an AOE can put gray hairs on the heads of young deck and engineering watch officers alike. You’re coming up fast on the AOE. Then you back off the speed as you approach your slot, and gently maneuver to get a few hundred feet close aboard. The deck officers on the bridge would then have to deal with wind and the venturi effects that tend to pull ships together. It can be a challenge maintaining proper course and speed relative to the AOE.
Down in engineering, you listened to the chatter topside, watched your steam generator and DFT levels, and chain-smoked cigars. At least I did. Partly for me. Partly for my watch team who would check to ensure the “LT” was cool – watch officer was always performance art. Your vibe has to be bored and borderline amused.
Once you get your ship close enough to the AOE and matched the its course and speed, your deck crew would simultaneously send over to the supply ship upwards of a half dozen”messenger lines” that would literally hook up both ships. It was a complicated procedure which made “emergency disconnect” a wild and dangerous experience.
Despite the “too cool vibe”, I never liked pulling engineering watch officer rotation aboard my cruiser during underway replenishment – you’ve got 2 reactors to watch (yours as the senior LT, and the one aft is usually run by some rookie engineering officer – a LTJG or Ensign). The officer of the deck up on the bridge would want delicate changes to prop speed on both plants. Steam plants are not delicate.
But if I didn’t have the watch, I really enjoyed being a spectator to this cool choreography. Back then, the US Navy was very competent and you would see a well-practiced execution whenever you did anything.
A couple of times, a deck department chief petty officer would offer to let me shoot over the messenger line. That was always fun – I was pretty good with weapons, and most chiefs knew I was a good shot. Expert shot, to be precise, according to the qual ribbon.
In the case of the messenger line, you used an M-14 to launch the messenger line over to the AOE.
That’s not me in the picture below but this is what it looks like – back then, we didn’t wear hardhats though we should have. A lot more beards at sea, too. I certainly did.
By the way, I don’t like the way this chief petty officer is holding the M-14 but that’s another conversation.
A lot of us loved the Detroit (AOE-4). Her skipper would hold court at “Marilyns” in Olongapo City where San Miguels went for a couple of “p”. Invited to join the Detroit skipper’s table was a real honor – and a hilarious evening.
During replenishments, Detroit‘s skipper was known to play music over their loudspeakers to keep everyone entertained. Detroit‘s song was “Take This Job and Shove It.”
Wasn’t a glamorous job but it had to be done. And people respected work. Skippers did unreps for the decades of their career. Same with the enlisted. Officers knew what the crews had to do. Everyone got dirty – and kept a eye out for things breaking loose and flying by your head.
But that’s another life so very far away.
It’s a long road to paradise and though I feel the pain
They tell me things are different now but I still hurt the same
Haze gray and underway, a world away from you
And miles and miles of blue.
Today, we are led by elites who never had a real job. Our political elites are clueless about how Americans live and what’s important. Managerial elites are “cloud people” – Mandarins. Meanwhile the “deplorables” are “dirt people”. Or “sea people” – moving cargo aboard an AOE in the I-O. Or boxes in an Amazon distribution center.
And that’s the divide.
To be clear, I don’t get my hands dirty with what I now do. Watching the adults in my family as a kid, I figured out I needed job skills – technical job skills – and studied physics so I could do, well, just about anything. Including running nuclear reactors at sea as a 20-something nuclear engineering officer.
It is axiomatic that uninformed people are the easiest to deceive. A corollary to this rule is that people are most certain about the things they understand the least. Scientists are well aware of the gaps in their knowledge, but the evangelist is absolutely certain about the truth of whatever he is peddling. Taken together, intelligence and experience lead to prudence, while stupidity and ignorance lead to foolhardiness.
Working backward from this understanding, we can begin to understand why the American ruling class is going insane. The defining feature of this age is that the people in charge are certain about things that are imaginary. The government, for example, has denied Christians apermitto assemble for the National Day of Prayer, because they fear invisible White Nationalists will launch a revolution.
They think this because they are sure the January protest at the Capitol was part of a plot to overthrow the government. The nation saw mostly flag-waving boomers taking selfies and laughing with the cops. The political class is told it was cover for an invisible army of white supremacists. These white supremacists are lurking out there on the other side of the razor wire, waiting for the chance to pounce.“The defining feature of this age is that the people in charge are certain about things that are imaginary.”
There is no question that the country is at odds with itself and its ruling class over a long list of issues. The race issue remains as troublesome as it was when Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. Our politics are a disaster of fraud and corruption. These are true things, but the ruling class talks about them from a position of ignorance. They sound so weird, because they have no idea what life is like for the rest of us.
This starts with Joe Biden, a man who has spent his adult life in government. His “private sector experience” was at a political law firm for a year fifty years ago. Now, of course, his brain is scrambled eggs, but even if he were still in control of his faculties, he would have no reason to question the claims about invisible Nazis hiding around the capital. Why would he? Everything he knows comes from government.
His second-in-command and future leader of the free world (stop laughing) is Kamala Harris, who has never sullied herself in the dreaded private sector. She spent the first four years of her “work life” making sure Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown was feeling groovy. Then she ran for office and it has been twenty years of uninterrupted life in one elected office after another.Read more
Arguably, the third most powerful person in America is Nancy Pelosi. Under the section titled “Private Sector” on her Wikipedia page is nothing but a string of emoticons to indicate hilarious laughter. Pelosi has never had a real job. In fact, she comes from a family of taxeaters. Her father was a lifelong politician. Her brother was also a lifelong taxeater, largely credited with ruining Baltimore while mayor.
The second banana in the House is the octogenarian Steny Hoyer, who, like his boss, has avoided the private sector his entire life. According to his bio, he was a mediocre student, so he naturally chose politics. He was a Senate staffer while attending law school and then ran for an open seat upon graduation. He has spent 55 years without ever having worked a real job.
It is not just Democrats who are allergic to honest labor. The top Republican in the House is Kevin McCarthy. His first job out of college was as a staffer for Congressman Bill Thomas of California. Then he was chairman of the Young Republican National Federation. He was elected to the California State Assembly in 2002 and then won a House seat in 2006. He has been in
The GOP’s second-in-command in the House is Steve Scalise, a man who appears to have started out in life with the hope of making himself a productive citizen. He majored in computer science at LSU. He must have fallen in with a bad crowd along the way, as he never made it to the dreaded private sector. Instead, it was time in the Louisiana state legislature and then off to his current spot in Washington.
The No. 3 Republican is the most amusing. Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, is the Republican Conference Chair. Unlike her bosses, she technically had a job in the dreaded private sector. She worked at a law firm that is called White & Case LLP. Granted, it is just a cat’s paw for the American empire, but it technically counts as the private sector. After that short run, she was on the dole in one government job after another before landing in Congress.
Of course, these people are surrounded by an army of staffers and consultants who have also avoided real work. The people who occupy the staff spots for elected officials and the congressional committees are just as committed to avoiding honest labor as their bosses. They start as interns, get a staff job out of college, then maybe a trip to law school and then it is back on the government payroll.
This is why these people sound so weird. How could Liz Cheney know anything about the concerns of the people she is supposed to represent? Wyoming is just a place she has read about and visited on vacation. The people of the state would be better off hiring a Frenchman who once went on holiday to Jackson Hole. That Frenchman would know he knows nothing about Wyoming and would maybe hire some locals to help him out. Liz Cheney’s staff is all pod people from the Washington hack-a-rama.
This phenomenon is not exclusive to politics. The media is stocked with carnies who maybe waited tables once, but otherwise have no contact with present reality. Their life is on stage, playing the role written for them by equally obtuse and ignorant people. The mass media is a circus, but the audience is out of sight from the performers. The media carnies cannot hear the laughter and jeering. It is nothing but piped-in applause, which they assume is the real thing.
This brings us back to those axioms of life. The people in charge are running around spouting crackpot conspiracy theories because they know little about the people they govern. They are easily fooled, because they are so ignorant. Why would they question the Russian conspiracy? Everyone they know thinks it is true. Those ants they see through their telescope, the people the rest of us call neighbors, sure seem to be doing what the Russian experts have claimed.
This is why they are so certain of these crackpot theories. They have barricaded themselves behind razor wire and armed men because they are absolutely sure the crackpot theories are true. Again, people are most certain of the things they least understand. The Cloud People know so little of the Dirt People, they will believe anything about them, because they have no way to know otherwise. It is why we find ourselves ruled by increasingly foreign fanatics spouting bizarre conspiracy theories.
History says that when the gap between the reality of the ruling class and actual reality gets too wide, there is a break. The French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution are two examples. The ruling class became detached from the people they ruled, so they could not see what was coming. Similarly, the credentialed naïfs of the managerial class are blind to present reality. They do not know what they do not know, but they are absolutely certain of it and it will not end well.
Look, we all get our Sock Puppet president – this guy who never worked for a living spent 50 years erecting government scams borrowing from kids to pay wealthy elders and taking care of the banks that finance his campaign. Even socialists know Joe was always “for rent” and would say anything for a payday – he was always “their guy.”
Speaking of paydays, let’s remember Joe is not the brightest bulb on the tree. Yet, Corrupt Joe was still able to amass $9 million through the present based on his government salary. And that’s up from $4 million in 2019.
Plus, a federal pension worth more than $1 million. Government “service” (and its side-cash streams) pays – and a lot of you bought into and paid for it – all of it.
Do you have a pension?
All that doesn’t count Hunter’s wealth amassed from Ukrainian oligarchs and Red Ponzi business partners – all under the protection of the FBI and Secret Service with a permanent “get of jail free” card.
What was that line from Corrupt Joe’s brother to explain Hunter’s role in the “famiglia criminale”
Oh, right “deniability.”
I’m not here to recount what everyone knows about the Sock Puppet the woke US oligarchs installed as president last year. The few hundred thousand untraceable votes created or electronically “flipped” in key swing state districts – the few hundred thousand more than the US Census Bureau says were legitimately cast.
Rather, it’s to point out the increasingly deadly threat our corrupt ruling elites pose for the rest of us.
They sell us out for their own payday.
Ukrainian oligarchs just threaten to pull us into a war with Russia – something Russia works hard to avoid.
The Red Ponzi is the greater threat.
Presently, the Red Ponzi extracts ~$-27.7 billion/month from Americans through the trade deficit created by Congress and our corporations. That wealth goes from US households to Red Ponzi oligarchs and party elites (same difference).
In 2019, there were 70,630 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States. The age-adjusted rate of overdose deaths increased by over 4% from 2018 (20.7 per 100,000) to 2019 (21.6 per 100,000). All that faciliated by open borders demanded by our oligarchs happy to look the other way on China to benefit Apple stockholders.
Then, there’s the US economic losses crime associated with drug addiction, welfare payments, and government healthcare.
On reason and belief, and in the absence of any scientific evidence to the contrary, it seems the Wuhan virus that has killed ~3 million worldwide came from a Peoples Liberation Army lab partially financed by US taxpayers in a research program approved by Dr. Fauci.
Five years of playing with dangerous pathogens, CRISPR-editing for gain-of-function to make those pathogens more dangerous and stable – all under lab safety conditions no better than a US dentist office. Think about that next time you go in for a cleaning.
You won’t get this from WaPo, The New York Times, or most other US news outlets. They’re in the business of protecting the oligarchs they work for.
Think about the Red Ponzi the next time you visit Walmart.
China was preparing for a Third World War with biological weapons – including coronavirus – SIX years ago, according to dossier produced by the People’s Liberation Army in 2015 and uncovered by the US State Department
Beijing has considered the military potential of SARS coronaviruses since 2015
The bombshell document was accessed by US State Department investigators
Scientists examined manipulation of diseases ‘in a way never seen before’
Foreign affairs committee’s Tom Tugendhat says evidence is a ‘major concern’
PUBLISHED: 02:47 EDT, 8 May 2021 | UPDATED: 10:00 EDT, 8 May 2021
Chinese scientists have been preparing for a Third World War fought with biological and genetic weapons includingcoronavirusfor the last six years, according to a document obtained by US investigators.
The bombshell paper, accessed by the US State Department, insists they will be ‘the core weapon for victory’ in such a conflict, even outlining the perfect conditions to release a bioweapon, and documenting the impact it would have on ‘the enemy’s medical system’.
This latest evidence that Beijing considered the military potential of SARS coronaviruses from as early as 2015 has also raised fresh fears over the cause of Covid-19, with some officials still believing the virus could have escaped from a Chinese lab.
The dossier by People’s Liberation Army scientists and health officials, details of which were reported in The Australian, examined the manipulation of diseases to make weapons ‘in a way never seen before’.
Senior government figures say it ‘raises major concerns’ over the intentions of those close to Chinese President Xi Jinping amid growing fears about the country’s lack of regulation over its activity in laboratories.
This latest evidence that Beijing considered the military potential of SARS coronaviruses from as early as 2015 has also raised fresh fears over the cause of Covid-19, with some officials still believing the virus could have escaped from a Chinese lab
Did coronavirus originate in Chinese government laboratory?
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.
The authors of the document insist that a third world war ‘will be biological’, unlike the first two wars which were described as chemical and nuclear respectively.
Referencing research which suggested the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan forced them to surrender, and bringing about the end of WWII, they claim bioweapons will be ‘the core weapon for victory’ in a third world war.
