New evidence that Beijing hid truth about Covid origin and possible leak from Wuhan lab
Published by The Mail on Sunday (30th July, 2023)
China’s public health authorities cracked the genetic code of the Covid virus five days before the rest of the world even learned about the existence of the disease, according to a prominent British scientist.
The revelation, confirmed by independent investigators, exposes the scale of Beijing’s cover-up of the outbreak in Wuhan – which experts fear inflamed the pandemic’s spread with disastrous consequences.
The genome sequence, vital for developing diagnostic tests and vaccines, was finally shared with the rest of the world more than two weeks later by a Chinese scientist defying the Beijing government – by which time the sequence had been assembled by several of the country’s private and public laboratories.
‘As more information about the early stages of the pandemic emerges, we see a disturbing pattern of efforts to hide critical information,’ said Bryce Nickels, co-founder of campaign group Biosafety Now.
The professor of genetics at Rutgers University in New Jersey added that attempts to manipulate public opinion began in China but were later echoed in the US and other Western countries.
The disclosure came in private messages exchanged by four scientists in Australia, Britain and the US as they drafted a controversial article in a journal that played a central role in crushing debate over a possible laboratory leak origin.
Their ‘super secret’ discussions on the Slack messaging system emerged from a US Congressional inquiry into the ‘Proximal Origins’ statement in Nature Medicine, which the journal’s editor claimed should stop ‘conspiracy theories’.
The landmark article stated unequivocally that the scientists ‘do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible’ – although the messages reveal their fears Covid could have come from a lab even after its publication.
Eddie Holmes, a Sydney University virologist and guest professor at China’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) when the pandemic began, admitted that Beijing was ‘definitely trying to rewrite what happened’ and to ‘suppress the lab escape theory’.
He told his fellow authors: ‘The CDC had a genome sequence on December 26 . They told people it would not pass between humans. Endless cover-ups.’
He added a warning: ‘Don’t be fooled by George Gao’ – a reference to the Oxford-educated director of the Chinese body that oversees their response to public health emergencies.
Although people had been falling sick in Wuhan at least since November 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) only learned about the outbreak of a deadly new respiratory disease on December 31.
China did not provide the crucial confirmation of human transmission for another three weeks, even denying it to the WHO in mid-January – despite doctors in Wuhan warning of contagion and taking strict preventative measures around sick patients.
One study suggested that if China had responded properly in late December, the number of worldwide cases could have been cut by 95 per cent. Instead, Beijing clamped down on officials sharing their data and silenced whistleblowing medics.
Gao, who retired last year, told Chinese state media the genetic sequences were released as soon as possible. Yet the first ones were actually obtained on December 26 with a sample taken from an infected delivery man that was sent to a start-up firm’s diagnostic centre in Guangzhou, southern China.
The company obtained a full set of data the following day and, alarmed over the likely discovery of a lethal new coronavirus, alerted the CDC, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and hospital chiefs in Wuhan.
One researcher wrote a blog that appeared briefly online detailing how her fearful firm scrubbed down its facility and then sent its bosses to Wuhan to reinforce the significance of their findings.
‘Everything was under intense, confidential and rigorous investigation,’ she wrote. ‘At this time the hospital and CDC people already knew that there were many similar patients and after we communicated the test results, emergency treatment was started.’
Zhang Dingyu, head of Jinyintan Hospital, an infectious diseases centre, told a Chinese journalist they had taken the sequence to the Wuhan Institute of Virology on the same day for ‘comparison’, saying they thought it seemed a ‘Sars-like coronavirus of bat origin’.
Several other laboratories quickly followed suit sequencing the genome – including one in Shanghai run by Zhang Yongzhen, a virologist who worked with Holmes and scientists in Wuhan. But they were all banned from sharing results.
Eventually, Holmes posted the genome on a special forum on January 10 – starting the race to develop treatments and vaccines.
Gao told fellow scientists that his organisation did not generate a genome until January 3. ‘If the China CDC had sequenced the virus first, they would have said so because it would have been a large feather in their cap,’ Holmes said.
Gilles Demaneuf, a member of the Drastic team of independent researchers concluding a comprehensive report on the early days of the outbreak, confirmed the events following the initial genome sequencing on December 26.
‘Jinyintan Hospital reviewed the almost-full sequence with Wuhan Institute of Virology, which confirmed risk of human-to-human transmission,’ he said. ‘By December 28, all key players knew precisely what they were facing.’