U.S. scientist who condemned COVID “conspiracy theories” now says he did it to protect Chinese scientists

U.S. scientist who condemned COVID “conspiracy theories” now says he did it to protect Chinese scientists
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
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The lead scientist behind an effort to suppress the debate surrounding the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which is speculated to have originated from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan, admitted that he did so in order to protect Chinese scientists from online criticism. 

The Daily Caller reports that Dr. Peter Daszak, the president of the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, “orchestrated” a statement in the medical journal The Lancet last February, preemptively condemning “conspiracy theories” that suggested the virus originated from a lab. His statement was made prior to any serious research on the coronavirus’s origins. 

Daszak worked with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which researched bat-based coronaviruses, now understood to be the origins of COVID-19. According to the Daily Caller, Daszak allegedly played an influential role in directing taxpayer-funded grants from the National Institute of Health to fund the Wuhan-based laboratory. 

An email obtained by U.S. Right to Know reveals that Daszak worked to expand a draft version of the Lancet statement, which condemned the so-called conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was developed as a bioweapon in China. 

“I think this is a bit too specific, because there are other conspiracy theories out there,” Daszak wrote in the Feb. 6, 2020 email. “Our current statement neatly refutes most of them by saying that ‘We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that 2019-nCoV does not have a natural origin. Scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this virus originated in wildlife, as have many other emerging diseases.”

On Friday, Daszak’s spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that his statement condemning the conspiracy theories at the start of the pandemic was meant to protect Chinese scientists. 

“The Lancet letter was written during a time in which Chinese scientists were receiving death threats and the letter was intended as a showing of support for them as they were caught between important work trying to stop an outbreak and the crush of online harassment,” Daszak’s spokesman said. 

Daszak is now part of a ten-person panel appointed by the World Health Organization to investigate the origins of the coronavirus in China. The controversial scientist’s inclusion in the group has invited criticism, due to his prior connections with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

“The independence of the WHO investigation may be seriously compromised by the processes used to choose investigators… In particular, the choice of Dr. Daszak, who has a personal stake in ensuring current Chinese practices continue and who is a longtime collaborator of a scientist at the center of the investigation, is likely to taint its results,” said Miles Pomper, a fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

According to the U.S. State Department, the government has obtained evidence that researchers at the Chinese laboratory developed symptoms in line with COVID-19 in fall 2019, months before the disease was identified. 

“The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses,” said the State Department. “This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was ‘zero infection’ among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses.”

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