By Austin Lin and Jianli Yang
Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine is commanding global attention. However, away from the current spotlight, another war, which will also bound to be consequential in shaping the future of the world order, is being fought quietly – simmering battles of narratives over the origins of COVID-19. On one side is a guerrilla team of mostly no-name sleuths plus a lonely postdoc; on the other is the peculiar but powerful alliance of the Western virology establishment and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In February 2022, four new preprints (non peer-reviewed articles) concerning COVID-19’s origin were released. Two preprints are from the virology establishment, totaling 150 pages and 47 coauthors, these figures meant to “shock and awe” the public with “analyses”. The publications were immediately followed up with a media blitz by a newly formed “virology-media-complex.” The New York Times shattered the glass by presenting it as a breaking news; this account was then obediently repeated by NPR, Nature, Vox, The Economist, etc. Virologists were quoted as saying that the papers had “cracked the case,” were “extraordinarily clear”, and had “settled” the controversy. The authors claimed to have narrowed down the origin to a single stall in the Huanan wet market in Wuhan in December 2019, backed by a picture of caged raccoon dogs as evidence.
Except, that picture was taken in 2014! All animals in that seafood market tested negative. No animal viruses ancestral to the human strain were detected. No positive results were found after testing more than 80,000 additional animals beyond Wuhan. Even so, a simpler alternative that would still make the market the origin could be infected humans shopping there, which then led to a super-spreader event.
But the elephant in the room remains that Wuhan laboratories (the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and Wuhan CDC) together house the world’s leading collection of novel coronaviruses, many unknown to the world. The Times article didn’t mention that these labs have created gain-of-function (GoF) chimeric viruses that infect humans’ ACE2 receptor – the same receptor used by SARS-CoV-2 to enter cells causes COVID-19.
The 150-page preprints contain fancy statistics; however, it simply doesn’t pass the commonsense smell test. There are roughly 40,000 wet markets in China, so the probability is 1/40000 that only this particular seafood market caught a random bad break. If we conservatively assume 50 stalls per market, the odds is 2,000,000 to 1 that this pandemic started at the exact stall where a picture of racoon dogs was taken, back in 2014! This is the kind of “voodoo predicative science” that drives people to buy lottery.
Without a positive host or hard genetic evidence, it is simply incredulous that this virology clique is asking the public to accept their faulty logic, with a docile media repeating their lines ad libitum. Moreover, given the very infectious nature of SARS-CoV-2 in how easily it infects animals and humans alike, are we to further believe that there were zero signs of infections and outbreaks along the wildlife transport routes, and no parallel outbreaks in other markets outside of Wuhan?
In fact, the hard genetic evidence is against a zoonotic jump. In May 2020, Alina Chan at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, had published analyses of the genetic divergence between SARS-CoV-1 (2003) and SARS-CoV-2 (2019). The difference between these two mutation trees is striking. SARS-CoV-2 seems already well adapted in humans when it was first detected; it lacks the rapid early mutations as seen in SARS-CoV-1 which is typical of zoonotic jumps. This indicates that SARS-CoV-2 was likely circulating in humans before the super-spreader event. In a further contrast, within months of the 2003 SARS-CoV-1 outbreak, the animal host was found, wildlife handlers traced, and host genetics published.
Early patient accounts further contradict the timeline of the zoonotic jump in December 2019. One of the earliest case was reported to be mid-November 2019. This is backed by firsthand observation of a Wuhan doctor who saw a sharp rise in suspecting fever cases also around mid-November. The government later instructed doctors not to mention pneumonia in the death certificate. This coincides with U.S. intelligence reports stating three sick lab workers had COVID-like symptoms in November 2019.
This line of reasoning is backed by the new paper, also a preprint from Virginie Courtier-Orgogozo and Francisco de Ribera. Their analysis showed a likely human-to-human transmission inside the seafood market. This is the same Ribera, along with other sleuths, who in 2020 had deduced missing viruses not reported by Shi Zhengli (aka, “bat woman”) of WIV. Shi was forced to issue an addendum to her earlier paper acknowledging the missing viruses. However, no additional information was disclosed regarding these viruses to this day.
