Dr Abdul Ghafur, Apollo Adjunct Professor, Consultant in Infectious Diseases, Apollo Cancer Institute, Chennai, traces the origin of the coronavirus and the various aspects associated with it
The coronavirus pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China, has now spread to every nook and corner of the world, killing 3.5 million people and unleashing an unprecedented global economic and social disaster. Ever since the onset of the pandemic, several scientists raised the possibility of a laboratory rather than a natural origin of the virus. Unfortunately, the mainstream media and scientific journals vehemently opposed the lab leak concept. Efforts to discuss the origin of the virus were dismissed as conspiracy theories. This over-powering negative attitude discouraged the scientists from any meaningful discussion on the subject. The situation now has changed, though. A group of eighteen high-profile virologists and epidemiologists has published an open letter in “Science”- a reputed journal of the American Association for the advancement of science-demanding a neutral enquiry into the origin of the virus.
“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data. A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight and responsibly managed to minimise the impact of conflicts of interest. Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public. Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts.”
The authors clearly criticised the pitfalls of the WHO-led enquiry into the origin of the virus.
“The information, data and samples for the study’s first phase were collected and summarised by the Chinese half of the team; the rest of the team built on this analysis. Although there were no findings in clear support of either a natural spillover or a lab accident, the team assessed a zoonotic spillover from an intermediate host as “likely to very likely,” and a laboratory incident as “extremely unlikely.” Furthermore, the two theories were not given balanced consideration. Only four of the 313 pages of the report and its annexes addressed the possibility of a laboratory accident.”
This letter from eminent scientists has now paved the way for loud and open discussions on the origin of the virus. It is the responsibility of the scientific and political communities to conduct a serious investigation on an urgent basis, so that the humanity doesn’t have to face any more man-made pandemics.
A recent unclassified report by the Republicans’ House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has demanded an unbiased enquiry into the origin of the virus.
“To prevent or quickly mitigate future pandemics, it’s crucial for health experts and the US government to understand how the COVID-19 virus originated. International efforts to discover the true source of the virus, however, have been stymied by a lack of cooperation from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Nevertheless, significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak may have been a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
The report has also provided a detailed list of circumstantial evidences pointing to the origin of the virus to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)
Gain of Function (GoF) research
Gain of Function (GoF) research involves manipulations that make certain pathogenic microbes more deadly or more transmissible. This is done by genetically engineering the virus and by allowing them to grow in different growth mediums – a technique called as serial passage.
Supporters of the GoF research argue that this research is necessary to develop vaccines and therapeutics. It helps scientists to better predict emerging infectious diseases, by “getting ahead of the virus to prevent natural spill overs.” Proponents of GoF research believes “nature is the ultimate bioterrorist and we need to do all we can to stay one-step ahead.” Unfortunately, scientists have crossed all boundaries and created monster chimeric viruses. It is an open secret that military laboratories of several countries possess such chimeric viruses.
COVID-19 virus could be a product of GoF laboratory research
The two pre-print publications co-authored by the Chinese scientist Li Meng Yan – who had sought asylum in United States – clearly summarises evidence into the laboratory origin of the virus. These two publications are comprehensive and products of high-quality analysis. The papers provide convincing evidence that the SARSCoV-2 is a laboratory-engineered chimeric virus, combining genetic sequences of the already existing viruses in Wuhan Institute of virology. More than half a million individuals have downloaded the document and only a few had come forward to oppose the findings. Those who opposed the findings provided superfluous counter arguments and were not willing for an open debate. The flimsy counter arguments in fact helped in cementing the lab origin.
We should also know that scientific community is well-versed with creation of chimeric viruses. It is a documented fact that the US, under the leadership of Dr Ralph Baric, had indeed engaged in GoF research with the funding from US NIH. They created a chimeric virus utilising SARS COV-1 backbone and bat virus spike protein. Though Dr Antony Fauci, Director NIAID (US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) and the chief medical adviser to the President denies the research as GoF, more than 200 scientists associated with Cambridge group had indeed confirmed this as the same. It is also well-known that the Wuhan Institute of virology had engaged in GoF research. The molecular analysis of the SARS CoV-2 categorically proves the virus to be of a chimera of bat viruses already available in the Wuhan institute.
