UK scientist’s emails show he DID fear Covid lab leak

Published by The Daily Mail (November 25th, 2022)

The top British scientist who played a central role in crushing suggestions that Covid could have originated in a laboratory privately condemned ‘Wild West’ research being carried out in Wuhan.

Sir Jeremy Farrar’s damning indictment, sent to two leading scientists in the United States, shows that he admitted to fears the novel coronavirus might have been tied to research in the Chinese city that saw the world’s first outbreak. 

He did this even as he co-ordinated an influential paper dismissing ‘any type of laboratory-based scenario.’

The emails from the head of the Wellcome Trust, released under Freedom of Information rules, also disclose that the chief medical adviser to the White House at the time, Anthony Fauci, was so alarmed by one unusual feature detected on the pandemic coronavirus that he advised colleagues they might need to tip off US and UK intelligence.

The revelations are the latest development in the unsolved mystery of whether the Covid pandemic could have been caused by a laboratory leak, was engineered by scientists or crossed over from animals infected with a bat virus.

Tory MP Bob Seely, who sits on the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: ‘It is depressing and alarming that influential scientists seem to have had private concerns over the possibility of the pandemic emerging from a laboratory even as they publicly denied such ideas.

‘One of the most serious issues emerging from this sorry saga has been the role of senior figures stamping on any questioning of the origins or open sense of transparency. It beggars belief what has gone on.’

The disclosures fuel concerns the scientific establishment colluded to stifle suggestions that Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – might have resulted from research the US helped fund in China.

The email discussions took place among an elite group of scientists rounded up by Dr Fauci and Sir Jeremy after the media began to probe research into bat coronaviruses at Wuhan Institute of Virology where scientists were engaged in ‘gain of function’ experiments. These can boost the infectivity of coronaviruses and were banned for three years in the US amid fears they could spark a pandemic. 

Although the Wuhan lab was the first in China with maximum-level biosafety clearance, the group of experts confirmed that researchers there carried out risky experiments under ‘BSL-2’ conditions with much lower level safety protocols.

Their work included transferring viruses in mice engineered to contain the human version of a receptor protein on cell surfaces used by some coronaviruses to infect our bodies.

‘Surely that wouldn’t be done in a BSL-2 lab,’ commented Francis Collins, head of the main US research body that funded Wuhan Institute of Virology’s research through EcoHealth Alliance, a New York based body led by British scientist Peter Daszak.

‘Wild West…’ responded Sir Jeremy, director of Britain’s biggest private research funding body that has backed work in Wuhan.

Their emails, on February 4, 2020, followed a teleconference four days earlier that Sir Jeremy led at Dr Fauci’s request as the pandemic gathered pace. Dr Collins and Sir Patrick Vallance, Britain’s chief scientific adviser, joined the call.

After the teleconference, their public stance changed rapidly given the lack of fresh data from China or any firm evidence the virus might have natural origins. 

Sir Jeremy later admitted co-ordinating an influential statement by five experts, including four of the teleconference participants, that was published by Nature Medicine. It stated firmly that the authors ‘do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.’ Accessed 5.7million times, it has been called one of the most influential scientific articles in history.

Now, the newly released emails show that while the scientists shared early drafts of the article, some still feared a laboratory link. 

Sir Jeremy, who wrote that he ‘tidied up’ the statement, said they ‘probably’ ruled out deliberate engineering of the virus but that Eddie Holmes, an Australian virologist, was ‘60:40 lab side’ while ‘I remain 50:50.’

Professor Holmes wrote on February 8 that he had worked extensively in China and knew many people there were convinced by ‘suggestions the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab…and believe they are being lied to’.

He has since been among prominent voices pushing the idea that the pandemic can be traced back to a wet animal market in Wuhan. The discussions show Dr Fauci was so alarmed by an unusual feature in SARS-CoV-2 called a ‘furin cleavage site’ – which allows more efficient entry into human cells and is not found on similar types of coronavirus – that he warned the group they might need to inform the FBI and MI5.

It is understood Sir Patrick did tip off UK intelligence agencies about their concerns

EcoHealth Alliance, a long-term partner of Wuhan Institute of Virology, sought funds from a US defence agency in 2018 to insert a ‘furin cleavage site’ into bat coronaviruses. There is no evidence such work obtained Western funding.

Wuhan’s biosafety chief has admitted to concerns over China’s laboratories because maintenance costs were ‘neglected’ and part-timers performed the work of skilled staff.

A Wellcome Trust spokesman declined to answer questions on the new revelations but referred back to Sir Jeremy’s past statements on origins of the virus that stress the importance of remaining ‘open-minded.’

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