D-Day +1 (or at any rate its anniversary). There has been an invasion of Rye by foreign tourists over the last two weeks, judging by the different languages to be heard – French, Italian, Spanish, various Eastern European ones. And our churchwarden says that the leaflets in Japanese for the tower of St Mary’s Church (amazing views, see the clock and bells, only £4, most languages catered for, Rye has an amazing collection of multilingual residents and their friends) have been flying out. But I simply cannot believe that our Japanese visitors are all UK residents down from London for the day. It seems rather unlikely, and if they are not I am wondering how, given the hysteria over travel, they are getting in.
And on the subject of unlikely, the evidence, circumstantial though it may be, is pointing rather firmly towards the source of the pandemic being a laboratory leak. I have previously written that this question is a political one, but the evidence is now scientific, in that respected genetics people are suggesting that the probability of the amino-acid spike protein sequence of SARS-CoV-2 being a natural mutation is vanishingly small. Likewise the explanation for the taking-down of the Wuhan Institute’s viral database is rather weak, not least as it was done two months before things blew up. If I were presenting evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions, or at any rate his office, I think the lawyers there might agree there is a case to answer. There are several articles detailing the case for the prosecution; for one, see https://lockdownsceptics.org/the-lab-leak-theory-who-suppressed-it-who-uncovered-it-and-what-should-we-do-about-it/. Unless evidence appears that categorically refutes the hypothesis, the suspicion will linger, and it is tempting to presume that of all explanations have their inconsistencies, then the one that is true is the least unlikely (which is not the same as the most likely).
Jamie Metzl, who knows a bit about genome editing, has dissected this most elegantly (short version in “The Sunday Times yesterday, long version on his website at https://jamiemetzl.com/origins-of-sars-cov-2/). To spare you a web jump I have copied the main hypothetical sequence below.
“• In 2012, six miners working in a bat-infested copper mine in southern China (Yunnan province) were infected with a bat coronavirus. All of them developed symptoms exactly like COVID-19 symptoms. Three of them died.
• Viral samples taken from the Yunnan miner were taken to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the only level 4 biosecurity lab in China that was also studying bat coronaviruses.
• The WIV carried out gain of function research, almost certainly on these and a range of related and other samples (which is different than genetically engineering the viruses). Chimeric viruses were likely developed in this process. There has never been a full and public accounting for what viruses are in the WIV sample set and database, and key elements of the database have been taken off line or deleted.
• Given the close relationship of the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) in the development and construction of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, it is fair to assume a connection between the PLA and the WIV.
• In late 2019 the SARS-CoV-2 virus appeared in Wuhan. The closest known relative of this virus is the RaTG13 virus sampled from the Yunnan mine where the miners had been infected. (RaTG13 is almost certainly not the backbone virus for SARS-CoV-2.)
• The genetic similarity between the RaTG13 virus and SARS-CoV-2 suggest that SARS-CoV-2 or a closely related backbone virus could have been sampled from the Mojiang mine and brought to the WIV (which is why the disappeared WIV databases and lab records are so critical).
• It is also plausible that SARS-CoV-2 could have been among the viruses held in or derived from a different virus in the WIV repository.
• In the earliest known stage of the outbreak, the virus was already very well-adapted to human cells.
• In the critical first weeks after the outbreak, Wuhan authorities worked aggressively to silence the whistleblowers and destroy evidence that could prove incriminating.
• When Beijing authorities got involved a bit later, they likely faced a choice of implicating the Wuhan authorities, and, in effect, taking blame for what was quickly emerging as a major global problem, or turning into the curve and going all in for the coverup. I believe they likely chose the second option.
• The Chinese government then massively lobbied the WHO to prevent the WHO from declaring COVID-19 as an international emergency and prevented WHO investigators from entering China for nearly a month.
• In late January 2020, PLA Major General Chen Wei was put in charge of containment efforts in Wuhan. This role included supervision of the WIV, which had previously been considered a civilian institution. General Chen is China’s top biological weapons expert. Allegations that the PLA was conducting covert dual civilian-military research on bat coronaviruses at WIV have not been proven.