Was it an accidental lab leak or a bio warfare?
Scientific literature has documented several incidents of laboratory leak in various laboratories in the past. Experts who inspected the WIV lab in 2018 had reported serious flaws in the biosafety protocols of the laboratory. It has now come to light that biosafety level-twol facility was utilised instead of BSL-4 to carry out several dangerous experiments. An accidental laboratory leak is a real possibility.
Response from the mainstream medical community
At least until a month ago, medical journals were hesitant to publish any articles that suggest laboratory origin. At the same time, there were innumerable publications that supported a natural origin. The lancet published a letter in February 2020 concluding that the virus is of natural origin. It later turned out that the letter was organised and drafted by Dr Peter Daszak, President, EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Dr Daszak is now implicated to be a collaborator to the corona virus research at Wuhan Institute of Virology. He also acted as a sub-contractor to mediate fund transfer from US NIH and Wuhan institute. Dr Daszak also chaired the Lancet commission on the origin of the virus. He was also a member of the WHO committee investigating the origin of the virus. The Lancet article declared no conflict of interest where in fact Peter Daszak had obvious undeclared conflict of interests.
Why did the mainstream scientific community deny the laboratory origin theory?
The virologists are afraid to openly support the lab origin theory due to their fear of offending the mainstream virology community and the governments. If scientists step out of line, their career will be destroyed.
The lab origin theory has immense implications at the political and scientific level. If a virus that escaped from the lab – as an act of commission or omission – can generate global havoc, this can be repeated in future. The whole virology community will be under scrutiny. On the pretext of “getting ahead of the virus to prevent natural spill overs,” these virologists were creating chimeric viruses. If the public comes to know that one of these dangerous creations has potentially destroyed the world, the repercussions that ensues will be catastrophic to the virology community.
“If SARS 2 had indeed escaped from such a laboratory experiment, a savage blowback could be expected, and the storm of public indignation would affect virologists everywhere, not just in China. Such a blowback can shatter the scientific edifice top to bottom.”
So, it is understandable why the mainstream virology community stood together and opposed the lab origin theory. Nobody can hide the truth forever. Scientists with conscience do eventually come out and seek the truth. That is what we are witnessing today in the form of letters from reputed scientists to enquire the origin of the virus.
If the lab leak theory is publicly discussed and confirmed, China will be morally held accountable for the global catastrophe the virus created, even if it is due to an act of omission. If held hostage, China may blame the co-creators and collaborators. Scientific developments, in any branch of science, are as a result of the stepwise progress and collaborative work. So, there is a common interest for all the stakeholders involved – the scientific community and the political community – to remain the silent. Unfortunately, such a silence will prevent us from exploring fruitful solutions to prevent such pandemics in the future. There are documented incidents of laboratory leaks in the past, including leaks involving dangerous organisms such as smallpox virus, Anthrax bacteria and SARS virus. The global impact of a possible leak of SARS CoV-2 was catastrophic. History will repeat itself, unless we initiate genuine measures to prevent such incidents.
Why do we need an independent enquiry into the origin of the virus?
India, the second most populated country in the world is seriously affected by the pandemic. Our economic growth, one of the fastest one in the world, is hampered, at least temporarily, by the pandemic. So, we have a responsibility to demand an enquiry into the origin of the virus that killed hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens and negatively influenced the livelihood of hundreds of millions of our countrymen. Our aim is not to blame any country, laboratory or group of scientists, but to find a diplomatic and unbiased solution to prevent any such incidents of laboratory leaks in the future.
We should demand the WHO and UN to take urgent measures to stop GoF research. Countries that support the GoF research, directly or indirectly must be isolated, and embargoed.
All virology institutions, both in private and government set up must be under the direct supervision of the union government. These facilities should be considered to be highly significant from a strategic perspective and as important as military facilities. Collaborative research with the foreign organisations must be under direct supervision of the union government.