While sleuths have been proven right on multiple occasions from the beginning, it is the virology establishment supporting GoF research that has to backtrack or correct many of their statements. Despite their loss of credibility, these same virologists who are repeatedly quoted by the media for two years now appear as authors on the 150-page preprints: Kristian Andersen, Angela Rasmussen, Marion Koopmans, Robert Garry, Edward Holmes, Andrew Rambaut.
On January 31, 2020, Andersen expressed suspicion about the SARS-CoV-2 genome as it appeared “inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.” However, after a NIH conference call hosted by Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins (former NIH director) on February 1, he called his own prior hypothesis a “crackpot theory” merely three days later. By March, Andersen coauthored a paper with Garry, Holmes and Rambaut declaring that “we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”
Andersen later said that it was the pangolin data that help changed his mind. However, these pangolin papers were suspicious to begin with. One paper was finally corrected 1.5 years later and pangolins as the host has been debunked. Somehow, Andersen hasn’t changed his mind back or retracted his own paper.
Angela Rasmussen, who has consistently and purposely conflated simple lab leaks due to human errors with politically toxic accusations of bioweapon and intentional release, moved the goal post of the definition of GoF from animals to humans.
Marion Koopmans and Peter Dazsak of Ecohealth Alliance joined the World Health Organization (WHO) team that went to Wuhan for the stage-managed COVID-19 origin parade. They spent less than teatime with Wuhan scientists, but agreed to the CCP narrative that frozen food chains are a more likely cause than a lab leak. Dazsak has partnered with Wuhan labs for years.
Andersen, Koopmans, Garry, Holmes and Rambaut all attended the NIH conference call on February 1, 2000. The notes of that call remain largely unreleased . NIH further released another 292 pages, but they were substantially and often entirely redacted. when it was asked about virus research related to Wuhan labs. For a federal agency that has done wonders in advancing science, it is simply unfathomable that it chooses obstruction over transparency for a pandemic that has killed millions.
The Chinese scientists also published a new preprint with a summary suggesting the real origin may not be Wuhan, while denying timely and independent testing of samples from Wuhan blood banks. This is no surprise since the CCP had already issued gag orders on SARS-CoV-2’s origin in early 2020, whereas no gag orders were issued for SARS-CoV-1. By May 2020, they had already ruled out both market and lab origins. This is same party-state dictatorship that blamed the CCP-made Great Famine that killed ~36 million as a natural disaster. It erased the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 from history books. Chairman Xi literally wrote “the CCP leads everything” into the constitution. Thus, no Chinese scientists and their data could possibly contradict CCP’s official political position. For the past two years, all CCP media does was to push false narratives.
It was fool’s gold for Western virologists to accept biased, unverified and deeply flawed data from CCP at face value, and reach for a strong conclusion. There is a fundamental axiom in science – garbage in, garbage out. As scientists they knew better, however, as a conflicted clique that supports GoF research they chose to be ignorant. Their analyses were driven by their predetermined conclusion. This is not the first time their scientific integrity is being questioned.
The CCP is confident of no zoonotic jumps around Wuhan; bat caves within hours drive are open to tourists. In contrast, in the far distance Yunnan (>1000 miles from Wuhan), journalists are blocked from visiting bat caves in Mojiang area. Back in 2012, a few miners died of mysterious pneumonia after extended bat guano exposure. Wuhan scientists have sampled from this region repeatedly and taken specimens back for research. Notably, the closest relative to SARS-CoV-2 was found there.
When the pangolin was proclaimed as the animal host, Jon Steward satirized it as “a pangolin kissed a turtle.” Now with the virology-media-complex crowning a new host, the COVID-19’s origin may just be “a racoon dog smooched a rabbit.”
This article first appeared in Modern Diplomacy on 03/22/2022
Evan Osborne contributed to this article.