The document also outlines the ideal conditions to release a bioweapon and cause maximum damage.
The scientists say such attacks should not be carried out in the middle of a clear day, as intense sunlight can damage the pathogens, while rain or snow can affect the aerosol particles.
Instead, it should be released at night, or at dawn, dusk, or under cloudy weather, with ‘a stable wind direction…so that the aerosol can float into the target area’.
Meanwhile, the research also notes that such an attack would result in a surge of patients requiring hospital treatment, which then ‘could cause the enemy’s medical system to collapse’.
Other concerns include China’s ‘Gain of Function’ research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology – near where the first Covid outbreak was discovered – at which virologists are creating new viruses said to be more transmissible and more lethal.
MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said: ‘This document raises major concerns about the ambitions of some of those who advise the top party leadership. Even under the tightest controls these weapons are dangerous.’
Chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said: ‘China has thwarted all attempts to regulate and police its laboratories where such experimentation may have taken place.’
The revelation from the book What Really Happened in Wuhan was reported yesterday.
The document, New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons, says: ‘Following developments in other scientific fields, there have been major advances in the delivery of biological agents.
‘For example, the new-found ability to freeze-dry micro-organisms has made it possible to store biological agents and aerosolise them during attacks.’
It has 18 authors who were working at ‘high-risk’ labs, analysts say.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings also raised concerns over China’s biological research into coronaviruses potentially being weaponised in future.
‘There is no clear distinction for research capability because whether it’s used offensively or defensively is not a decision these scientists would take,’ he said.
‘If you are building skills ostensibly to protect your military from a biological attack, you’re at the same time giving your military a capacity to use these weapons offensively. You can’t separate the two.’
Intelligence agencies suspect Covid-19 may be the result of an inadvertent Wuhan lab leak. But as yet there is no evidence to suggest it was intentionally released.
Only this week, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to strongly criticise China by accusing it of creating Covid to spark a chemical ‘warfare.’
The comments were made during a press conference on Wednesday as the hardline leader sought to further distance himself from the growing attacks over his domestic handling of a pandemic that has produced the second-highest death toll in the world.
‘It’s a new virus. Nobody knows whether it was born in a laboratory or because a human ate some animal they shouldn’t have,’ Bolsonaro said.
‘But it is there. The military knows what chemical, bacteriological and radiological warfare. Are we not facing a new war? Which country has grown its GDP the most? I will not tell you.’
While Bolsonaro did not name China in his speech, data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that China was the only G20 member whose GDP showed a growth during the pandemic in 2020, expanding by 2.3%.
The dossier by People’s Liberation Army scientists and health officials examined the manipulation of diseases to make weapons ‘in a way never seen before’
And the World Health Organization chief said as recently as March that all theories on the origins of Covid-19 remained open after reading the WHO-China study – despite the claim the report dismissed the notion that the virus escaped from a lab as ‘extremely unlikely’.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said all of the hypotheses are ‘on the table’ and require further investigation after reading the report from the international experts’ mission to Wuhan.
But his comments came just hours after it emerged the report dismissed the lab leak theory and said the transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario.
The report’s release was repeatedly delayed, raising questions about whether the Chinese side was trying to skew the conclusions to prevent blame for the pandemic falling on China.
Critics including ex-President Trump have accused the WHO of parroting Chinese propaganda on the virus since the outbreak was first announced to the world.
The comments by Dr Tedros came after New York Republican Representative Lee Zeldin slammed China for ‘covering up to the world the pandemic’s origins’, while the WHO ‘has played along time and time again’.
Meanwhile, Dr Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, revealed he has ‘concerns’ over the WHO’s controversial fact-finding mission.
Repeated delays in the report’s release raised questions about whether the Chinese side was trying to skew its conclusions.
‘We’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,’ U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a recent CNN interview.
China rejected that criticism and accused the US of ‘exerting political pressure’ on the fact-finding mission experts.
‘The US has been speaking out on the report. By doing this, isn’t the U.S. trying to exert political pressure on the members of the WHO expert group?’ asked Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
Worrying new clues about the origins of Covid: How scientists at Wuhan lab helped Chinese army in secret project to find animal viruses, writes IAN BIRRELL
Scientists studying bat diseases atChina‘s maximum-security laboratory in Wuhan were engaged in a massive project to investigate animal viruses alongside leading military officials – despite their denials of any such links.
Documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveal that a nationwide scheme, directed by a leading state body, was launched nine years ago to discover new viruses and detect the ‘dark matter’ of biology involved in spreading diseases.
One leading Chinese scientist, who published the first genetic sequence of theCovid-19virus in January last year, found 143 new diseases in the first three years of the project alone.
The fact that such a virus-detection project is led by both civilian and military scientists appears to confirm incendiary claims from the United States alleging collaboration between the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and the country’s 2.1 million-strong armed forces.
The scheme’s five team leaders include Shi Zhengli, the WIV virologist nicknamed ‘Bat Woman’ for her trips to find samples in caves, and Cao Wuchun, a senior army officer and government adviser on bioterrorism.
Prof Shi denied the US allegations last month, saying: ‘I don’t know of any military work at the WIV. That info is incorrect.’
Yet Colonel Cao is listed on project reports as a researcher from the Academy of Military Medical Sciences of the People’s Liberation Army, works closely with other military scientists and is director of the Military Biosafety Expert Committee.
Cao, an epidemiologist who studied at Cambridge University, even sits on the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s advisory board. He was second-in-command of the military team sent into the city under Major General Chen Wei, the country’s top biodefence expert, to respond to the new virus and develop a vaccine.
The US State Department also raised concerns over risky ‘gain of function’ experiments to manipulate coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab and suggested researchers fell sick with Covid-like symptoms weeks before the outbreak emerged more widely in the Chinese city.
Last month, Britain, the US and 12 other countries criticised Beijing for refusing to share key data and samples after a joint World Health Organisation and Chinese study into the pandemic’s origins dismissed a lab leak as ‘extremely unlikely’.
Filippa Lentzos, a biosecurity expert at King’s College London, said the latest disclosures fitted ‘the pattern of inconsistencies’ coming from Beijing.
‘They are still not being transparent with us,’ she said. ‘We have no hard data on the pandemic origins, whether it was a natural spill-over from animals or some kind of accidental research-related leak, yet we’re unable to get straight answers and that simply does not inspire confidence.’
The documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday detail a major project called ‘the discovery of animal-delivered pathogens carried by wild animals’, which set out to find organisms that could infect humans and investigate their evolution.
It was launched in 2012 and funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China. The project was led by Xu Jianguo, who boasted at a conference in 2019 that ‘a giant network of infectious disease prevention and control is taking shape’.
The professor also headed the first expert group investigating Covid’s emergence in Wuhan. He denied human transmission initially, despite evidence from hospitals, then insisted in mid-January ‘this epidemic is limited and will end if there are no new cases next week’.
One review of his virus-hunting project admitted ‘a large number of new viruses have been discovered, causing great concern in the international virology community’.
It added that if pathogens spread to humans and livestock, they could cause new infectious diseases ‘posing a great threat to human health and life safety and may cause major economic losses, even affect social stability’.
An update in 2018 said that the scientific teams – who published many of their findings in international journals – had found four new pathogens and ten new bacteria while ‘more than 1,640 new viruses were discovered using metagenomics technology’. Such research is based on extraction of genetic material from samples such as those collected by Prof Shi from bat faeces and blood in the cave networks of southern China.
Such extensive sampling led to Prof Shi’s rapid revelation last year of RaTG13, the closest known relative to the new strain of coronavirus that causes Covid.
It was stored at the Wuhan lab, the biggest repository of bat coronaviruses in Asia.
Pictured: Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province, during a visit by members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus
It later emerged she changed its name from another virus identified in a previous paper, thus obscuring its link to three miners who died from a strange respiratory disease they caught clearing bat droppings.
Prof Shi also admitted that eight more unidentified SARS viruses had been collected in the mine. The institute took its database of virus samples offline in September 2019, just a few weeks before Covid cases exploded in Wuhan.
A comment was made on social media after Colonel Cao published a paper on a fatal tick bite, saying he and Prof Shi ‘can always find a virus that has never been found in humans’, adding: ‘I suspect this is another so-called ‘scientific research’ made in the laboratory.’
In recent years, China’s military has ramped up its hiring of scientists after President Xi Jinping said this was a key element in the nation’s march for global supremacy.
Lianchao Han, a dissident who used to work for the Chinese government, said Cao’s involvement raised suspicions that military researchers who are experts in coronaviruses might also be involved in bio-defence operations.
‘Many have been working with Western research institutes for years to steal our know-hows but China still refuses to share critical information a year after the pandemic has killed over three million.’
David Asher, an expert on biological, chemical and nuclear proliferation, who led State Department inquiries into the origins of Covid-19, said: ‘The Chinese have made it clear they see biotechnology as a big part of the future of hybrid warfare. The big question is whether their work in these fields is offensive or defensive.’
The great cover-up of China: Beijing punished Covid whistleblower, claimed it came from US and ‘lied about death figures’
China has lied and covered up key information during virtually every stage of its coronavirus response – from the initial outbreak to the number of cases and deaths, and is still not telling the truth, observers, experts and politicians have warned.
Beijing initially tried to cover up the virus by punishing medics who discovered it, denying it could spread person-to-person and delaying a lockdown of affected regions – meaning early opportunities to control the spread were lost.
Then, once the virus began spreading, the Communist Party began censoring public information about it and spread disinformation overseas – including suggesting that US troops could have been the initial carriers.
Even now, prominent politicians have warned that infection and death totals being reported by the regime are likely to be wrong – with locals in the epicenter of Wuhan suggesting the true tolls could be ten times higher.
Doctors in China, including Li Wenliang, began reporting the existence of a new type of respiratory infection that was similar to SARS in early December last year.
But rather than publicise the reports and warn the public, Chinese police hauled Wenliang and eight of his colleagues who had been posting about the virus online in for questioning.
Wenliang, who would later die from the virus, was forced to sign a document admitting the information he published was false.
While China has been widely-praised for a draconian lockdown that helped slow the spread of the virus, evidence suggests that the country could have acted much quicker to prevent the spread.
Dr Li Wenliang, one of the first Chinese medics to report the existence of the new coronavirus, was forced by police to confess to spreading false data. He later died from the virus
Samples analysed as early as December 26 suggested a new type of SARS was circulating, theWashington Post reported, but Wuhan was not locked down until January 22 – almost a month later.
Wuhan’s mayor also admitted an error that allowed 5million people to travel out of the city before the lockdown came into place without being checked for the virus, potentially helping it to spread.
Chinese authorities have also been reluctant to had over information on the country’s ‘patient zero’ – or the first person known to have contracted the virus.
While Beijing claims the first infection took place on December 8, researchers have traced the virus back to at least December 1 and anecdotal evidence suggests it was spreading in November.
A lack of information about the first patient has meant scientists are still unclear how the disease made the leap from animals into humans.
Theories include that it could have been carried by a bat or pangolin that was sold at a market in Wuhan and then eaten by someone, but this has not been confirmed.
Chinese authorities initially reported that the virus could not spread person-to-person, despite evidence that it was spreading rapidly through the city of Wuhan including doctors being infected by patients.
This was used as justification for keeping the city of Wuhan operating as normal through a major CCP conference that was held between January 11 and 17, with authorities claiming zero new cases in this period.
China did not confirm human-to-human transmission of the virus until late January, when large parts of Hubei province including Wuhan were put into lockdown.
Despite reporting the existence of a ‘novel type of pneumonia’ to the World Health Organisation on December 31, Wuhan’s largest newspaper also made no mention of the virus until the week of January 20.
That meant people in the city were not taking precautions such as social distancing to stop it spreading.
It also meant that people had begun travelling for the Lunar New Year holiday, which was due to start on January 24 and sees millions of people visit relatives, spreading the virus further.
Furthermore, China delayed reports suggesting that some 14 per cent of patients who initially tested negative for the virus or who appeared to have recovered tested positive a second time, only confirming such cases in February.
That further hampered efforts at early containment of the virus in places such as Japan, where patients who tested negative on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship were allowed to leave – only to test positive later.
Authorities in Beijing were also slow to report the deaths of two doctors from the virus, including one who was killed on January 25 but whose death was not reported by state media until a month later.
The market was shut on January 1 after dozens of workers there had contracted the disease
Origin of the virus
Despite early admissions that the virus began in the city of Wuhan, China later back-tracked – even going so far as to suggest American troops had brought the infection over after visiting the province.
Lijian Zhao, a prominent official within the Chinese Foreign Ministry, tweeted out the claim on March 12 while providing no evidence to substantiate it.
‘When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals,’ he wrote.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused American military members of bringing the coronavirus to Wuhan
Referencing a military athletics tournament in Wuhan in October, which US troops attended, he wrote: ‘It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.
‘Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!’
In fact, America’s ‘patient zero’ was a man who travelled from China to Washington State on January 15. The case was confirmed by the CDC six days later.
Chinese has also tried to push the theory that the virus originated in Italy, the country with the most deaths, by distorting a quote from an Italian doctor who suggested the country’s first cases could have occurred much earlier than thought.
