IAN BIRRELL: Why was the scientific establishment trying to silence the fears that Covid escaped from the Chinese lab?

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the world-famous Wellcome Trust, condemned the political failures of politicians during the pandemic and preached a gospel of responsibility to learn from this public health catastrophe. His words have a tremendous impact.

A tropical diseases expert and adviser to the World Health Organization, he is probably the most influential British scientist as the head of our largest charity, which invested £ 1.2 billion in medical and scientific research last year.

Farrar was also a member of the Sage Advisory Committee until he resigned shortly last year after publishing a rather self-praising book called ‘Spike: The Virus in The People’.

“Everyone has to learn, scientists except,” he wrote, attacking Boris Johnson for “shameful” postponing the public investigation into the pandemic until it was over. “We worship the dead only by committing ourselves to learning from the mistakes that cost them their lives.”

Few would argue with such beautiful words. So how strange is the same man now accused of playing a role in delaying the investigation into the origin of the pandemic.

Science depends on data sharing, fierce debates and challenging evidence – and little scientific research is more important than revealing the origins of Covid to help protect itself from future disasters.

Nevertheless, Farrar agreed with other leading British and American scientists to describe as a “conspiracy theory” any suggestions that the new coronavirus strain in charge could be related to the laboratory incident in Wuhan, China, where it first appeared.

P4 Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, Hubei Province

P4 Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, Central Hubei Province, China

This was reaffirmed this week when Republican members of Congress released previously edited snippets of e-mail discussions providing fresh evidence of how those experts privately feared the new virus showed signs of laboratory manipulation, while these theories publicly condemned it.

They even admitted that they feared that such a “destructive” debate could harm science in general and their counterparts in Chinese science in particular.

Their disturbing actions – and China’s shameful reconciliation – not only hindered a global understanding of this devastating new disease, but also seriously damaged faith in science at a time when such trust had never been more important.

There are now two basic questions about the birth of this pandemic: did Covid occur due to a scientific accident or natural transmission from animals?

And why did the scientific establishment work so hard to silence dissident voices? Indeed, it seems incredible that not only does Farrar remain in a job where he conducts so much major medical research, but according to the latest reports, even last year his annual salary rose by 28,000 to 512,000 pounds.

Sir Jeremy is a key figure in the series of secret events that followed the emergence of a new disease in Wuhan at the end of 2019.

Many of the growing concerns revolve around a secret teleconference that Farrar led on February 1, 2020, when fears of an emerging pandemic exploded.

And the more we learn through information leaks, requests for freedom of information, conversations and tenacious investigations, the more it smells of a conspiracy to set up a debate on high-risk science – ironically blaming those who question the consensus that they are conspiracy theorists.

Pictured: Workers are seen next to a cage with mice (R) inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan

Pictured: Workers are seen next to a cage with mice (R) inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan

The call involved two of the most influential scientists in America – the controversial presidential adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins, then head of the main US financial authority, which financially supports high-risk coronavirus bat research in Wuhan – plus 11 experts, including Sir Patrick Vallance. , the chief scientific adviser to our government.

We know from Farrar’s book and previous e-mails that several key players, including Farrara, have been concerned that the deadly new virus has been linked to research in Wuhan, where several bat coronavirus research laboratories are located.

One Australian virologist said he was “80 percent sure the thing came out of the lab,” while another key participant was convinced “60 to 70 percent.”

After their hour-long discussion, Farrar remained uncertain, saying “this will remain gray if there is no access to the Wuhan lab.”

However, following this call and the publication of these views, the public attitude of the scientists changed with bizarre speed towards such an annoying scientific conundrum – especially given the lack of data from Wuhan or any help from Beijing.

In the most prestigious scientific journals, some of which have extensive commercial ties to China, they have begun to issue striking statements rejecting laboratory leaks.

And they were backed by rude politicians and casual journalists, whose hostility fueled accusations by then-President Donald Trump of the “Chinese virus.” As a result, this fundamental debate was postponed for at least a year.

Farrar and two other Wellcome Trust experts signed a key statement in the medical journal Lancet praising China’s efforts to tackle the disease, saying they “strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid has no natural origins.”

(LR) Arancha Gonzalez Laya, Executive Director, International Trade Center (ITC), Alex Liu, Executive Partner and Chairman, AT Kearney and Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust

(LR) Arancha Gonzalez Laya, Executive Director, International Trade Center (ITC), Alex Liu, Executive Partner and Chairman, AT Kearney and Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust

It later emerged that the article was secretly organized within days of a phone call by Peter Daszak, a British scientist whose New York organization had provided US funding to research partners at the Wuhan Virology Institute, China’s top biosafety laboratory.

Farrar also quietly assisted five scientists, four of whom were on the call, to write a comment in Nature Medicine, which firmly stated that the authors “do not believe that any type of laboratory scenario is plausible.”

This highly influential statement has been made available 5.62 million times and cited in more than 2,000 academic papers.

One quintet, a Texas microbiologist named Robert Garry, later said the first draft was completed on the day of the secret call.

The Daily Mail’s sister newspaper, Mail on Sunday, was a lone voice in the country, working with several brave scientists and researchers to challenge Chinese lies, winking at evidence of US funding ties to Wu-chan and exposing glaring conflicts of interest between key figures. in this cheap bet.

Nevertheless, when I sent requests for information about freedom of information for relevant e-mail discussions about Sir Patrick, I was given page after page of edited documents, as well as US investigators who were trying to find out why all these experts suddenly changed direction.

The University of Edinburgh also declined to share data for dubious reasons that the publication could “endanger” the health or safety of Andrew Rambaut, a biologist at the conference call and co-author of this article on Nature Medicine.

Now, with the kind permission of some members of the US Congress, we have a few more details that serve to support concerns about the difference between what leading scientists have said publicly and privately – although most of the text remains redacted.

One report Farrar sent a day after their phone call said Garry was trying to “come up with a plausible natural scenario” to explain the “furin cleavage site” – a feature not found in similar types of coronavirus that allows it to penetrate human cells more efficiently. .

Rambaut, the co-signer of the article, who refuses to refer to the labs, said on the same day that he remained an “agnostic” even though he was hit by an “unusual” furin cleavage site.

And perhaps the biggest clue to what was behind came from Ron Fouchier, a pioneer in risky “gain function” research to increase the infectivity of bat viruses on humans, when he said “further debate” about the virus would “distract.” top researchers from their active duties and unnecessarily harm science in general and China in particular. “

Fortunately, the ground has shifted to ensure greater acceptance of the laboratory escape hypothesis, especially since there is no solid evidence to support theories of natural animal-to-human transmission.

Concerns escalated after revelations that Daszak had even sought US funding in 2018 to work on a scheme for inserting rare fission sites into SARS-like coronaviruses collected in the field and then conducting experiments on live bats.

This debate continues, but regardless of its conclusion, it emphasizes the need to regulate the wilder frontiers of science. Those leaders of science who do not do so show contempt for those who legitimately question them and the public.

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