By Austin Eghiaruwa |
How SARS-CoV-2 came to wreak havoc on the planet is one question many have asked, with the answer still long in coming. The truth is out there, but the very people dealing with the pandemic would have every reason to ensure it is not revealed.
On April 14, director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, revealed that after over a year of determined sleuthing, US spying agencies had no concrete answers on basic questions regarding the origins of the 2019 coronavirus.
“It is absolutely accurate the intelligence community does not know exactly where, when, or how COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially,” Haines told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Components have coalesced around two alternative theories, these scenarios are it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, or it was a laboratory accident,” he said.
This time last year, Donald Trump alleged he’d seen evidence confirming COVID-19 was laboratory-made and, throughout 2020, former MI6 chief, Richard Dearlove, also claimed the virus was “an engineered escapee” from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Haines’ public admission that a “laboratory accident” is a possible explanation is significant because intelligence services have thus far been quick to dismiss the suggestion as a conspiracy theory whenever it’s been aired in public. In response to Trump’s statement for example, the director of National Intelligence’s office firmly refuted the idea Covid-19 was “manmade or genetically modified.” Of course, the virus could be neither and still have escaped from a lab.
While the World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to comment on Haines’ seeming change of heart, the lab theory stands in stark contrast with the agency’s long-held public position. In March, it issued a report, based on the findings of an international team of scientists who spent four weeks in Wuhan probing COVID-19’s origins. They concluded that of all the various explanations, a laboratory leak was by far and away the least likely.
For many though, the report raised far more questions than it answered. Even WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was critical of the team’s investigation – his response to the scientists’ public presentation of their findings was measured yet withering.
Quite an indictment of the 10-strong squad of researchers, considering they had been presented by the mainstream media ahead of their excursion as unimpeachable, world-class authorities on virology and public health determined – and destined – to get to the truth. That their investigation of the laboratory leak theory was so undercooked is particularly striking given the only US-based representative on the team, Peter Daszak, is President of EcoHealth Alliance, which has in recent years conducted extensive work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
Then again, Daszak would have a great many reasons for leaving certain stones unturned. For one, he’s a close friend and ardent supporter of Shi Zhengli, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at WIV, who has been repeatedly forced to deny her lab was the source of coronavirus. In June 2020, Scientific American described the pair as “long-time collaborators” – Daszak also staunchly defended his associate, stating she “leads a world-class lab of the highest standards,” and rubbished allegations she or her organization were in any way responsible for covid’s spread.
From 2014 to 2019, Daszak worked with Zhengli on investigating and cataloging bat coronaviruses across China, an initiative funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the tune of $3.7 million. Thereafter, the EcoHealth chief transferred this effort to the University of North Carolina, where he began ‘gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses and chimeras in humanized mice.
In a December 2019 interview, he somewhat ominously told virologist Vincent Racaniello that some coronaviruses may “get into human cells,” one can “manipulate in the lab pretty easily,” are untreatable with antibodies, and “you can’t vaccinate against them with a vaccine.”
NIH withdrew its backing for the EcoHealth project in April 2020 under pressure from the Trump administration, a move that garnered significant sympathetic media attention for the organisation, and Daszak. The move was reversed to much fanfare in August, and EcoHealth’s funding more than doubled to $7.5 million. However, what no media outlet noted at any stage was the non-profit’s NIH support represents a negligible fraction of its US government income. The overwhelming majority of EcoHealth’s revenue, accounting for almost $40 million between 2013 and 2020, flows from the Department of Defense (DoD).
A State Department factsheet on WIV published in January notes that “several researchers” at the Institute became sick in autumn 2019, “before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses,” raising questions about the credibility of Zhengli’s claims that there was “zero infection” among WIV staff and students prior to the pandemic.
The factsheet also asserted that “scientists in China have researched animal-derived coronaviruses under conditions that increased the risk for accidental and potentially unwitting exposure,” and “secret Chinese military projects” may have been conducted at the Institute since at least 2017.
Perhaps predictably, there was no mention that the US military may have funded, whether directly or indirectly, projects conducted at WIV. It’s notable that $34.6 million of EcoHealth’s DoD funding came from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a Pentagon division working to “counter and deter weapons of mass destruction and improvised threat networks.”
Daszak’s clear conflict of interest in the WHO probe is rendered all the more shocking when one considers he was lead author of a joint statement published in The Lancet in February 2020, which strongly condemned “rumours and misinformation” relating to covid – namely, that it may have emerged from a laboratory.
– Eghiaruwa is a public analyst and resides at Plot 105, Omari Street, Mabushi, Abuja