Zhao spread the theory in a tweet, while providing no evidence to back it up
Giuseppe Remuzzi said he is investigating strange cases of pneumonia as far back as December and November, months before the virus was known to have spread.
Chinese state media widely reported his comments while also suggesting that the virus could have originated in Italy.
In fact, Remuzzi says, there can be no doubt it started in Wuhan – but may have spread out of the province and across the world earlier than thought.
China has reported a total of some 82,000 infections from coronavirus, claiming a domestic infection rate of zero for several days in a row recently – even as it eased lockdown restrictions in placed like Hubei.
But, by the country’s own admission, the virus is likely still spreading – via people who have few or no symptoms.
.Marco Rubio, a prominent Republican senator and former presidential candidate from the US, tweeted that ‘we have NO IDEA how many cases China really has’ after the US infection total passed Beijing’s official figure.
‘Without any doubt it’s significantly more than what they admit to,’ he added.
Meanwhile the UK government has also cast doubt on China’s reporting, with Conservative minister and former Prime Ministerial candidate Michael Gove claiming the Communist Party could not be trusted.
‘Some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this [virus],’ he told theBBC.
Meanwhile sources told the Mail that China’s true infection total could be anything up to 40 times as high as reports had suggested.
Marco Rubio, a prominent Republican senator, has said that China’s figures cannot be trusted and a far higher than has been reported
Doubt has also been cast on China’s reported death toll from the virus, which currently stands at around 3,300.
Locals in epicenter city Wuhan have been keeping an eye on funeral homes since lockdown restrictions were partly lifted, claiming they have been ‘working around the clock’ to dispose of bodies.
China has reported 3,300 deaths from the virus, but social media users in Wuhan have suggested the toll could be in excess of 42,000Life in Beijing starts to return to normal after months of quarantine.
Social media posts estimate that 3,500 urns are being handed out by crematoriums each day, while Caixin reports that one funeral home in the city placed an order for 5,000 urns.
Locals believe that efforts to dispose of the bodies began March 23 and city authorities have said the process will end on or around April 5.
That would mean roughly 42,000 urns handed out in that time frame, ten times the reported figure.
Chinese aid packages
As it brought its own coronavirus epidemic under control and as the disease spread across the rest of the world, China attempted to paint itself as a helpful neighbour by sending aid and supplies to countries most in need – such as Italy.
In fact, while the Chinese Red Cross supplied some free equipment to the Italians, the country purchased a large amount of what it received.
Meanwhile officials in Spain said that a batch of coronavirus testing kits bought from China had just 30 per cent reliability – unlike the 80 per cent they were promised.
China has said it is willing to help supply the world with much needed aid and supplies, but has been accused of hoarding protective equipment and selling test kits that don’t work
China is also the world’s largest manufacturer of disposable masks of the kind being worn to slow the spread of the virus by people while out in public.
But as the disease began gathering speed in the country in January, China began limiting exports of the masks while also buying up supplies from other countries, theNew York Timesreported.
As well as halting virtually all exports of masks, China also bought up some 56 million masks and respirators from overseas while fears of a pandemic were still far off.
Despite reports from US mask manufacturers of factories in Shanghai being effectively nationalised, China denies it has any such policy in place and has said it is ‘willing to strengthen international cooperation’ on the issue.
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.’
Brazil’s hardline President appears to claim China created Covid to spark a ‘chemical war’
Only this week, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to strongly criticise China by accusing it of creating Covid to spark a chemical ‘warfare.’
The comments were made during a press conference on Wednesday as the hardline leader sought to further distance himself from the growing attacks over his domestic handling of a pandemic that has produced the second-highest death toll in the world.
‘It’s a new virus. Nobody knows whether it was born in a laboratory or because a human ate some animal they shouldn’t have,’ Bolsonaro said.
‘But it is there. The military knows what chemical, bacteriological and radiological warfare. Are we not facing a new war? Which country has grown its GDP the most? I will not tell you.’
While Bolsonaro did not name China in his speech, data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that China was the only G20 member whose GDP showed a growth during the pandemic in 2020, expanding by 2.3%
Asking for your pronouns can trigger unexpected reactions like those of Leon Kowalski when asked about his mother amidst a Voight-Kampff Test.
Asking for and being told your pronouns unprompted should trigger a Code Red alert in anyone’s amygdala – though Leon was a bit excessive, don’t you think?
For a few months in a woke place long, long ago, far, far away, I had the misfortune of reporting into a very troubled soul. Thankfully, it was only for a short period of time. Seriously troubled, in over his head, and barely self-aware though enough to signal his internal distress like infected cells do with all those antibody-attracting lipoproteins tethered to their surface. Wired tight.
A well-intentioned lightweight who insisted everyone know his pronouns, he/him/his/his/himself spent much of his/etc./etc. day conjuring up ever-more new “TPS-reports” for his/etc./etc. crew to create. Given the even lighter intellectual capacity of his/etc./etc. own sycophant boss, well, maybe all those silly report ideas weren’t really his/etc./etc. anyway.
Actually I did feel empathy for him/etc./etc. – as I said, “wired tight.”
But it was hard to “collaborate” with all those lipoproteins hanging all over him/etc./etc. like irish pennants.
It was a mind-numbing waste of time and money on reflection.
The long-ago woke experience was more extended than the (thankfully-brief) waterboard exposure session I underwent in officer training. Yet, it triggered similar physiological reactions – the sense of water overpowering your gag reflex.
Uncomfortable as that training was, the pre-commissioning abuse was very helpful to me at sea, and throughout my professional career that followed. A couple of business startups. Running a company for a couple of decades pitching and delivering with “barbarians at the gate”.
You need to be focused every day. So, your “sensor array” could use a high “signal-noise” ratio.
A little PTSD can be very helpful in anticipating and responding to impending waterboarding in various forms. I learned to quickly recognize that familiar physiological reaction just before your gag reflex is overpowered. Early threat detection means you can more quickly find a way to the surface before the water gets to your lungs.
Trust your gag reflex – it’s a reliable signal. Don’t wait for the water to reach your lungs – that’s far worse.
Seemed pretty much on point to that gag reflex thing. And the absurdity of this passing corporate woke fad.
Remember kids – “Get woke, go broke.” It’s inevitable. You can bet on that – I know I have and successfully.
BTW, “ya’ll” do realize that the rest of the world is laughing at us and our suicidal woke impulses – all the way to the bank?
Or all the way to fire control lock-on in the target tracking phase.
Gender reveal mine announces Navy’s next ship will be a dud
By Bull Winkle
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s newest ship may not have the impact on maritime security that senior leaders intended, according to a new gender reveal mine developed by the Naval Weapons Research Laboratory (NRL).
“The thing was just supposed to coat the side of the ship with tinted talcum powder,” said lab spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Frederick Foss at the recent launch of theUSS Thomas B. Modly (LCS-32).“Instead, the mine just flashed ‘inert’ for several seconds and drifted back to its holding area. This is more disappointing than last year’s Army-Navy game.”
Foss told reporters that he fears the Modly, an Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the Navy’s most advanced technology, may experience all the success of the famous Swedish warship, Vasa.
Sources say a new Navy awareness program to bring Navy culture into the 21st century led to the revealing prophecy.
“Launching a ship with a bottle of champagne and calling it a ‘she’ is a relic of the past,” Foss told reporters. Today’s Navy appreciates gender complexities as part of its more modern approach. “When people think ‘woke,’ they should think U.S. Navy,” he said.
To support the new outlook, NRL designed the Mark 86-PS (Pronoun Sensing) sea mine. The mine contacts with the ship during launch ceremonies and uses artificial intelligence to sense how the ship identifies. Then the mine announces genders with colored powder, smoke, and printed messages.
“It’s like a big Magic 8 Ball, but with colorful pyrotechnics,” Foss said.
During the Modly launch, the mine turned a blue color as programmed, but unexpectedly displayed the printed message “INERT.” Inert is common military parlance for “dud,” “lifeless,” or “flag officer.”
“That’s not in its design,” Foss said, “apparently the ship and the Mark 86-PS are more perceptive and collaborative than we imagined.”
“The Navy is outrageously inserting gender into military rituals, where it doesn’t belong,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), when reached for comment. Inhofe said that instead of gender reveals, the Navy or “somebody responsible” should focus on the ship’s high cost, complex “Frankenstein-ish” design, unreliable propulsion system, and meager combat power. “Stick with tradition!” said the senator, who is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Reports that the USS Thomas B. Modly’s commander and command master chief are attending positive affirmation therapy are unconfirmed.
Within hours of the Navy’s announcement, the Air Force abruptly canceled fielding its “Gender Finder” (GF) Mark 81 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) aerial mine designed for the F-35.
An Air Force spokesperson called the cancellation “totally unrelated” to the Navy and declared unconditional love for the F-35.
The reactor accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima continue to demonstrate severe reactor accidents leave behind a toxic waste site requiring up to century to stabilize and remediate.
Mathieu et al. (2018) describes the Fukushima accident payload associated with a so-called “early, high energy release”:
“The main oceanic releases occurred between March and April. They were primarily due to direct releases into the sea and atmospheric deposits on the surface of the ocean. Estimates of the quantities of 137Cs released directly into the ocean vary from 3.5 to 27 PBq (Bailly du Bois et al., 2012; Estournel et al., 2012; Tsumune et al., 2012; Inomata et al., 2016; IAEA, 2015a), making it the largest radionuclide releases into the sea ever observed. The evolution and fate of the radionuclides released into the ocean following the FDNPP accident have been extensively studied since 2011 and are summarised in a number of review articles (Hirose, 2016; Kaeriyama, 2017; Buesseler et al., 2017).
Mathieu, A., Kajino, M., Korsakissok, I., Périllat, R., Quélo, D., Quérel, A., … Didier, D. (2018). Fukushima Daiichi–derived radionuclides in the atmosphere, transport and deposition in Japan: A review. Applied Geochemistry: Journal of the International Association of Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry, 91, 122–139.
“The principal releases to the atmosphere occurred between 12 March and the beginning of April. The estimated amount of radionuclides released varies between 100 and 400 PBq of 131I, between 7 and 20 PBq of 137Cs, and between 6000 and 12000 PBq of 133Xe (IAEA, 2015b; SCJ, 2014). A number of studies based on numerical simulations estimate that approximately 15–20% of releases were deposited on Honshu, Japan’s main island and the remaining 80% were transported towards the Pacific Ocean where they were partially deposited (MEXT, 2011a; Morino et al., 2011, 2013; Yasunari et al., 2011; Korsakissok et al., 2013; Groëll et al., 2014). Observations indicate that the area with a contamination level exceeding 185 kBq/m2 of 137Cs covers approximately 1700 km2 of Honshu (Steinhauser et al., 2014) and deposits exceeding 10 kBq/m2 extend over 24,000 km2 (Champion et al., 2013). Beyond Japan, atmospheric releases from the FDNPP were detected throughout the Northern Hemisphere at concentrations well below any health risk level. Masson et al (2011) establishes the inventory of measured concentrations in the air recorded by measurement network in Europe. Thakur et al. (2013) establishes the inventory of concentrations in air, rainwater, milk and food samples measured in the northern hemisphere outside Japan.”
The economic losses from the Fukushima reactor accidents and mitigation are currently ~$800 billion (2011 USDs). Those losses exceed all profits earned to date by the Japanese nuclear power industry.
And yet those damages and losses are due to ~20% of the total does released. Recall the rest went into the Pacific – unlike Chernobyl were most radionuclides remained in eastern Europe.
Like all nuclear power losses, the Fukushima accident costs are socialized since they exceed the net worth of the operating company (TEPCo).
In the US, the much more limited Three Mile Island accident still managed to bankrupt its utility owners. Nuclear operating companies are financially engineering to implode in the event their nuclear asset experiences a reactor accident. The Price-Anderson Act limits liability and utility holding companies provision just enough capital to satisfy Price-Anderson and US Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements.
The US financial surety regulations only provide for clean-up of limited reactor accidents – limited as in less than 5% core damage. The cleanup from a larger accident insurance makes the nuclear power technology uneconomic. In the event of a larger accident, the nuclear operating company declares bankruptcing Price-Anderson protected the holding company from liability. US taxpayers would have to pay the cleanup damages incurred by the companies operating the plant.
Anyone claiming nuclear power is a “good investment” is either ignorant about enterprise risk or callous about the hazards left to future generations.
Thirty-five years after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded in the world’s worst nuclear accident, fission reactions are smoldering again in uranium fuel masses buried deep inside a mangled reactor hall. “It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit,” says Neil Hyatt, a nuclear materials chemist at the University of Sheffield. Now, Ukrainian scientists are scrambling to determine whether the reactions will wink out on their own—or require extraordinary interventions to avert another accident.
Sensors are tracking a rising number of neutrons, a signal of fission, streaming from one inaccessible room, Anatolii Doroshenko of the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) in Kyiv, Ukraine, reported last week during discussions about dismantling the reactor. “There are many uncertainties,” says ISPNPP’s Maxim Saveliev. “But we can’t rule out the possibility of [an] accident.” The neutron counts are rising slowly, Saveliev says, suggesting managers still have a few years to figure out how to stifle the threat. Any remedy he and his colleagues come up with will be of keen interest to Japan, which iscoping with the aftermath of its own nuclear disaster10 years ago at Fukushima, Hyatt notes. “It’s a similar magnitude of hazard.”