• The Chinese authorities have gone to great lengths to destroy evidence and silence anyone in China who might be in a position to provide evidence on the origins of COVID-19.
• Although nothing can be fully conclusive in light of Chinese obfuscation, the continued absence of any meaningful evidence of a zoonotic chain of transmission and mutation in the wild and the accretion of other evidence is pointing increasingly, in my view, toward an accidental lab leak as the most likely origin of COVID-19. Given the extent to which China would benefit from discovering evidence of a transmission in the wild, we can assume Chinese authorities are doing all they can to find this kind of evidence without success. This failure would explain why Chinese officials have recently begun, with little credible evidence, asserting that the outbreak started outside of China.
• In light of all of this, only a full and unrestricted international forensic investigation into the origins of the pandemic, with complete access to all samples, lab records, scientists, health officials, etc. will suffice.
• Ensuring the most thorough and highest quality investigation exploring all possible hypothesis is and should be in all of our interest, including that of the Chinese government and people.”
So should the letter of refutation, organised by someone with an undeclared conflict of interest and published in “The Lancet” last year (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30418-9/fulltext#%20), be retracted? I think it should and have written to request this.
Meanwhile despite fears that the Delta variant is more transmissible (40% more so, according to one report) the Bolton spike seems to have peaked; there are no more patients in hospital and no rise in deaths. We might argue about why, but I still cannot see any particular reason to panic, not least as the “experts” have predicted doom and gloom before, and it has never been as bad as they thought. Roll on June 21st. Fingers crossed.
An editorial in the BMJ calls once again for an inquiry to start now. I responded:
“I am not so much concerned about the public having a voice as I am about professionals outside the system having one. Having followed a number of Twitter threads and blog comments it is clear that many of the public are simply not informed enough to make informed decisions; the strange concerns that have been aired over the risks of coronavirus vaccinations are a case in point. However, the “ruling cabals” have successfully stifled any contrarian professional comments or suggestions even when these have been based on facts from research and, indeed, have turned out to be correct. There should be some forum for informed scientific debate.
“The Science” can change – witness the growing, if circumstantial evidence that the original outbreak in Wuhan was due to a laboratory leak, and the realisation that the letter in “The Lancet” last year which refuted the suggestion has been undermined both by scientific analysis and by the realisation that there were undeclared conflicts of interest (the latter alone being grounds to request retraction). Witness also the disagreements within official bodies, with individual SAGE members offering different perspectives in the media (or as one might put it airing internal disagreements over policy in public). What is also bizarre, in my opinion, is that scientific advice continues to be offered (and thereafter followed) by people whose predictions and modelling have been called into question or even discredited.
The government is accused of dithering. If, in a clinical situation with an acutely ill patient, where you haven’t a clue what’s going on, is it not reasonable to dither? That said, the fact remains that decisions over the acute management of very sick Covid patients appears to have been in the hands of epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists and non-medical scientists rather than acute care physicians who might- just – have seen something like it before and do know what to do. Any inquiry must ask whether the government was getting its advice from the right experts.
But now is not the time. The situation continues to evolve, with conflicting statements on what deaths were actually due to the coronavirus (from, not with); on the true figures for excess mortality; on the issue of whether lockdowns truly coincided with the waning of infection; on whether Test and Trace worked; on whether border controls worked; with no clear picture, as yet, on how vaccination will both halt spread and prevent serious disease that results in hospitalisation and death; with absolutely no idea what effect a release from lockdown may have; on the cost-benefit analysis of medical priority over economic shutdown. So what point is there in an inquiry now? We have enough evidence to make judgements on some specific aspects, such as PPE supply. We have evidence of unnecessary delays in introducing treatment for severe disease. We have insufficient for almost everything else. An inquiry now will distract all from getting the pandemic under control, not least because we need to fully understand inter-national differences.”
Meanwhile despite fears that the Delta variant is more transmissible (40% more so, according to one report), the Bolton spike seems to have peaked; there are no more patients in hospital and no rise in deaths. We might argue about why, but I still cannot see any particular reason to panic, not least as the “experts” have predicted doom and gloom before, and it has never been as bad as they thought. Roll on June 21st. Fingers crossed.