Scientist at center of lab leak theory says he can’t rule it out

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A scientist at the center of the Covid lab leak theory has admitted he cannot rule out the possibility the virus escaped a Chinese research facility.

In an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com, Dr Peter Daszak, a British zoologist who funded risky virus research at the lab in Wuhan months before the pandemic, said he does not ‘fully reject’ the theory and ‘never did’.

Dr Daszak became infamous when he spearheaded a letter published in The Lancet denouncing the lab leak theory as a conspiracy in early 2020 without disclosing his conflict of interest.

He heads EcoHealth Alliance, a New York City-based non-profit that subcontracted research into bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). He spoke to DailyMail.com this week after the US Government renewed his organization’s grant to study those viruses.

Dr Daszak still claims the lab leak theory of Covid was ‘extremely unlikely’ and argues there is no ‘smoking gun’ linking the virus to experiments at the WIV. This is despite the FBI and US Energy Department publicly stating a lab accident is the most likely origin of the virus. 

Dr Peter Daszak (pictured left alongside Dr Anthony Fauci) oversees EcoHealth Alliance, which funneled NIAID funds to the WIV. The nonprofit will now receive an additional $2.3million in US taxpayer funds to award over the next four years. The money will head to Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School, in Singapore

Dr Peter Daszak (pictured left alongside Dr Anthony Fauci) oversees EcoHealth Alliance, which funneled NIAID funds to the WIV. The nonprofit will now receive an additional $2.3million in US taxpayer funds to award over the next four years. The money will head to Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School, in Singapore

The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. New studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbour Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)

The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. New studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbor Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)

Dr Daszak said: ‘I don’t reject [the lab leak theory]. I never did. [But] I believe it’s extremely unlikely based on the evidence.

‘The lab leak theory is just that, it’s a theory. To prove your theory, you need some facts. Some evidence. 

‘What a scientist has to do is look at the evidence and say which theory is correct and right now the lab leak theory has no evidence to it. There’s no smoking gun.’

Proponents of the lab leak theory point to the lack of cooperation from Chinese officials, and poor infection control measures at the WIV.

The lab was also fraught with problems in the years leading up to the pandemic’s outbreak.

In 2018, US officials based in China warned the State Department that the lab was not fit to conduct these types of experiments.

Even Chinese regulators had repeatedly flagged biosafety issues in the institute opening the door to harm for both the lab’s employees and the outside world.

In early 2021, the State Department reported that several researchers inside the facility fell ill with a mysterious illness in late 2019 — well before the pandemic.

Chinese officials failed to report these illnesses publicly.

There are also reports of doctors who spoke out about experiments at the Wuhan lab later being silenced or disappearing. 

In previous viral outbreaks, the intermediate animal between bats and humans was found in a matter of months.

For SARS in the early 2000s, it was quickly confirmed to be raccoon dogs. For MERS in 2012, camels. 

Now more than three years into the pandemic, the worldwide hunt to find the animal that spilled Covid into humans has still not been found.

The virus also featured a furin cleavage site — on the virus’s spike protein and responsible for binding the pathogen to human cells — optimized for human infection.

It was later revealed that researchers in the WIV were performing experiments where they manipulated the virus in this way. 

However, Dr Daszak says a lack of direct evidence means a natural origin is still most likely for Covid. 

 ‘If you look at the WHO report it states very clearly, that the lab leak theory was extremely unlikely,’ Dr Daszak continued, referencing a March 2021 report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

‘It was extremely unlikely at the start of the outbreak. It was extremely unlikely after the WHO team had a sit down in that WIV and asked tough questions to the directors and the staff of the WIV.

‘And it’s now even more extremely unlikely given there’s so much more evidence for the zoonotic origin.’

Proponents of the natural spillover theory will point to the lack of direct evidence of a lab leak, either.

Publicly available data — which is limited because of a lack of cooperation from China — shows the earliest Covid cases were clustered around the Huanan Seafood Market.

This is only ten miles away from the WIV. 

Records show many animals were present that could serve as vectors from bats to people around the time the virus first emerged.

Squalid conditions in the ‘wet market’ created a perfect inter-species breeding ground for a virus like Covid. 

Dr Daszak added: ‘We know that other viruses in Southeast Asia are very similar in bats.’ 

‘Information about the wildlife trade in China, we now know that live animals were being shipped into that market. 

‘All these things were unknown at the beginning of the pandemic. And all the new evidence has come through points towards the market and the wildlife trade is the source of this virus.’

Researchers identified stalls in the southwest corner of the market where Covid is most prevalent. A large portion of Covid samples gathered from the area was from raccoon dogs, they determined

Researchers identified stalls in the southwest corner of the market where Covid is most prevalent. A large portion of Covid samples gathered from the area was from raccoon dogs, they determined

Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, where crucial data was wiped by Chinese scientists

Consensus remains that Covid is a bat-borne virus, though scientists still have not found the intermediary host that passed the virus on to humans after a massive search across China.

Finding this animal would vindicate China, which has been under pressure recently because of its potential role in Covid’s origins. 

Meanwhile, the WIV is one of the world’s leading research center for coronaviruses.

Its work with bat viruses was so prolific that one leading scientist even earned the title ‘Bat Lady’ from her colleagues.

US taxpayers funded some of these experiments via an NIH grant to EcoHealth — which was then funneled to the WIV. 

In response to the FBI and Energy Department leaning towards the virus being a lab leak, Dr Daszak said: ‘I don’t know what they’ve looked. The evidence that they’ve looked at has not been made public.’

Despite lingering questions about Covid’s origins, the NIH has restored funding to EcoHealth for research into bat coronaviruses.

As part of the grant, EcoHealth will receive $576,290 each year for the next four years for its grant title ‘Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence’.

In total, the non-profit has received $4.3million as part of this grant.

The NIH terminated the grant with EcoHealth in April 2020, under Trump, who endorsed the lab leak theory.

It was later reinstated but suspended indefinitely as the intelligence community searched for Covid’s origins.

Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School, on the southern tip of the island nation in Southeast Asia, will be the only recipient of the grant in the next four years, Dr Daszak said.

Their work will investigate hundreds of samples of bat coronaviruses collected from Asian countries such as China.

These researchers will not go into the field and collect new samples, just work with what already exists in their databases.



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