The specter of self-sustaining fission, or criticality, in the nuclear ruins has long haunted Chernobyl. When part of the Unit Four reactor’s core melted down on 26 April 1986, uranium fuel rods, their zirconium cladding, graphite control rods, and sand dumped on the core to try to extinguish the fire melted together into a lava. It flowed into the reactor hall’s basement rooms and hardened into formations called fuel-containing materials (FCMs), which are laden with about 170 tons of irradiated uranium—95% of the original fuel.
The concrete-and-steel sarcophagus called the Shelter, erected 1 year after the accident to house Unit Four’s remains, allowed rainwater to seep in. Because water slows, or moderates, neutrons and thus enhances their odds of striking and splitting uranium nuclei, heavy rains would sometimes send neutron counts soaring. After a downpour in June 1990, a “stalker”—a scientist at Chernobyl who risks radiation exposure to venture into the damaged reactor hall—dashed in and sprayed gadolinium nitrate solution, which absorbs neutrons, on an FCM that he and his colleagues feared might go critical. Several years later, the plant installed gadolinium nitrate sprinklers in the Shelter’s roof. But the spray can’t effectively penetrate some basement rooms.
Chernobyl officials presumed any criticality risk would fade when the massive New Safe Confinement (NSC) was slid over the Shelter in November 2016. The €1.5 billion structure was meant to seal off the Shelter so it could be stabilized and eventually dismantled. The NSC also keeps out the rain, and ever since its emplacement, neutron counts in most areas in the Shelter have been stable or are declining.
But they began to edge up in a few spots, nearly doubling over 4 years in room 305/2, which contains tons of FCMs buried under debris. ISPNPP modeling suggests the drying of the fuel is somehow making neutrons ricocheting through it more, rather than less, effective at splitting uranium nuclei. “It’s believable and plausible data,” Hyatt says. “It’s just not clear what the mechanism might be.”
The threat can’t be ignored. As water continues to recede, the fear is that “the fission reaction accelerates exponentially,” Hyatt says, leading to “an uncontrolled release of nuclear energy.” There’s no chance of a repeat of 1986, when the explosion and fire sent a radioactive cloud over Europe. A runaway fission reaction in an FCM could sputter out after heat from fission boils off the remaining water. Still, Saveliev notes, although any explosive reaction would be contained, it could threaten to bring down unstable parts of the rickety Shelter, filling the NSC with radioactive dust.
Addressing the newly unmasked threat is a daunting challenge. Radiation levels in 305/2 preclude getting close enough to install sensors. And spraying gadolinium nitrate on the nuclear debris there is not an option, as it’s entombed under concrete. One idea is to develop a robot that can withstand the intense radiation for long enough to drill holes in the FCMs and insert boron cylinders, which would function like control rods and sop up neutrons. In the meantime, ISPNPP intends to step up monitoring of two other areas where FCMs have the potential to go critical.
The resurgent fission reactions are not the only challenge facing Chernobyl’s keepers. Besieged by intense radiation and high humidity, the FCMs are disintegrating—spawning even more radioactive dust that complicates plans to dismantle the Shelter. Early on, an FCM formation called the Elephant’s Foot was so hard scientists had to use a Kalashnikov rifle to shear off a chunk for analysis. “Now it more or less has the consistency of sand,” Saveliev says.
Ukraine has long intended to remove the FCMs and store them in a geological repository. By September, with help from European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, it aims to have a comprehensive plan for doing so. But with life still flickering within the Shelter, it may be harder than ever to bury the reactor’s restless remains.
“Scientists are actually preoccupied with accomplishment. So they are focused on whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do something.”
Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park
For those unfamiliar with the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), they are a nonprofit organization focused on science and global security issues resulting from accelerating technological advances that have negative consequences for humanity.
I’ve been on both sides of BAS and related organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) since I was a commissioned officer in the US Navy’s nuclear propulsion program (qualified chief engineer, naval nuclear reactors). In the course of my post-Navy career, I had the good fortune of occasionally working with (and against) many BAS founders. Check them out on Wikipedia – some very bright people.
And, I give both organizations their due in attempting to get the facts and science right.
So with that introduction, here’s an interesting BAS summary piece by Nicholas Wade regarding CoVid-19’s origin. By way of background, Wade was staff writer for the Science Times section of The New York Times from 1982 to 2012 (working for the Times has been a dubious honor since the Clintonistas were in power).
Wade is the author of the controversial book “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History” (2014).
I say “controversial” because Wade argued that human evolution has been “recent, copious, and regional” and that genes may have influenced a variety of behaviors that underpin differing forms of human society.
Well, I freely confess I’m inclined to buy into the fact genetics play a role in behavior – for better and for worse.
The book was criticized in the New York Times Book Review – which may be a backhanded compliment.
Nonetheless, David Dobbs wrote that it was “a deeply flawed, deceptive, and dangerous book” with “pernicious conceits”. Libertarian political scientist Charles Murray, co-author of “The Bell Curve,” praised it as scientifically valid, and predicted that opposition would be “fanatical” due to political correctness.
When a Times’s writer and Charles Murray are on the same side of any issue criticized by the New York Times, one should take a closer look.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year. Its death toll will soon reach three million people. Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain: The political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel.
In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments. I will then try to assess the complex issue of blame, which starts with, but extends far beyond, the government of China.
By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze.
The virus that caused the pandemic is known officially as SARS-CoV-2, but can be called SARS2 for short. As many people know, there are two main theories about its origin. One is that it jumped naturally from wildlife to people. The other is that the virus was under study in a lab, from which it escaped. It matters a great deal which is the case if we hope to prevent a second such occurrence.
I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts. It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory. Each depends on a set of reasonable conjectures but so far lacks proof. So I have only clues, not conclusions, to offer. But those clues point in a specific direction. And having inferred that direction, I’m going to delineate some of the strands in this tangled skein of disaster.
A tale of two theories. After the pandemic first broke out in December 2019, Chinese authorities reported that many cases had occurred in the wet market — a place selling wild animals for meat — in Wuhan. This reminded experts of the SARS1 epidemic of 2002, in which a bat virus had spread first to civets, an animal sold in wet markets, and from civets to people. A similar bat virus caused a second epidemic, known as MERS, in 2012. This time the intermediary host animal was camels.
The decoding of the virus’s genome showed it belonged a viral family known as beta-coronaviruses, to which the SARS1 and MERS viruses also belong. The relationship supported the idea that, like them, it was a natural virus that had managed to jump from bats, via another animal host, to people. The wet market connection, the major point of similarity with the SARS1 and MERS epidemics, was soon broken: Chinese researchers found earlier cases in Wuhan with no link to the wet market. But that seemed not to matter when so much further evidence in support of natural emergence was expected shortly.
Wuhan, however, is home of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a leading world center for research on coronaviruses. So the possibility that the SARS2 virus had escaped from the lab could not be ruled out. Two reasonable scenarios of origin were on the table.
From early on, public and media perceptions were shaped in favor of the natural emergence scenario by strong statements from two scientific groups. These statements were not at first examined as critically as they should have been.
“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” a group of virologists and others wrote in theLanceton February 19, 2020, when it was really far too soon for anyone to be sure what had happened. Scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” they said, with a stirring rallying call for readers to stand with Chinese colleagues on the frontline of fighting the disease.
Contrary to the letter writers’ assertion, the idea that the virus might have escaped from a lab invoked accident, not conspiracy. It surely needed to be explored, not rejected out of hand. A defining mark of good scientists is that they go to great pains to distinguish between what they know and what they don’t know. By this criterion, the signatories of the Lancet letter were behaving as poor scientists: They were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.
It later turned out that the Lancet letter had beenorganized and draftedby Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Daszak would be potentially culpable. This acute conflict of interest was not declared to the Lancet’s readers. To the contrary, the letter concluded, “We declare no competing interests.”
Virologists like Daszak had much at stake in the assigning of blame for the pandemic. For 20 years, mostly beneath the public’s attention, they had been playing a dangerous game. In their laboratories they routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature. They argued that they could do so safely, and that by getting ahead of nature they could predict and prevent natural “spillovers,” the cross-over of viruses from an animal host to people. If SARS2 had indeed escaped from such a laboratory experiment, a savage blowback could be expected, and the storm of public indignation would affect virologists everywhere, not just in China. “It would shatter the scientific edifice top to bottom,” an MIT Technology Review editor, Antonio Regalado,saidin March 2020.
A second statement that had enormous influence in shaping public attitudes was aletter(in other words an opinion piece, not a scientific article) published on 17 March 2020 in the journal Nature Medicine. Its authors were a group of virologists led by Kristian G. Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute. “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” the five virologists declared in the second paragraph of their letter.
Unfortunately, this was another case of poor science, in the sense defined above. True, some older methods of cutting and pasting viral genomes retain tell-tale signs of manipulation. But newer methods, called “no-see-um” or “seamless” approaches, leave no defining marks. Nor do other methods for manipulating viruses such as serial passage, the repeated transfer of viruses from one culture of cells to another. If a virus has been manipulated, whether with a seamless method or by serial passage, there is no way of knowing that this is the case. Andersen and his colleagues were assuring their readers of something they could not know.
The discussion part of their letter begins, “It is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.” But wait, didn’t the lead say the virus had clearly not been manipulated? The authors’ degree of certainty seemed to slip several notches when it came to laying out their reasoning.
The reason for the slippage is clear once the technical language has been penetrated. The two reasons the authors give for supposing manipulation to be improbable are decidedly inconclusive.
First, they say that the spike protein of SARS2 binds very well to its target, the human ACE2 receptor, but does so in a different way from that which physical calculations suggest would be the best fit. Therefore the virus must have arisen by natural selection, not manipulation.
If this argument seems hard to grasp, it’s because it’s so strained. The authors’ basic assumption, not spelt out, is that anyone trying to make a bat virus bind to human cells could do so in only one way. First they would calculate the strongest possible fit between the human ACE2 receptor and the spike protein with which the virus latches onto it. They would then design the spike protein accordingly (by selecting the right string of amino acid units that compose it). Since the SARS2 spike protein is not of this calculated best design, the Andersen paper says, therefore it can’t have been manipulated.
But this ignores the way that virologists do in fact get spike proteins to bind to chosen targets, which is not by calculation but by splicing in spike protein genes from other viruses or by serial passage. With serial passage, each time the virus’s progeny are transferred to new cell cultures or animals, the more successful are selected until one emerges that makes a really tight bind to human cells. Natural selection has done all the heavy lifting. The Andersen paper’s speculation about designing a viral spike protein through calculation has no bearing on whether or not the virus was manipulated by one of the other two methods.
The authors’ second argument against manipulation is even more contrived. Although most living things use DNA as their hereditary material, a number of viruses use RNA, DNA’s close chemical cousin. But RNA is difficult to manipulate, so researchers working on coronaviruses, which are RNA-based, will first convert the RNA genome to DNA. They manipulate the DNA version, whether by adding or altering genes, and then arrange for the manipulated DNA genome to be converted back into infectious RNA.
Only a certain number of these DNA backbones have been described in the scientific literature. Anyone manipulating the SARS2 virus “would probably” have used one of these known backbones, the Andersen group writes, and since SARS2 is not derived from any of them, therefore it was not manipulated. But the argument is conspicuously inconclusive. DNA backbones are quite easy to make, so it’s obviously possible that SARS2 was manipulated using an unpublished DNA backbone.
And that’s it. These are the two arguments made by the Andersen group in support of their declaration that the SARS2 virus was clearly not manipulated. And this conclusion, grounded in nothing but two inconclusive speculations, convinced the world’s press that SARS2 could not have escaped from a lab. A technical critique of the Andersen letter takes it down inharsher words.
Science is supposedly a self-correcting community of experts who constantly check each other’s work. So why didn’t other virologists point out that the Andersen group’s argument was full of absurdly large holes? Perhaps because in today’s universities speech can be very costly. Careers can be destroyed for stepping out of line. Any virologist who challenges the community’s declared view risks having his next grant application turned down by the panel of fellow virologists that advises the government grant distribution agency.
The Daszak and Andersen letters were really political, not scientific, statements, yet were amazingly effective. Articles in the mainstream press repeatedly stated that a consensus of experts had ruled lab escape out of the question or extremely unlikely. Their authors relied for the most part on the Daszak and Andersen letters, failing to understand the yawning gaps in their arguments. Mainstream newspapers all have science journalists on their staff, as do the major networks, and these specialist reporters are supposed to be able to question scientists and check their assertions. But the Daszak and Andersen assertions went largely unchallenged.
Doubts about natural emergence. Natural emergence was the media’s preferred theory until around February 2021 and the visit by a World Health Organization (WHO) commission to China. The commission’s composition and access were heavily controlled by the Chinese authorities. Its members, who included the ubiquitous Daszak, kept asserting before, during, and after their visit that lab escape was extremely unlikely. But this was not quite the propaganda victory the Chinese authorities may have been hoping for. What became clear was that the Chinese had no evidence to offer the commission in support of the natural emergence theory.
This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identifiedwithin four monthsof the epidemic’s outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months. Yet some 15 months after the SARS2 pandemic began, and after a presumably intensive search, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which SARS2 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to December 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which, however plausible to begin with, had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year.
