The suspicion that a lab leak from a Chinese facility in Wuhan was the root cause of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to gather momentum with an investigative report by a leading US daily pointing out that three researchers working at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) developed Covid like symptoms ahead of the official date of the breakout.According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), these researchers from WIV sought hospital care in November 2019, months ahead of China's disclosure of the Covid-19 pandemic.The newspaper on Sunday based its findings on a previous US intelligence report, which provided fresh details on the number of researchers affected at the WIV, the timing of their illnesses, and their visits to the hospital.The report may add more weight to growing clamour for a fresh and impartial probe into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially after an inconclusive investigation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) had earlier said that a lab leak was unlikely to be the cause of the pandemic
The WSJ report has been published on the eve of a WHO meeting, which is expected to discuss the next phase of a probe into the origins of Covid-19.The WSJ writeup builds on earlier credible reports that strongly suggest that a lab leak could have been the likely cause of the Covid-19 outbreak.In a detailed article, the authoritative Bulletin of Atomic Scientist (BAS) had cited five reasons to build a case for a fresh investigation on the possibility that the virus had escaped from WIV.The BAS report points out that WIV has been engaged in what are called gain-of-function experiments. In simple language, it means that the facility had been conducting experiments to enhance the ability of dangerous animal viruses to infect people. Was SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic also a result of gain-of-function experiments? In that case, its accidental leakage cannot be ruled out.
Nicholas Wade, the author of the article further identifies Shi Zheng-li as a nodal researcher at WIV, who was engaged in gain-of-function experiments. The author points out that Shi had earlier collaborated with coronavirus researcher Ralph S. Baric. In November 2015 the duo created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus. The development of SARS-CoV-2 could therefore have been a logical extension of her earlier work.Second, the safety standards of WIV were simply not fool-proof to prevent an accidental leakage of a lab developed Coronavirus. Wade spotlights that gain-of-function experiments were being carried out in the less safe BSL-2 level labs.Third, Chinese lack of transparency during the conduct of investigations to determine the origin of the pandemic at Wuhan has further strengthened the lab escape proposition.Fourth, the Chinese authorities went out of their way to sell the theory that the SARS-CoV-2virus evolved naturally. Why did they have to mount such an extraordinary effort?Finally, the Chinese attempted to manipulate the composition of the WHO investigators, who visited them in February, and controlled the team's information access, generating further speculation of foul play.Earlier the Weekend Australian newspaper revealed that Chinese scientists were thinking about bioweapons, visualising a Word War-3 scenario. The daily cited a Chinese government document which discussed the weaponisation of SARS coronavirus. Titled the Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons, the 2015 paper was authored by Chinese scientists, Chinese public health officials and members of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).Released five years ahead the Covid-19 outbreak, it nails Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronaviruses as a "new era of genetic weapons" that can be "artificially manipulated into an emerging human edisease virus, then weaponised and unleashed in a way never seen before". The question then arises: Was the WIV engaged in developing bioweapons, resulting in the accidental escape of SARS-CoV-2?Reporting on the WSJ story, Reuters contacted a US National Security Council spokeswoman for comment. Without directly commenting on the WSJ report, she said that the Biden administration continued to have "serious questions about the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, including its origins within the Peoples Republic of China.