Unclassified cablegrams obtained by The Washington Post reveal that US Embassy officials in Beijing had raised alarms over inadequate safety standards at a research facility, which was carrying out studies on Coronaviruses found in bats, in Wuhan two years before the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the world.
US Embassy’s science diplomats made multiple visits to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), China’s first lab to achieve BSL-4 in 2015, before March 2018.
Led by Jamison Fouss, US Consul General in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, US embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health, the delegation found that not only did the WIV lacks safety measures but it was also was poorly managed by BSL-4 standards, the highest level of international bioresearch safety.
The diplomats sent 2 cablegrams back to Washington DC, warning that WIV’s research on Coronaviruses found in bats could result in a new SARS-like pandemic due to their high rate of human to human transmission. The cables also highlighted that most technicians and investigators running this high-containment laboratory were ill-trained and did not have the required capacity to operate a BSL4 laboratory.
Although some US organizations including the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch were assisting Chinese researchers at WIV, the cables articulated the need to increase US support for the facility mainly because its research on bat Coronaviruses was not only imperative but equally dangerous.
The team of diplomats also met Shi Zhengli, head of research project studying the bat Coronaviruses. WIV, under the supervision of Shi Zhengli, had been publishing many research papers related to bat Coronaviruses for some years.
In November 2017, Shi Zhengli published a study that claimed that a bat captured from a cave in Yunnan province is from the same family of the bat which caused the SARS outbreak in 2003. The purpose of the 2017 WIV research was to prevent the next SARS-like pandemic by understanding how it might emerge.
In 2015, two years before this study was published, fellow scientists had expressed serious reservations over Shi Zhengli’s team and said that Shi Zhengli was taking unnecessary risks.
Furthermore, WIV researchers also explained to US diplomats how SARS-like coronaviruses could attack ACE2 human genes. This revelation furthered cemented the diplomats’ belief that bat Coronaviruses could be transmitted to humans and result in a SARS-like pandemic in the coming years.
Research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, Xiao Qiang, said that SARS-COV-2 wasn’t engineered because most scientists believe that it originated from animals. However, it is not the same as claiming that SARS-COV-2 didn’t come from a research facility known for its studies carried out on bat Coronaviruses.
Xiao Qiang further added that Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention (WCDCP), which operates at BSL2, was also involved in carrying out similar research on bat Coronaviruses.
The cablegrams from two years ago were a warning shot urging the US administration to pay attention and increase the assistance to WIV. Sadly, the cablegrams were ignored and the US administration never provided any assistance to WIV to increase its capacity.
US probing the origin of SARS-COV-2
The unclassified cablegrams drew the attention of the US administration again following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan in December last year. The officials have been forced to think whether WIV is at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it can impact the US’s relations with China in years to come.
Many national security officials inside the Trump administration believe that either WIV or WCDCP is responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak. They are of the view that the COVID-19 pandemic is the result of an accident that occurred in either one of these laboratories.
Furthermore, the Trump administration disagrees with the Chinese government’s initial assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that SARS-COV-2 originated from a seafood market in Wuhan.
A research study carried out by Chinese experts published in The Lancet confirmed the apprehensions of many security officials inside the Trump administration.
The study revealed that the first known patient of COVID-19 was reported on 1 December. The patient had no connection whatsoever with the seafood market. More than one-third of patients in the first big cluster of COVID-19 cases had no connection with the seafood market. In fact, the market did not sell any bats, contradicting claims by the Chinese government.
This suggests that patient zero had contracted Coronavirus while working at either the WIV or WCDCP before going into the general population.
Shi Zhengli has unequivocally rejected claims that COVID-19 originated from WIV. However, on 3 February, Shi Zhengli’s team was the first to publicly reveal that the 2019-nCoV belongs to the family of bat Coronaviruses.
US intelligence now has more evidence that COVID-19 originated from Wuhan laboratories, contrary to the Chinese government theory of the seafood market, as it continues investigation to locate the origin of COVID-19.
China bans research on the origin of SARS-COV-2
While the US government is probing the origin of the pandemic, the Chinese government recently imposed a complete ban on all ongoing research projects trying to identify the ground zero for SARS-COV-2.
Moreover, the Chinese government has now placed strict restrictions that require researchers to seek the approval of the government before publishing any study related to COVID-19.
In the early days of the outbreak, doctors and journalists, who raised alarms over a new disease, were rounded up by the Chinese government for fear-mongering. A Shanghai-based lab that published the genome of SARS-COV-2, in an attempt to expedite the development of vaccine of the disease, was also shut down by the Chinese government.
This series of acts by the Chinese government is opposite to its claims of the seafood market being the origin of the COVID-19. It is now believed that the Chinese government intentionally misinformed the World Health Organization (WHO) to deflect the world’s attention from the real origin of the SARS-COV-2.
Donald Trump has used the abovestated reasoning to cut America’s annual $400 million funding to the WHO.
Xiao Qiang of California University has suggested that the Chinese government be more transparent about information relating to the origins of SARS-COV-2.
The answers to the questions about the Wuhan laboratories are necessary because they are vital to our scientific understanding of the virus. The origin story is not just about blame. It’s crucial to understanding how the novel Coronavirus pandemic started because that informs how to prevent the next one.
“Instead of terming cablegrams sent to the State Department 2 years ago as a conspiracy theory, China should work towards finding the origin of SAR-COV-2.”
“The knowledge about the origin of the disease is vital in preventing similar outbreaks in the future,” urged Xiao Qiang.
Via: Washington Post