And as long as that remains the case, it’s logical to pay serious attention to the alternative conjecture, that SARS2 escaped from a lab.
Why would anyone want to create a novel virus capable of causing a pandemic? Ever since virologists gained the tools for manipulating a virus’s genes, they have argued they could get ahead of a potential pandemic by exploring how close a given animal virus might be to making the jump to humans. And that justified lab experiments in enhancing the ability of dangerous animal viruses to infect people, virologists asserted.
With this rationale, they have recreated the 1918 flu virus, shown how the almost extinct polio virus can be synthesized from its published DNA sequence, and introduced a smallpox gene into a related virus.
These enhancements of viral capabilities are known blandly as gain-of-function experiments. With coronaviruses, there was particular interest in the spike proteins, which jut out all around the spherical surface of the virus and pretty much determine which species of animal it will target. In 2000 Dutch researchers, for instance, earned the gratitude of rodents everywhere bygenetically engineeringthe spike protein of a mouse coronavirus so that it would attack only cats.
Virologists started studying bat coronaviruses in earnest after these turned out to be the source of both the SARS1 and MERS epidemics. In particular, researchers wanted to understand what changes needed to occur in a bat virus’s spike proteins before it could infect people.
Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China’s leading expert on bat viruses, Shi Zheng-li or “Bat Lady,” mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses.
Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their workfocused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to “examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs [coronaviruses].” In pursuit of this aim, in November 2015 they created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV). This manufactured virus was able to infect the cells of the human airway, at least when tested against a lab culture of such cells.
The SHC014-CoV/SARS1 virus is known as a chimera because its genome contains genetic material from two strains of virus. If the SARS2 virus were to have been cooked up in Shi’s lab, then its direct prototype would have been the SHC014-CoV/SARS1 chimera, the potential danger of which concerned many observers and prompted intense discussion.
“If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,”saidSimon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
Baric and Shi referred to the obvious risks in their paper but argued they should be weighed against the benefit of foreshadowing future spillovers. Scientific review panels, they wrote, “may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue.” Given various restrictions being placed on gain-of function (GOF) research, matters had arrived in their view at “a crossroads of GOF research concerns; the potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens. In developing policies moving forward, it is important to consider the value of the data generated by these studies and whether these types of chimeric virus studies warrant further investigation versus the inherent risks involved.”
That statement was made in 2015. From the hindsight of 2021, one can say that the value of gain-of-function studies in preventing the SARS2 epidemic was zero. The risk was catastrophic, if indeed the SARS2 virus was generated in a gain-of-function experiment.
Inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Baric had developed, and taught Shi, a general method for engineering bat coronaviruses to attack other species. The specific targets were human cells grown in cultures and humanized mice. These laboratory mice, a cheap and ethical stand-in for human subjects, are genetically engineered to carry the human version of a protein called ACE2 that studs the surface of cells that line the airways.
Shi returned to her lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and resumed the work she had started on genetically engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells. How can we be so sure?
Because, by a strange twist in the story, her work was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). And grant proposals that funded her work, which are a matter of public record, specify exactly what she planned to do with the money.
The grants were assigned to the prime contractor, Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance, who subcontracted them to Shi. Here are extracts from the grants for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. (“CoV” stands for coronavirus and “S protein” refers to the virus’s spike protein.)
“Test predictions of CoV inter-species transmission. Predictive models of host range (i.e. emergence potential) will be tested experimentally using reverse genetics, pseudovirus and receptor binding assays, and virus infection experiments across a range of cell cultures from different species andhumanized mice.”
“We will use S protein sequence data,infectious clone technology, in vitro and in vivo infection experiments and analysis of receptor binding to test the hypothesis that % divergence thresholds in S protein sequences predict spillover potential.”
What this means, in non-technical language, is that Shi set out to create novel coronaviruses with the highest possible infectivity for human cells. Her plan was to take genes that coded for spike proteins possessing a variety of measured affinities for human cells, ranging from high to low. She would insert these spike genes one by one into the backbone of a number of viral genomes (“reverse genetics” and “infectious clone technology”), creating a series of chimeric viruses. These chimeric viruses would then be tested for their ability to attack human cell cultures (“in vitro”) and humanized mice (“in vivo”). And this information would help predict the likelihood of “spillover,” the jump of a coronavirus from bats to people.
The methodical approach was designed to find the best combination of coronavirus backbone and spike protein for infecting human cells. The approach could have generated SARS2-like viruses, and indeed may have created the SARS2 virus itself with the right combination of virus backbone and spike protein.
It cannot yet be stated that Shi did or did not generate SARS2 in her lab because her records have been sealed, but it seems she was certainly on the right track to have done so. “It is clear that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was systematically constructing novel chimeric coronaviruses and was assessing their ability to infect human cells and human-ACE2-expressing mice,” says Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and leading expert on biosafety.
“It is also clear,” Ebright said, “that, depending on the constant genomic contexts chosen for analysis, this work could have produced SARS-CoV-2 or a proximal progenitor of SARS-CoV-2.” “Genomic context” refers to the particular viral backbone used as the testbed for the spike protein.
The lab escape scenario for the origin of the SARS2 virus, as should by now be evident, is not mere hand-waving in the direction of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It is a detailed proposal, based on the specific project being funded there by the NIAID.
Even if the grant required the work plan described above, how can we be sure that the plan was in fact carried out? For that we can rely on the word of Daszak, who has been much protesting for the last 15 months that lab escape was a ludicrous conspiracy theory invented by China-bashers.
On December 9, 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic became generally known, Daszak gave aninterviewin which he talked in glowing terms of how researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been reprogramming the spike protein and generating chimeric coronaviruses capable of infecting humanized mice.
“And we have now found, you know, after 6 or 7 years of doing this, over 100 new SARS-related coronaviruses, very close to SARS,” Daszak says around minute 28 of the interview. “Some of them get into human cells in the lab, some of them can cause SARS disease in humanized mice models and are untreatable with therapeutic monoclonals and you can’t vaccinate against them with a vaccine. So, these are a clear and present danger…
“Interviewer: You say these are diverse coronaviruses and you can’t vaccinate against them, and no anti-virals — so what do we do?
“Daszak: Well I think…coronaviruses — you can manipulate them in the lab pretty easily. Spike protein drives a lot of what happen with coronavirus, in zoonotic risk. So you can get the sequence, you can build the protein, and we work a lot with Ralph Baric at UNC to do this. Insert into the backbone of another virus and do some work in the lab. So you can get more predictive when you find a sequence. You’ve got this diversity. Now the logical progression for vaccines is, if you are going to develop a vaccine for SARS, people are going to use pandemic SARS, but let’s insert some of these other things and get a better vaccine.” The insertions he referred to perhaps included an element called the furin cleavage site, discussed below, which greatly increases viral infectivity for human cells.
In disjointed style, Daszak is referring to the fact that once you have generated a novel coronavirus that can attack human cells, you can take the spike protein and make it the basis for a vaccine.
One can only imagine Daszak’s reaction when he heard of the outbreak of the epidemic in Wuhan a few days later. He would have known better than anyone the Wuhan Institute’s goal of making bat coronaviruses infectious to humans, as well as the weaknesses in the institute’s defense against their own researchers becoming infected.
But instead of providing public health authorities with the plentiful information at his disposal, he immediately launched a public relations campaign to persuade the world that the epidemic couldn’t possibly have been caused by one of the institute’s souped-up viruses. “The idea that this virus escaped from a lab is just pure baloney. It’s simply not true,” he declared in an April 2020interview.
The safety arrangements at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Daszak was possibly unaware of, or perhaps he knew all too well, thelong historyof viruses escaping from even the best run laboratories. The smallpox virus escaped three times from labs in England in the 1960’s and 1970’s, causing 80 cases and 3 deaths. Dangerous viruses have leaked out of labs almost every year since. Coming to more recent times, the SARS1 virus has proved a true escape artist, leaking from laboratories in Singapore, Taiwan, and no less than four times from the Chinese National Institute of Virology in Beijing.
One reason for SARS1 being so hard to handle is that there were no vaccines available to protect laboratory workers. As Daszak mentioned in the December 19 interview quoted above, the Wuhan researchers too had been unable to develop vaccines against the coronaviruses they had designed to infect human cells. They would have been as defenseless against the SARS2 virus, if it were generated in their lab, as their Beijing colleagues were against SARS1.
A second reason for the severe danger of novel coronaviruses has to do with the required levels of lab safety. There are four degrees of safety, designated BSL1 to BSL4, with BSL4 being the most restrictive and designed for deadly pathogens like the Ebola virus.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology had a new BSL4 lab, but its state of readiness considerably alarmed the State Department inspectors who visited it from the Beijing embassy in 2018. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote in acableof January 19, 2018.
The real problem, however, was not the unsafe state of the Wuhan BSL4 lab but the fact that virologists worldwide don’t like working in BSL4 conditions. You have to wear a space suit, do operations in closed cabinets, and accept that everything will take twice as long. So the rules assigning each kind of virus to a given safety level were laxer than some might think was prudent.
Before 2020, the rules followed by virologists in China and elsewhere required that experiments with the SARS1 and MERS viruses be conducted in BSL3 conditions. But all other bat coronaviruses could be studied in BSL2, the next level down. BSL2 requires taking fairly minimal safety precautions, such as wearing lab coats and gloves, not sucking up liquids in a pipette, and putting up biohazard warning signs. Yet a gain-of-function experiment conducted in BSL2 might produce an agent more infectious than either SARS1 or MERS. And if it did, then lab workers would stand a high chance of infection, especially if unvaccinated.
Much of Shi’s work on gain-of-function in coronaviruses was performed at the BSL2 safety level, as is stated in her publications and other documents. She has said in an interviewwith Science magazine that “[t]he coronavirus research in our laboratory is conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories.”
“It is clear that some or all of this work was being performed using a biosafety standard — biosafety level 2, the biosafety level of a standard US dentist’s office — that would pose an unacceptably high risk of infection of laboratory staff upon contact with a virus having the transmission properties of SARS-CoV-2,” Ebright says.
“It also is clear,” he adds, “that this work never should have been funded and never should have been performed.”
This is a view he holds regardless of whether or not the SARS2 virus ever saw the inside of a lab.
Concern about safety conditions at the Wuhan lab was not, it seems, misplaced. According to afact sheetissued by the State Department on January 21, 2021, “The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
David Asher, a fellow of the Hudson Institute and former consultant to the State Department, provided more detail about the incident at aseminar. Knowledge of the incident came from a mix of public information and “some high end information collected by our intelligence community,” he said. Three people working at a BSL3 lab at the institute fell sick within a week of each other with severe symptoms that required hospitalization. This was “the first known cluster that we’re aware of, of victims of what we believe to be COVID-19.” Influenza could not completely be ruled out but seemed unlikely in the circumstances, he said.
Comparing the rival scenarios of SARS2 origin. The evidence above adds up to a serious case that the SARS2 virus could have been created in a lab, from which it then escaped. But the case, however substantial, falls short of proof. Proof would consist of evidence from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or related labs in Wuhan, that SARS2 or a predecessor virus was under development there. For lack of access to such records, another approach is to take certain salient facts about the SARS2 virus and ask how well each is explained by the two rival scenarios of origin, those of natural emergence and lab escape. Here are four tests of the two hypotheses. A couple have some technical detail, but these are among the most persuasive for those who may care to follow the argument.
1) The place of origin. Start with geography. The two closest known relatives of the SARS2 virus were collected from bats living in caves in Yunnan, a province of southern China. If the SARS2 virus had first infected people living around the Yunnan caves, that would strongly support the idea that the virus had spilled over to people naturally. But this isn’t what happened. The pandemic broke out 1,500 kilometers away, in Wuhan.
Beta-coronaviruses, the family of bat viruses to which SARS2 belongs, infect the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus affinis, which ranges across southern China. The bats’ range is 50 kilometers, so it’s unlikely that any made it to Wuhan. In any case, the first cases of the COVID-19 pandemic probably occurred in September, whentemperatures in Hubei provinceare already cold enough to send bats into hibernation.
What if the bat viruses infected some intermediate host first? You would need a longstanding population of bats in frequent proximity with an intermediate host, which in turn must often cross paths with people. All these exchanges of virus must take place somewhere outside Wuhan, a busy metropolis which so far as is known is not a natural habitat of Rhinolophus bat colonies. The infected person (or animal) carrying this highly transmissible virus must have traveled to Wuhan without infecting anyone else. No one in his or her family got sick. If the person jumped on a train to Wuhan, no fellow passengers fell ill.
It’s a stretch, in other words, to get the pandemic to break out naturally outside Wuhan and then, without leaving any trace, to make its first appearance there.
For the lab escape scenario, a Wuhan origin for the virus is a no-brainer. Wuhan is home to China’s leading center of coronavirus research where, as noted above, researchers were genetically engineering bat coronaviruses to attack human cells. They were doing so under the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 lab. If a virus with the unexpected infectiousness of SARS2 had been generated there, its escape would be no surprise.
