One member of the World Health Organization investigative team said the WHO took the word of Chinese lab workers about the possibility of COVID-19 originating through a Wuhan lab escape, as a new WHO-China joint report concluded it was unlikely and didn’t need further study.
Trump and Biden officials have said the Chinese government worked to thwart investigations into the origins of the virus, which has killed 2.78 million people worldwide, and both administrations have cast doubt on the manner in which the joint WHO-China study had been conducted in early 2021.
Peter Daszak, the leader of the EcoHealth Alliance, which steered at least $600,000 in National Institutes of Health funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for bat virus research, has defended China’s coronavirus response and previously criticized the Biden administration for being skeptical of the WHO-China report. He dismissed the lab leak theory during a 60 Minutes appearance with Lesley Stahl on Sunday.
“For an accidental leak that then led to COVID to happen, the virus that causes COVID would need to be in the lab. They never had any evidence of a virus like COVID in the lab. … Not prior to the outbreak, no. Absolutely. No evidence of that,” Daszak claimed.
“We met with them. We said, ‘Do you audit the lab?’ And they said, ‘Annually.’ ‘Did you audit it after the outbreak?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Was anything found?’ ‘No.’ ‘Do you test your staff?’ ‘Yes.’ No one was —“ Daszak said, before being interrupted by Stahl.
“But you’re just taking their word for it!” she exclaimed, and Daszak didn’t deny it.
“Well, what else can we do? There’s a limit to what you can do, and we went right up to that limit,” Daszak said. “We asked them tough questions. They weren’t vetted in advance. And the answers they gave, we found to be believable — correct and convincing.”
Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under former President Donald Trump, said COVID-19 likely originated through an accidental escape from the Wuhan lab and hinted this occurred following gain-of-function research there.
“I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathology in Wuhan was from a laboratory. Escaped,” Redfield said, adding that “it’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker.”
The Associated Press reported on Monday that a final draft of the WHO-China study concluded a Wuhan lab leak was “extremely unlikely.” The report said a jump from bats to another animal to humans was most likely, and the outlet said the WHO team proposed more studies into each area but the lab leak hypothesis. The new report “said such laboratory accidents are rare and the labs in Wuhan working on coronaviruses and vaccines are well-managed” and “also noted that there is no record of viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 in any laboratory before December 2019 and that the risk of accidentally growing the virus was extremely low.”
But State Department cables in 2018 warned of biosecurity problems at the Wuhan lab, and lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar),” a State Department fact sheet released in mid-January contended, adding that the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.”
“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,” the State Department fact sheet read, claiming that the Wuhan lab “has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.” Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Washington Examiner in March that was “a high-confidence assessment.”
Daszak defended his spot on the joint mission despite his connection to the Wuhan lab, saying, “I’m on the WHO team for a reason. And, you know, if you’re going to work in China on coronaviruses and try and understand their origins, you should involve the people who know the most about that. And, for better or for worse, I do.”
Stahl pressed him on whether the Chinese government was trying to limit the information that the WHO could get access to, but Daszak defended the Chinese government’s heavy presence on their trip.
“Well, that wasn’t our task to find out if China had covered up the origin issue. … We didn’t see any evidence of any false reporting or cover-up in the work that we did in China,” Daszak claimed, adding that “there were Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff in the room throughout our stay. Absolutely. They were there to make sure everything went smoothly from the China side.”
Over the weekend, WHO-Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies from what I have seen so far.” On Monday, he said the report will be shared with member states Tuesday when there will be a briefing by the WHO investigative team.
Matt Pottinger, Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, stressed during his own 60 Minutes appearance that China had engaged in a cover-up, saying, “There was a direct order from Beijing to destroy all viral samples — and they didn’t volunteer to share the genetic sequences.” He also said intelligence showed that scientists at the Wuhan lab “were doing research specifically on coronaviruses that attach to the ACE2 receptors in human lungs just like the COVID-19 virus.”
“There is a body of research that’s been taking place conducted by the Chinese military in collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has not been acknowledged by the Chinese government. We’ve seen the data. I’ve personally seen the data,” Pottinger said, adding that he still didn’t know why the military was at that lab. “It is a major lead that needs to be pursued by the press, certainly by the World Health Organization. Beijing is simply not interested in allowing us to find the answers to those very pertinent questions.”
Pottinger admitted this wasn’t smoking gun evidence but said it was still important.
“It’s circumstantial evidence. But it’s a pretty potent bullet point when you consider that the place where this pandemic emerged was a few kilometers away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Pottinger said, adding that “the one thing that I wish the WHO had done is to pick up their megaphone and start screaming through it to demand that China be more transparent, that it open its border to allow American CDC officials and other experts from the WHO and around the world to come investigate and to help.”
The Associated Press said it had gotten the draft report from a diplomat from a WHO member state who said it was the final version.
The report contended that “the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link.” Intermediary species such as pangolins, minks, and cats were suggested as potential carriers.
“No firm conclusion therefore about the role of the Huanan market in the origin of the outbreak, or how the infection was introduced into the market, can currently be drawn,” the report admitted. A number of early cases were traced back to the Wuhan seafood market, but a number of even earlier cases did not appear to be linked to the wet market at all. The report contended that animals such as frozen bamboo rats and deer, along with live crocodiles, were sold at the market, but it did not provide evidence connecting animals to the outbreak.
The report also noted China’s heavily promoted theory about the coronavirus circulating through the handling of frozen food, though it cast doubt on the idea that that was how the outbreak started.
“While there is some evidence for possible reintroduction of SARS-CoV-2 through handling of imported contaminated frozen products in China since the initial pandemic wave, this would be extraordinary in 2019 where the virus was not widely circulating,” the study concluded.
“There’s a report coming out shortly by the World Health Organization — we’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it — but let’s see what comes out in that report,” Blinken said. “But we do need to have both accountability for the past, but I think our focus needs to be on building a stronger system for the future.”
Source: Washington Examiner : WHO investigator admits it took China’s word on Wuhan lab leak