Scientists who denied COVID lab leak theory in March 2020 were worried about 's*** show' of blaming China, documents show

Internal Slack communications obtained by a U.S. House committee show Dr. Kristian Andersen and colleagues discussing their fear of blaming China for the pandemic's outbreak. 

Scientists who denied COVID lab leak theory in March 2020 were worried about 's*** show' of blaming China, documents show
AP Photo/Andy Wong
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Scientists who denied that the COVID-19 virus could have originated in a lab in the early days of the pandemic were worried about the "s*** show" that blaming China would cause, internal communications reveal. 

In March 2020, Nature magazine published an article titled "'The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2," in which the authors forcefully denied the possibility that COVID-19 was a manmade virus. "Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus," they wrote.

The paper became highly influential as the possibility of a lab-leak theory was downplayed in the mainstream media. Proponents were accused of racism for noting that Wuhan, the origin city of the pandemic, is also the site of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which studies coronaviruses.

At a U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic hearing yesterday, Republicans questioned Dr. Kristian Andersen, one of the co-authors of the Nature paper. Internal Slack communications obtained by the House committee show Dr. Anderson and colleagues discussing their fear of blaming China for the pandemic's outbreak. 

As reported by the Daily Mail, biologist and fellow co-author Dr. Andrew Rambaut wrote to Andersen and others on February 2, 2020: "given the s*** show that would happen if anyone serious accused the Chinese of even accidental release, my feeling is we should say that given there is no evidence of a specifically engineered virus, we cannot possibly distinguish between natural evolution and escape so we are content with ascribing it to natural process."

Andersen replied: "Yup, I totally agree that that's a very reasonable conclusion. Although I hate when politics is injected into science — but its [sic] impossible not to, especially given the circumstances."

The Nature paper has drawn further attention because it was partly commissioned by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was then the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The NIAID was revealed to have been funding virus research at the Wuhan lab.

“It has been alleged that our paper was initiated and orchestrated by Dr. Anthony Fauci to disprove, dismiss, and cover-up a lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 as directed at a February 1, 2020 conference call," Andersen said at the hearing. 

“It has also been suggested that a $8.9 million federal ‘WARN-ID’ grant awarded in 2020 to myself and colleagues from five different countries was a quid-pro-quo we received for changing our conclusions about the likely origin of SARS-CoV-2.”

“Let me categorically say that these allegations are absurd and false.”

At a February 1, 2020 meeting, Andersen and his colleagues told Fauci they believed the virus had signs of genetic manipulation. But four days later, they sent Fauci a draft of a paper which denied the lab-leak theory. 

"Politicians may flip-flop. Scientists do not flip-flop in a matter of 72 hours," said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R., NY). 

A report by Subcommittee Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R., Ohio) alleges that the reason for the change was intervention by Fauci to try to kill the accidental leak narrative. “On January 31, 2020, Dr. Fauci prompted Proximal Origin, which’s goal was to ‘disprove’ the lab leak theory to avoid blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic. Proximal Origin employed fatally flawed science to achieve its goal. And, finally, [NIH director] Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci used Proximal Origin to attempt to kill the lab leak theory," the report reads. 

Dr. Andersen and co-author Dr. Robert F. Garry, who also testified before the House, argued that they did not flip flop, but rather adjusted their hypothesis in response to new information they had learned.

Representative James Comer (R., Ky.) also brought up an email in which Collins told Fauci and colleagues they needed to push back against the 'conspiracy' narrative. “I share your view that a swift convening of experts in a confidence-inspiring framework (WHO seems really the only option) is needed, or the voices of the conspiracy [i.e. the lab-leak theory] will quickly dominate, doing great potential harm to science and international harmony,” the February 2020 email reads. 

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  • By Ezra Levant

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