“When I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus,” said David Baltimore, an eminent virologist and former president of the California Institute of Technology, often known as CalTech. “These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2,” he said. (1)
2) Natural history and evolution. The initial location of the pandemic is a small part of a larger problem, that of its natural history. Viruses don’t just make one time jumps from one species to another. The coronavirus spike protein, adapted to attack bat cells, needs repeated jumps to another species, most of which fail, before it gains a lucky mutation. Mutation — a change in one of its RNA units — causes a different amino acid unit to be incorporated into its spike protein and makes the spike protein better able to attack the cells of some other species.
Through several more such mutation-driven adjustments, the virus adapts to its new host, say some animal with which bats are in frequent contact. The whole process then resumes as the virus moves from this intermediate host to people.
In the case of SARS1, researchers have documented the successive changes in its spike protein as the virus evolved step by step into a dangerous pathogen. After it had gotten from bats into civets, there were six further changes in its spike protein before it became a mild pathogen in people. After a further 14 changes, the virus was much better adapted to humans, and with a further four, theepidemic took off.
But when you look for the fingerprints of a similar transition in SARS2, a strange surprise awaits. The virus has changed hardly at all, at least until recently. From its very first appearance, it was well adapted to human cells. Researchers led by Alina Chan of the Broad Institute compared SARS2 with late stage SARS1, which by then was well adapted to human cells, and found that the two viruses were similarly well adapted. “By the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV,” theywrote.
Even those who think lab origin unlikely agree that SARS2 genomes are remarkably uniform. Baric writes that “early strains identified in Wuhan, China, showed limited genetic diversity, which suggests that the virus may have been introduced from a single source.”
A single source would of course be compatible with lab escape, less so with the massive variation and selection which is evolution’s hallmark way of doing business.
The uniform structure of SARS2 genomes gives no hint of any passage through an intermediate animal host, and no such host has been identified in nature.
Proponents of natural emergence suggest that SARS2 incubated in a yet-to-be found human population before gaining its special properties. Or that it jumped to a host animal outside China.
All these conjectures are possible, but strained. Proponents of a lab leak have a simpler explanation. SARS2 was adapted to human cells from the start because it was grown in humanized mice or in lab cultures of human cells, just as described in Daszak’s grant proposal. Its genome shows little diversity because the hallmark of lab cultures is uniformity.
Proponents of laboratory escape joke that of course the SARS2 virus infected an intermediary host species before spreading to people, and that they have identified it — a humanized mouse from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
3) The furin cleavage site. The furin cleavage site is a minute part of the virus’s anatomy but one that exerts great influence on its infectivity. It sits in the middle of the SARS2 spike protein. It also lies at the heart of the puzzle of where the virus came from.
The spike protein has two sub-units with different roles. The first, called S1, recognizes the virus’s target, a protein called angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (or ACE2) which studs the surface of cells lining the human airways. The second, S2, helps the virus, once anchored to the cell, to fuse with the cell’s membrane. After the virus’s outer membrane has coalesced with that of the stricken cell, the viral genome is injected into the cell, hijacks its protein-making machinery and forces it to generate new viruses.
But this invasion cannot begin until the S1 and S2 subunits have been cut apart. And there, right at the S1/S2 junction, is the furin cleavage site that ensures the spike protein will be cleaved in exactly the right place.
The virus, a model of economic design, does not carry its own cleaver. It relies on the cell to do the cleaving for it. Human cells have a protein cutting tool on their surface known as furin. Furin will cut any protein chain that carries its signature target cutting site. This is the sequence of amino acid units proline-arginine-arginine-alanine, or PRRA in the code that refers to each amino acid by a letter of the alphabet. PRRA is the amino acid sequence at the core of SARS2’s furin cleavage site.
Viruses have all kinds of clever tricks, so why does the furin cleavage site stand out? Because of all known SARS-related beta-coronaviruses, only SARS2 possesses a furin cleavage site. All the other viruses have their S2 unit cleaved at a different site and by a different mechanism.
How then did SARS2 acquire its furin cleavage site? Either the site evolved naturally, or it was inserted by researchers at the S1/S2 junction in a gain-of-function experiment.
Consider natural origin first. Two ways viruses evolve are by mutation and by recombination. Mutation is the process of random change in DNA (or RNA for coronaviruses) that usually results in one amino acid in a protein chain being switched for another. Many of these changes harm the virus but natural selection retains the few that do something useful. Mutation is the process by which the SARS1 spike protein gradually switched its preferred target cells from those of bats to civets, and then to humans.
Mutation seems a less likely way for SARS2’s furin cleavage site to be generated, even though it can’t completely be ruled out. The site’s four amino acid units are all together, and all at just the right place in the S1/S2 junction. Mutation is a random process triggered by copying errors (when new viral genomes are being generated) or by chemical decay of genomic units. So it typically affects single amino acids at different spots in a protein chain. A string of amino acids like that of the furin cleavage site is much more likely to be acquired all together through a quite different process known as recombination.
Recombination is an inadvertent swapping of genomic material that occurs when two viruses happen to invade the same cell, and their progeny are assembled with bits and pieces of RNA belonging to the other. Beta-coronaviruses will only combine with other beta-coronaviruses but can acquire, by recombination, almost any genetic element present in the collective genomic pool. What they cannot acquire is an element the pool does not possess. And no known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, the class to which SARS2 belongs, possesses a furin cleavage site.
Proponents of natural emergence say SARS2 could have picked up the site from some as yet unknown beta-coronavirus. But bat SARS-related beta-coronaviruses evidently don’t need a furin cleavage site to infect bat cells, so there’s no great likelihood that any in fact possesses one, and indeed none has been found so far.
The proponents’ next argument is that SARS2 acquired its furin cleavage site from people. A predecessor of SARS2 could have been circulating in the human population for months or years until at some point it acquired a furin cleavage site from human cells. It would then have been ready to break out as a pandemic.
If this is what happened, there should be traces in hospital surveillance records of the people infected by the slowly evolving virus. But none has so far come to light. According to the WHOreport on the origins of the virus, the sentinel hospitals in Hubei province, home of Wuhan, routinely monitor influenza-like illnesses and “no evidence to suggest substantial SARSCoV-2 transmission in the months preceding the outbreak in December was observed.”
So it’s hard to explain how the SARS2 virus picked up its furin cleavage site naturally, whether by mutation or recombination.
That leaves a gain-of-function experiment. For those who think SARS2 may have escaped from a lab, explaining the furin cleavage site is no problem at all. “Since 1992 the virology community has known that the one sure way to make a virus deadlier is to give it a furin cleavage site at the S1/S2 junction in the laboratory,”writesSteven Quay, a biotech entrepreneur interested in the origins of SARS2. “At least 11 gain-of-function experiments, adding a furin site to make a virus more infective, are published in the open literature, including [by] Dr. Zhengli Shi, head of coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
4)A question of codons. There’s another aspect of the furin cleavage site that narrows the path for a natural emergence origin even further.
As everyone knows (or may at least recall from high school), the genetic code uses three units of DNA to specify each amino acid unit of a protein chain. When read in groups of 3, the 4 different kinds of DNA can specify 4 x 4 x 4 or 64 different triplets, or codons as they are called. Since there are only 20 kinds of amino acid, there are more than enough codons to go around, allowing some amino acids to be specified by more than one codon. The amino acid arginine, for instance, can be designated by any of the six codons CGU, CGC, CGA, CGG, AGA or AGG, where A, U, G and C stand for the four different kinds of unit in RNA.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Different organisms have different codon preferences. Human cells like to designate arginine with the codons CGT, CGC or CGG. But CGG is coronavirus’s least popular codon for arginine. Keep that in mind when looking at how the amino acids in the furin cleavage site are encoded in the SARS2 genome.
Now the functional reason why SARS2 has a furin cleavage site, and its cousin viruses don’t, can be seen by lining up (in a computer) the string of nearly 30,000 nucleotides in its genome with those of its cousin coronaviruses, of which the closest so far known is one called RaTG13. Compared with RaTG13, SARS2 has a 12-nucleotide insert right at the S1/S2 junction. The insert is the sequence T-CCT-CGG-CGG-GC. The CCT codes for proline, the two CGG’s for two arginines, and the GC is the beginning of a GCA codon that codes for alanine.
There are several curious features about this insert but the oddest is that of the two side-by-side CGG codons. Only 5 percent of SARS2’s arginine codons are CGG, and the double codon CGG-CGG has not been found in any other beta-coronavirus. So how did SARS2 acquire a pair of arginine codons that are favored by human cells but not by coronaviruses?
Proponents of natural emergence have an up-hill task to explain all the features of SARS2’s furin cleavage site. They have to postulate a recombination event at a site on the virus’s genome where recombinations are rare, and the insertion of a 12-nucleotide sequence with a double arginine codon unknown in the beta-coronavirus repertoire, at the only site in the genome that would significantly expand the virus’s infectivity. [Emphasis added]
“Yes, but your wording makes this sound unlikely — viruses are specialists at unusual events,” is the riposte of David L. Robertson, a virologist at the University of Glasgow who regards lab escape as a conspiracy theory. “Recombination is naturally very, very frequent in these viruses, there are recombination breakpoints in the spike protein and these codons appear unusual exactly because we’ve not sampled enough.”
Robertson is correct that evolution is always producing results that may seem unlikely but in fact are not. Viruses can generate untold numbers of variants but we see only the one-in-a-billion that natural selection picks for survival. But this argument could be pushed too far. For instance, any result of a gain-of-function experiment could be explained as one that evolution would have arrived at in time. And the numbers game can be played the other way. For the furin cleavage site to arise naturally in SARS2, a chain of events has to happen, each of which is quite unlikely for the reasons given above. A long chain with several improbable steps is unlikely to ever be completed.
For the lab escape scenario, the double CGG codon is no surprise. The human-preferred codon is routinely used in labs. So anyone who wanted to insert a furin cleavage site into the virus’s genome would synthesize the PRRA-making sequence in the lab and would be likely to use CGG codons to do so. [Emphasis added]
A third scenario of origin. There’s a variation on the natural emergence scenario that’s worth considering. This is the idea that SARS2 jumped directly from bats to humans, without going through an intermediate host as SARS1 and MERS did. A leading advocate is the virologist David Robertson who notes that SARS2 can attack several other species besides humans. He believes the virusevolved a generalist capability while still in bats. Because the bats it infects are widely distributed in southern and central China, the virus had ample opportunity to jump to people, even though it seems to have done so on only one known occasion. Robertson’s thesis explains why no one has so far found a trace of SARS2 in any intermediate host or in human populations surveilled before December 2019. It would also explain the puzzling fact that SARS2 has not changed since it first appeared in humans — it didn’t need to because it could already attack human cells efficiently.
One problem with this idea, though, is that if SARS2 jumped from bats to people in a single leap and hasn’t changed much since, it should still be good at infecting bats. And it seems it isn’t.
“Tested bat species are poorly infected by SARS-CoV-2 and they are therefore unlikely to be the direct source for human infection,” write a scientific groupskeptical of natural emergence.
Still, Robertson may be onto something. The bat coronaviruses of the Yunnan caves can infect people directly. In April 2012 six miners clearing bat guano from the Mojiang mine contracted severe pneumonia with COVID-19-like symptoms and three eventually died. A virus isolated from the Mojiang mine, called RaTG13, is still the closest known relative of SARS2. Much mystery surrounds the origin, reporting and strangely low affinity of RaTG13 for bat cells, as well as the nature of 8 similar viruses that Shireportsshe collected at the same time but has not yet published despite their great relevance to the ancestry of SARS2. But all that is a story for another time. The point here is that bat viruses can infect people directly, though only in special conditions.
So who else, besides miners excavating bat guano, comes into particularly close contact with bat coronaviruses? Well, coronavirus researchers do. Shi says she and her group collected more than 1,300 bat samples during some eight visits to the Mojiang cave between 2012 and 2015, and there were doubtless many expeditions to other Yunnan caves.
Imagine the researchers making frequent trips from Wuhan to Yunnan and back, stirring up bat guano in dark caves and mines, and now you begin to see a possible missing link between the two places. Researchers could have gotten infected during their collecting trips, or while working with the new viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Technology. The virus that escaped from the lab would have been a natural virus, not one cooked up by gain of function.
The direct-from-bats thesis is a chimera between the natural emergence and lab escape scenarios. It’s a possibility that can’t be dismissed. But against it are the facts that 1) both SARS2 and RaTG13 seem to have only feeble affinity for bat cells, so one can’t be fully confident that either ever saw the inside of a bat; and 2) the theory is no better than the natural emergence scenario at explaining how SARS2 gained its furin cleavage site, or why the furin cleavage site is determined by human-preferred arginine codons instead of by the bat-preferred codons.
Where we are so far. Neither the natural emergence nor the lab escape hypothesis can yet be ruled out. There is still no direct evidence for either. So no definitive conclusion can be reached.
That said, the available evidence leans more strongly in one direction than the other. Readers will form their own opinion. But it seems to me that proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favor natural emergence.
It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses. What more evidence could you want, aside from the presently unobtainable lab records documenting SARS2’s creation?
Proponents of natural emergence have a rather harder story to tell. The plausibility of their case rests on a single surmise, the expected parallel between the emergence of SARS2 and that of SARS1 and MERS. But none of the evidence expected in support of such a parallel history has yet emerged. No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2, if indeed it ever infected bats. No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals. There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did. There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved. There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else. There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other SARS-related beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons. The natural emergence theory battles a bristling array of implausibilities.
