Scientists feared lab leak origin discussion would 'harm science and international community'

Leading scientists from around the world feared the political ramifications of discussions about COVID-19 leaking from a Chinese lab.

Scientists feared lab leak origin discussion would 'harm science and international community'
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Multiple U.S. and British scientists suspected that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China. However, many were hesitant to publicize their suspicions because they were concerned about “doing great potential harm to science and international harmony,” based on warnings by a top U.S. official.

“An email from Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, on February 2 2020 said that ‘a likely explanation’ was that COVID had rapidly evolved from a Sars-like virus inside human tissue in a low-security lab,” The Telegraph reported. “The email, to Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, went on to say that such evolution may have ‘accidentally created a virus primed for rapid transmission between humans.'”

Despite their concerns, a top Dutch scientist and Dr. Francis Collins warned that debating the lab-leak theory could have serious geopolitical ramifications and affect international relations with China.

“I share your view that a swift convening of experts in a confidence-inspiring framework is needed or the voices of conspiracy will quickly dominate, doing great potential harm to science and international harmony,” wrote Collins, who was then the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in an email to Farrar.

The Dutch scientist, Dr. Ron Fouchier, a virologist and deputy head of the Erasmus MC Department of Viroscience, corresponded to Farrar in an email suggesting that having the debate would “unnecessarily distract top researchers from their active duties and do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular.”

The Telegraph reported:

In the emails, Sir Jeremy said that other scientists also believed the virus could not have evolved naturally. One such scientist was Professor Mike Farzan, of Scripps Research, the expert who discovered how the original Sars virus binds to human cells. … The emails also show that Bob Garry, of the University of Texas, was unconvinced that Covid-19 emerged naturally.

Viscount Ridley told The Telegraph that the email correspondence displayed “a lamentable lack of openness and transparency among Western scientists who appear to have been more interested in shutting down a hypothesis they thought was very plausible, for political reasons.”

The Daily Wire reported:

David Asher, who led the Trump administration’s investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, told Fox News in May 2021 that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was up to “some very hairy stuff with synthetic biology” and that biostatisticians from the U.S. government calculated that the odds of the coronavirus evolving naturally was one-in-13 billion.

Asher said that the U.S. government’s probe was finding “that there was almost no evidence that supported a natural, zoonotic … evolution, or source of COVID-19 … the data disproportionately stacked up as we investigated that it was coming out of a lab or some supernatural source.”

Asher said that the Chinese military was involved in research in the lab and that “they were up to some very hairy stuff with synthetic biology and so called gain of function techniques.”

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