The records of the Wuhan Institute of Virology certainly hold much relevant information. But Chinese authorities seem unlikely to release them given the substantial chance that they incriminate the regime in the creation of the pandemic. Absent the efforts of some courageous Chinese whistle-blower, we may already have at hand just about all of the relevant information we are likely to get for a while.
So it’s worth trying to assess responsibility for the pandemic, at least in a provisional way, because the paramount goal remains to prevent another one. Even those who aren’t persuaded that lab escape is the more likely origin of the SARS2 virus may see reason for concern about the present state of regulation governing gain-of-function research. There are two obvious levels of responsibility: the first, for allowing virologists to perform gain-of-function experiments, offering minimal gain and vast risk; the second, if indeed SARS2 was generated in a lab, for allowing the virus to escape and unleash a world-wide pandemic. Here are the players who seem most likely to deserve blame.
Chinese virologists. First and foremost, Chinese virologists are to blame for performing gain-of-function experiments in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus of unexpected infectiousness like SARS2. If the virus did indeed escape from their lab, they deserve the world’s censure for a foreseeable accident that has already caused the deaths of three million people. True, Shi was trained by French virologists, worked closely with American virologists and was following international rules for the containment of coronaviruses. But she could and should have made her own assessment of the risks she was running. She and her colleagues bear the responsibility for their actions.
I have been using the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a shorthand for all virological activities in Wuhan. It’s possible that SARS2 was generated in some other Wuhan lab, perhaps in an attempt to make a vaccine that worked against all coronaviruses. But until the role of other Chinese virologists is clarified, Shi is the public face of Chinese work on coronaviruses, and provisionally she and her colleagues will stand first in line for opprobrium.
2. Chinese authorities. China’s central authorities did not generate SARS2, but they sure did their utmost to conceal the nature of the tragedy and China’s responsibility for it. They suppressed all records at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and closed down its virus databases. They released a trickle of information, much of which may have been outright false or designed to misdirect and mislead. They did their best to manipulate the WHO’s inquiry into the virus’s origins, and led the commission’s members on a fruitless run-around. So far they have proved far more interested in deflecting blame than in taking the steps necessary to prevent a second pandemic.
3. The worldwide community of virologists. Virologists around the world are a loose-knit professional community. They write articles in the same journals. They attend the same conferences. They have common interests in seeking funds from governments and in not being overburdened with safety regulations.
Virologists knew better than anyone the dangers of gain-of-function research. But the power to create new viruses, and the research funding obtainable by doing so, was too tempting. They pushed ahead with gain-of-function experiments. They lobbied against the moratorium imposed on Federal funding for gain-of-function research in 2014, and it was raised in 2017.
The benefits of the research in preventing future epidemics have so far been nil, the risks vast. If research on the SARS1 and MERS viruses could only be done at the BSL3 safety level, it was surely illogical to allow any work with novel coronaviruses at the lesser level of BSL2. Whether or not SARS2 escaped from a lab, virologists around the world have been playing with fire.
Their behavior has long alarmed other biologists. In 2014 scientists calling themselves the Cambridge Working Group urged caution on creating new viruses. In prescient words, they specified the risk of creating a SARS2-like virus. “Accident risks with newly created ‘potential pandemic pathogens’ raise grave new concerns,” they wrote. “Laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses, especially but not limited to influenza, poses substantially increased risks. An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger outbreaks that would be difficult or impossible to control.”
When molecular biologists discovered a technique for moving genes from one organism to another, they held a public conference at Asilomar in 1975 to discuss the possible risks. Despite much internal opposition, they drew up a list of stringent safety measures that could be relaxed in future — and duly were — when the possible hazards had been better assessed.
When the CRISPR technique for editing genes was invented, biologists convened a joint report by the US, UK and Chinese national academies of science to urge restraint on making heritable changes to the human genome. Biologists who invented gene drives have also been open about the dangers of their work and have sought to involve the public.
You might think the SARS2 pandemic would spur virologists to re-evaluate the benefits of gain-of-function research, even to engage the public in their deliberations. But no. Many virologists deride lab escape as a conspiracy theory, and others say nothing. They have barricaded themselves behind a Chinese wall of silence which so far is working well to allay, or at least postpone, journalists’ curiosity and the public’s wrath. Professions that cannot regulate themselves deserve to get regulated by others, and this would seem to be the future that virologists are choosing for themselves.
4. The US role in funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology. From June 2014 to May 2019, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance had agrantfrom the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, to do gain-of-function research with coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Whether or not SARS2 is the product of that research, it seems a questionable policy to farm out high-risk research to unsafe foreign labs using minimal safety precautions. And if the SARS2 virus did indeed escape from the Wuhan institute, then the NIH will find itself in the terrible position of having funded a disastrous experiment that led to death of more than 3 million worldwide, including more than half a million of its own citizens.
The responsibility of the NIAID and NIH is even more acute because for the first three years of the grant to EcoHealth Alliance, there was a moratorium on funding gain-of-function research. Why didn’t the two agencies therefore halt the federal funding, as apparently required to do so by law? Because someone wrote a loophole into the moratorium.
The moratorium specifically barred funding any gain-of-function research that increased the pathogenicity of the flu, MERS, or SARS viruses. But then afootnoteon page 2 of the moratorium document states that “[a]n exception from the research pause may be obtained if the head of the USG funding agency determines that the research is urgently necessary to protect the public health or national security.”
This seems to mean that either the director of the NIAID, Anthony Fauci, or the director of the NIH, Francis Collins, or maybe both, would have invoked the footnote in order to keep the money flowing to Shi’s gain-of-function research.
“Unfortunately, the NIAID director and the NIH director exploited this loophole to issue exemptions to projects subject to the Pause—preposterously asserting the exempted research was ‘urgently necessary to protect public health or national security’ — thereby nullifying the Pause,” Ebright said in aninterviewwith Independent Science News.
When the moratorium was ended in 2017, it didn’t just vanish but was replaced by a reporting system, the Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) Framework, which required agencies to report for review any dangerous gain-of-function work they wished to fund.
According to Ebright, both Collins and Fauci “have declined to flag and forward proposals for risk-benefit review, thereby nullifying the P3CO Framework.”
In his view, the two officials, in dealing with the moratorium and the ensuing reporting system, “have systematically thwarted efforts by the White House, the Congress, scientists, and science policy specialists to regulate GoF [gain-of-function] research of concern.”
Possibly the two officials had to take into account matters not evident in the public record, such as issues of national security. Perhaps funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is believed to have ties with Chinese military virologists, provided a window into Chinese biowarfare research. But whatever other considerations may have been involved, the bottom line is that the National Institutes of Health was supporting gain-of-function research, of a kind that could have generated the SARS2 virus, in an unsupervised foreign lab that was doing work in BSL2 biosafety conditions. The prudence of this decision can be questioned, whether or not SARS2 and the death of 3 million people were the result of it, which emphasizes the needfor some better systemof control.
In conclusion. If the case that SARS2 originated in a lab is so substantial, why isn’t this more widely known? As may now be obvious, there are many people who have reason not to talk about it. The list is led, of course, by the Chinese authorities. But virologists in the United States and Europe have no great interest in igniting a public debate about the gain-of-function experiments that their community has been pursuing for years.
Nor have other scientists stepped forward to raise the issue. Government research funds are distributed on the advice of committees of scientific experts drawn from universities. Anyone who rocks the boat by raising awkward political issues runs the risk that their grant will not be renewed and their research career will be ended. Maybe good behavior is rewarded with the many perks that slosh around the distribution system. And if you thought that Andersen and Daszak might have blotted their reputation for scientific objectivity after their partisan attacks on the lab escape scenario, look at the second and third names on thislist of recipientsof an $82 million grant announced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in August 2020.
The US government shares a strange common interest with the Chinese authorities: Neither is keen on drawing attention to the fact that Shi’s coronavirus work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health. One can imagine the behind-the-scenes conversation in which the Chinese government says, “If this research was so dangerous, why did you fund it, and on our territory too?” To which the US side might reply, “Looks like it was you who let it escape. But do we really need to have this discussion in public?”
Fauci is a longtime public servant who served with integrity under President Trump and has resumed leadership in the Biden Administration in handling the COVID-19 epidemic. Congress, no doubt understandably, may have little appetite for hauling him over the coals for the apparent lapse of judgment in funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan.
To these serried walls of silence must be added that of the mainstream media. To my knowledge, no major newspaper or television network has yet provided readers with an in-depth news story of the lab escape scenario, such as the one you have just read, although some have run brief editorials or opinion pieces. One might think that any plausible origin of a virus that has killed three million people would merit a serious investigation. Or that the wisdom of continuing gain-of-function research, regardless of the virus’s origin, would be worth some probing. Or that the funding of gain-of-function research by the NIH and NIAID during a moratorium on such research would bear investigation. What accounts for the media’s apparent lack of curiosity?
The virologists’ omertà is one reason. Science reporters, unlike political reporters, have little innate skepticism of their sources’ motives; most see their role largely as purveying the wisdom of scientists to the unwashed masses. So when their sources won’t help, these journalists are at a loss.
Another reason, perhaps, is the migration of much of the media toward the left of the political spectrum. Because President Trump said the virus had escaped from a Wuhan lab, editors gave the idea little credence. They joined the virologists in regarding lab escape as a dismissible conspiracy theory. During the Trump administration, they had no trouble in rejecting the position of the intelligence services that lab escape could not be ruled out. But when Avril Haines, President Biden’s director of national intelligence, said the same thing, she too was largely ignored. This is not to argue that editors should have endorsed the lab escape scenario, merely that they should have explored the possibility fully and fairly.
People round the world who have been pretty much confined to their homes for the last year might like a better answer than their media are giving them. Perhaps one will emerge in time. After all, the more months pass without the natural emergence theory gaining a shred of supporting evidence, the less plausible it may seem. Perhaps the international community of virologists will come to be seen as a false and self-interested guide. The common sense perception that a pandemic breaking out in Wuhan might have something to do with a Wuhan lab cooking up novel viruses of maximal danger in unsafe conditions could eventually displace the ideological insistence that whatever Trump said can’t be true.
And then let the reckoning begin.
(1) This quotation was added to the article after initial publication.
The first person to take a serious look at the origins of the SARS2 virus was Yuri Deigin, a biotech entrepreneur in Russia and Canada. In a long and brilliantessay, he dissected the molecular biology of the SARS2 virus and raised, without endorsing, the possibility that it had been manipulated. The essay, published on April 22, 2020, provided a roadmap for anyone seeking to understand the virus’s origins. Deigin packed so much information and analysis into his essay that some have doubted it could be the work of a single individual and suggested some intelligence agency must have authored it. But the essay is written with greater lightness and humor than I suspect are ever found in CIA or KGB reports, and I see no reason to doubt that Deigin is its very capable sole author.
In Deigin’s wake have followed several other skeptics of the virologists’ orthodoxy. Nikolai Petrovsky calculated how tightly the SARS2 virus binds to the ACE2 receptors of various species and found to his surprise that it seemedoptimized for the human receptor, leading him to infer the virus might have been generated in a laboratory. Alina Chan published apapershowing that SARS2 from its first appearance was very well adapted to human cells.
One of the very few establishment scientists to have questioned the virologists’ absolute rejection of lab escape is Richard Ebright, who has long warned against the dangers of gain-of-function research. Another is David A. Relman of Stanford University. “Even though strong opinions abound, none of these scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out with currently available facts,” hewrote. Kudos too to Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whotold CNNon March 26, 2021 that the “most likely” cause of the epidemic was “from a laboratory,” because he doubted that a bat virus could become an extreme human pathogen overnight, without taking time to evolve, as seemed to be the case with SARS2.
Steven Quay, a physician-researcher, has appliedstatistical and bioinformatic toolsto ingenious explorations of the virus’s origin, showing for instance how the hospitals receiving the early patients are clustered along the Wuhan№2 subway linewhich connects the Institute of Virology at one end with the international airport at the other, the perfect conveyor belt for distributing the virus from lab to globe.
In June 2020 Milton Leitenberg published anearly surveyof the evidence favoring lab escape from gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Many others have contributed significant pieces of the puzzle. “Truth is the daughter,” said Francis Bacon, “not of authority but time.” The efforts of people such as those named above are what makes it so.
The Chinese regime has said its controversial virology institute had no relationship with the military, but the institute worked with military leaders on a government-sponsored project for almost a decade.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) participated in a project, sponsored by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC)—a regime-funded scientific research institution—from 2012 to 2018. The project team comprised five military and civil experts, who conducted research at WIV labs, military labs, and other civil labs leading to “the discovery of animal pathogens [biological agents that causes disease] in wild animals.”
The WIV is located in central China’s Wuhan City, the COVID-19 pandemic ground zero. As an advanced virology institution, the WIV has the only P4 lab—the highest biosafety level lab—in China and the biggest repository of bat coronaviruses in Asia. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, is “96 percent identical at the whole-genome level to a bat coronavirus,” Chinese researchers wrote in a research article (pdf) published in February 2020.
In recent months, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry and Shi Zhengli, the WIV virologist nicknamed “Bat Woman” for her research on coronaviruses of bat origin, denied there is a connection between the WIV and military, and said that no WIV researchers were infected with COVID-19.
However, according to an investigation conducted by the U.S. State Department, “several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
“The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017,” states a State Department fact sheet.
However, Shi denied that the WIV engaged in research with the Chinese military. “I don’t know of any military work at the WIV. That information is incorrect,” Shi said at a public webinar on March 23. Shi didn’t mention that the WIV was used by a Chinese military medical team in early 2020 for developing COVID-19 vaccines.
Shi told Science magazinein July 2020 that no pathogen leaks or personnel infections had occurred. The magazine reported that according to Shi, “there is ‘zero infection’ among staff or students with SARS-CoV-2 [2019 novel coronavirus] or SARS-related viruses.”
In late March, overseas Chinese media reported that three WIV staff members started to have symptoms similar to COVID-19 as early as November 2019. Soon thereafter, Chinese state-run media China News reported that the news was based on rumors.
China News reported that a Chinese specialist told the WHO investigation team—which visited China in February to investigate the origin of the CCP virus—that cases dating back to 2019 were patients at WIV-related hospitals, rather than members of WIV staff.
The NSFC put research results about the animal pathogens on its website on Feb. 1, 2018. It also stated that the project “discovered over 1,640 types of new viruses by using the metagenomics technology,” and the research was performed by a civil and military team.
Cao Wuchun, 58, a member of the project’s military team, is a colonel and top epidemiologist in the Chinese military. He has been a researcher at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences since September 2017, but has worked there for the last 21 years. He served as the academy’s director from 2007 to 2017, according to his official resume. Cao served on the team as second in command toMajor General Chen Wei, China’s top biowarfare expert.
On Jan. 26, 2020, Cao accompanied Chen to Wuhan and they took over command of the WIV. Chinese state-run media reported, at that time, that the main purpose of the military take-over was to develop a vaccine against the CCP virus.
Cao also co-led the NSFC project with Shi (the WIV virologist), and the Chen-Cao team had taken over the WIV when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in Wuhan.
The other three team leaders of the NSFC project were Liang Guodong, Zhang Yongzhen, and Xu Jianguo, researchers from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Among them, Xu was the project leader or the manager of the other four team members.
Xu, 69, is the director of the CDC’s state key laboratory for communicable disease prevention and control, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and director of the Research Institute of Public Health at Nankai University. Xu’s resume states that he received $987,820 in funding from the NSFC for the project.
As one of China’s top virus specialists, Xu went to Wuhan to serve as a team leader in early 2020. On Jan. 14, 2020, Xu told China’s Science magazine, “All 763 close contacts aren’t infected. The pandemic isn’t severe, and it might stop next week if there’s no more new infection.”
In fact, Wuhan people started to crowd inside hospitals for their pneumonia symptoms from early January 2020, but the regimerefused to recognizethat the virus can transmit among humans until Jan. 20, 2020. The late announcements fooled people into traveling and allowed the virus to spread all around the world from Wuhan.
Shi, 56, directs the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at WIV. In 2000, she received her Ph. D. degree in virology from the University of Montpellier II in France, after studying there for four years.
Shi started to investigate coronaviruses when China suffered from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002 and 2003.
Beijing authorities said the SARS virus was transmitted from civets (a meat-eating animal) to humans in southern China’s Guangdong Province in November 2002, and spread to other Chinese cities and neighboring Hong Kong because the regime didn’t allow people to discuss this infectious disease in the first two months. SARS eventuallykilled at least774 people, and infected 8,096 people from 31 countries.
Chinese state-run CCTV reported on Dec. 29, 2017, that Shi and her team didn’t believe that civets were the natural hosts of SARS, and were only the intermediate host. They started to investigate bats from different Chinese regions in 2004.
In 2011, Shi’s team detected a SARS-like virus from bats living in a cave in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. They then named this virus “WIV1” and conducted further studies. CCTV didn’t report the details of the virus, but said Shi’s team continued to get samples from the same cave for five years.
Since 2015, Shi’s team has beenpublishingtheir test results in international magazines, including Virologica Sinica, Nature, and Lancet.
Weeks after the Chinese regime publicly announced the COVID-19 outbreak, Shi and her team published an article in Nature, linking COVID-19 to bats.
Shi’s team discovered the bat coronavirus in the bats that they had collected from an abandoned copper mine in Tongguan township, Mojiang county in Yunnan Province. The WIV researchers had visited the mine for several days even after six workers had gotten infected while working there.
On July 15, 2020, virologist Jonathan Latham and molecular biologist Allison Wilson from Ithaca, N.Y.,co-published an articlein Independent Science News after translating a 66-page master’s thesis by Li Xu, a Chinese medical doctor who treated the miners and sent their tissue samples to the WIV for testing.
Li’s thesis was submitted in May 2013. He wrote that six miners removed the bat feces from a mine in April 2012. After working there for 14 days, all workers felt sick with severe symptoms, such as high fever, dry cough, and sore limbs.
Kunming Medical University, School of Clinical Medicine, where Li studied, received and treated the miners. Finally, three of the miners died. Their samples were sent to WIV for further investigation.
Update: The headline on this article was updated on May 4, 2021.
Pretty much as predicted over the past 5 years, we are seeing lower troposphere temperatures turning south and solar activity declines.
The plot above presents April 2021 data reported from AMSU-B radiometers aboard NOAA satellites. April 2021 dipped -0.05C below the 1991-2000 average.
AMSU-A + AMSU-B have flown together on the 3 NOAA KLM satellites: NOAA-15 (NOAA K), launched May 13, 1998; NOAA-16 (NOAA L), launched September 21, 2000; and NOAA-17 (NOAA M), launched June 24, 2002.
The AMSU was an improvement of the Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU), incorporating capabilities of the Stratospheric Sounding Unit (SSU), both of which had flown on TIROS-N in 1978 and continued on the NOAA-6 through NOAA-14 satellites. The next generation in the family is the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), first flown on Suomi-NPP in 2011 and now standard equipment on the JPSS series of satellites, the first of which, NOAA-20, launched in 2017.
This technology has yielded the most accurate and reliable atmopsheric data covering the more recent 40 years.
AMSU also casts a shadow on the accuracy and reliability of Earth-based temperature data underlying IPCC’s climate models and the HadCRUT 4 dataset.
As discussed in Steiner et al. (2020):
The results show a robust cooling of the stratosphere of about 1–3 K, and a robust warming of the troposphere of about 0.6–0.8 K over the last four decades (1979–2018). Consistent results are found between the satellite-based layer-average temperatures and vertically resolved radiosonde records.
We see the 0.6-0.8 trend in the AMSU satellite data above. Steiner et al. associates with ENSO the prominent variability in tropospheric data .
But note the stratospheric cooling over the same period. And note the evolution of these trends.
Steiner et al. present results consistent with those of Mlynczak et al. (2018). They used SABER satellite data to measure the actual infrared power radiated by atmospheric NO and by CO2 (i.e., “greenhouse warming”). They determined the time series data has a significant dependence on both solar irradiance and geomagnetic processes. As of February, 2018, the thermosphere power is in the lowest quintile of values, to which we assign the level of ‘Cold.’ These empirical findings are at odds with IPCC models to date which assume-away and dismiss TSI effects as inconsequential
As seen below, Mlynczak reports declining greenhouse warming since ~1960, and the lesser peak ~1980.
As the AMSU record indicates, the stratospheric cooling experienced in the current declining solar period is not impacting tropospheric temperatures.
Mlynczak, M. G., Hunt, L. A., Russell, J. M., & Marshall, B. T. (2018). Thermosphere climate indexes: Percentile ranges and adjectival descriptors. Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, 174, 28–31.
Steiner, A. K., Ladstädter, F., Randel, W. J., Maycock, A. C., Fu, Q., Claud, C., … Zou, C.-Z. (2020). Observed temperature changes in the troposphere and stratosphere from 1979 to 2018. Journal of Climate, 33(19), 8165–8194.
History teaches that oligarchies and their statist allies (“public-private partnerships”) suck the life out of a nation and its economy as soon as they get a bite on sufficient power.
Yet, a lot of people support this dynamic – PPPs. Govetnment “investment” in “the future.”
I suspect they hope to get a taste for themselves – trickle down oligarchy.
Call it Stockholm Syndrone. Or, maybe it’s just trying the Roman playbook for building an empire – the conquered quickly become allies to extend the plunder.
Works until you out of tribes to conquer. Or you extend yourself to the point where you are outnumbered by tribal alliances not up for a “hostile takeover.”
After the Sock Puppet Administration was installed last year, the Greater Oligarchy running the US announced policies aimed at buying real votes to supplement the fake ones ranfomly flipped in the Dominion Voting Systems computers, err, “vote counting” machines.
The Roman playbook again: bread and circus.
As the poet Juvenal wisely observed:
“[Populus] qui dabat olim imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses.”
“[The people] which formerly gave military power, high offices, legions, all, now contains itself, and eagerly desires two things only—bread and circus games.”
Didn’t take long for the inevitable upshot to become reality – barely a hundred days for “cobras” to rear their nasty heads. Which only says we were THAT close to the edge after the most recent 20 years of the Uniparty Congress.
We Are At The Early Stage Of The Biggest Cobra Effect In The History Of Economics
“We believe we are at the early stage of the biggest Cobra Effect in the history of economics. As the massive monetary and massive fiscal stimuli (over $15T globally) conjoin to save the economy from a deflationary depression, instead they risk hyperinflation – overweight commodities.”
Vaccination parties have broken out on many street corners as explosive human energy has come roaring out of the cage. To us, this is a preview of what is about to transpire around the planet and the “Cobra Effect” has entered the 4th inning. When governments tinker in capital markets there are always unintended consequences. Above all, we must keep in mind – what transpired in Q1 to Q4 2020 was NOT a mere tinkering.
We have just lived through a colossal public-private experiment where fiscal and monetary policy globally have been unleashed at unprecedented proportions. It is easy to sit back and think the 2021-2022 recovery will be much like the 2009-2010 vintage. This is a mistake.
A year ago when we laid out our high conviction reflation trade, inflation engines were limited to some supply chain disruptions. Today, we are looking at multiple inflation furnaces cooking away as we speak.
First, Uncle Sam has dramatically altered the employment picture with the private sector going toe to toe with Mr. Stimmy. Breaking news, when you pay human beings NOT to work it is very hard to get them back into the labor force. Friday’s employment cost index (ECI) print is simply an appetizer, with the main course shock coming to CPI (average hourly earnings) data in the months ahead.
“That ECI number is solid big” – CIO NY Based Hedge Fund. ECI spike was driven by a 1.0% jump in wages and salaries. If this is repeated over the next three quarters, the y/y rate will reach 4.1% by Q4. The Fed does not look like it will have an easy summer communicating its approach to markets. ECI wages and salaries, which follow positions (less compositional skew) jumped 4.0% SAAR in Q1. Core PCE inflation rose 0.4% MoM, +2.6% SAAR over the last three months. Why work when u have stimmy, Uncle Sam is forcing wages higher.
“The premium for commodities that can be delivered now versus later into the future is the highest it has been since at least 2007, signaling just how strong the world’s demand is for raw materials and how tight supplies are.” – Family Office CIO
Keep in mind, it was hot AHE data that triggered the February 2018 thirteen percent drawdown in the Nasdaq 100 and knocked the XIV Short Volatility ETF into retirement.
Today, we are looking at a whole new serpent, a far different beast. ESG inflation side effects are oozing through the commodity market (oil, gas, copper), and the agricultural inflation engine has rarely been stronger.
Real GDP in 2Q is on pace to print 12% q/q annualized rate -nearly double 1Q’s performance –with weekly tax data, weekly rail traffic, and monthly regional manufacturing indices are all surging, inflation risk highest in a decade.
For S&P 500 companies, the uncertainty factor on forward-looking profit margins has just moved from blue-sky to dark grey, in terms of true visibility.
Up until now, all the inflation-reflation forces we have witnessed have been supply-driven. As vaccinations reach critical broad distribution targets. We have yet to see real, vaccine-fired demand-induced inflation.
Risk:There’s a high probability this is it for the tech and the Nasdaq. Supply chains are a mess (disruption unquantifiable), labor shortages exploding as Uncle Sam is the private sector’s colossal drag, commodity inflation is entering a new phase, margin pressures across the SPX are developing exponentially. The Fed is digging in dovish heels which will just make all of the above-unintended consequences that much worse. It’s very similar to Q4 2018, tough guy Powell is playing a dangerous game. We remain short the NDX, long commodities (XLE, XME, etc).
“Despite printing more than $80bn in revenue, +50% YoY, the FAAMNG companies really have not moved YTD. Arguably, these big Tech companies are the world’s best businesses and are failing to catch a meaningful, sustained bid.” – JPM
Tech stocks will get destroyed as we move to the next act of this inflation beast.
Comment: Larry often makes a good case as he did above in ZH. Makes me want to add my own two-cents.
First, if you haven’t done so already, click the “Cobra Effect ” link Larry inserted early in his piece. It points to an article in Psychology Today explaining the Cobra Effect – the unintended consequences of simple-minded policies.
Don’t worry – it’s “business-safe.”
Speaking of cobras, what does this graph say about what’s going on?