Did the Covid virus, which has already killed more than 3.5 million people and devastated the world’s economy, escape from an internationally renowned laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan?
For the best part of a year, the idea that it might have done so was treated with almost as much incredulity as the notion that the moon is made of cheese or that Stonehenge was built by aliens.
Facebook even took down posts claiming the virus was man-made. The social media giant, which has cheerfully tolerated all manner of political mendacity over the years, drew the line at upsetting the Chinese government.
As for the Western scientific community, it overwhelmingly rubbished the theory that Covid was man-made, and accepted Beijing’s contention that it had somehow jumped from animals to humans.
A team of World Health Organisation (WHO) scientists, who were shepherded around Wuhan by over-protective Chinese officials at the beginning of the year, announced that a laboratory leak was ‘extremely unlikely’, and would not be investigated any further.
How senior members of the Chinese Communist Party will have congratulated themselves! It must have seemed to them that a potentially highly embarrassing theory, which had never gained much traction in the West, was finally buried.
But these old horrors had not taken into account the workings of democratic governments and institutions, or the existence of a free Press. To their dismay — and anger — they are discovering that they can’t stop people in open societies from asking difficult questions.
What was once regarded as a crackpot theory has become mainstream. In an interview last month, Dr Anthony Fauci, the widely respected director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, agreed that a lab escape was ‘a possibility’. He said he would back a second investigation by the WHO.
What was once regarded as a crackpot theory has become mainstream: That Covid-19 might have originated in a lab in Wuhan, China. Pictured: A worker inside the P4 laboratory in 2017 [File photo]
Two weeks ago, 18 biologists, immunologists and other scientists criticised the WHO’s findings in a letter to the journal Science, and called for a more thorough inquiry.
Then, just over a week ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology became so sick in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a confidential U.S. intelligence report. Beijing claims the first Covid case was on December 8, 2019.
Following the newspaper’s story, and a mounting chorus of concern, President Biden last week ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to report to him on the leak theory within 90 days.
If Donald Trump had reopened the controversy about what he called the ‘Chinese virus’, he would have risked ridicule. Biden, by contrast, is regarded as sane and sound — at any rate in the West, if not in China.
Meanwhile MI6, which had previously opined that there was only a ‘remote’ chance that the virus came from the Wuhan laboratory, is said now to regard the theory as ‘feasible’.
Even Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, has conceded his organisation’s report in March was not ‘extensive enough’, and says that all hypotheses about the origins of the virus ‘remain on the table’.
And Facebook — that amoral colossus — has changed its tune by allowing posts insinuating that the Covid virus, which has caused so much death and destruction to our world, might be man-made after all.
There is, of course, no proof that it was. But the thesis is now being considered with a new robustness. No one — or virtually no one — suggests the Chinese deliberately leaked the virus.
That would be a war crime on a scale of madness occupied by Hitler. The Chinese government would surely not precipitate a pandemic likely to cause untold human and economic suffering to its own people.
MI6, which had previously opined that there was only a ‘remote’ chance that the virus came from the Wuhan laboratory (pictured), is said now to regard the theory as ‘feasible’
But might there have been an inadvertent escape of the virus? It is certainly not implausible. After a visit to the Wuhan laboratory in January 2018, American officials reported their concern that it lacked the technicians to operate the facility securely. They warned about the possible leak of a bat virus that could potentially cause a pandemic.
Isn’t it also noteworthy that, since the emergence of Covid, Chinese virologists have tested more than 80,000 animals on farms, in markets and in the wild in a so far abortive attempt to find the intermediary creature?
The WHO investigative team, presided over as it was by interfering Chinese officials and comprising several members who seemed predisposed to favour China, was obviously wholly inadequate. There must be a proper inquiry.
Yet it seems unlikely Beijing will allow one. It has reacted with hysterical intransigence to President Biden’s ordering intelligence agencies to produce a report on the leak theory.
Last Thursday, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian — a pretty rough customer who shoots from the hip — repeated the WHO formula that it was ‘extremely unlikely’ the virus had come from a laboratory in Wuhan.
Zhao said: ‘[The U.S.’s] one aim is to use the pandemic to pursue stigmatisation and political manipulation to shift the blame.
They are being disrespectful to science, irresponsible to people’s lives, and counterproductive to concerted global efforts to fight the virus.’
A team of World Health Organisation (WHO) scientists, who were shepherded around Wuhan by over-protective Chinese officials at the beginning of the year, announced that a laboratory leak was ‘extremely unlikely’, and would not be investigated any further. Pictured: Chinese President Xi Jinping [File photo]
What tripe. Beijing is evidently terrified of a rigorous inquiry. Why? If it has nothing to hide — if, as its officials claim, the virus really did jump from an animal to humans — why won’t it allow independent experts to have full access to original data and samples?
Innocent people don’t normally resist investigation into their affairs. China’s refusal to allow outsiders to conduct a sensible inquiry will only increase suspicions its repressive government is harbouring secrets of which it is ashamed.
Yet the truth is that unless outsiders are given unfettered access, we will probably never know for sure whether the virus was transmitted by animals to humans, or whether it was accidentally leaked from the laboratory.
Without this knowledge, a repeat of this dreadful pandemic is more probable in the foreseeable future. In other words, if scientists don’t discover what caused this outbreak, we are less likely to be able to prevent another.
By stubbornly refusing to open itself up to examination, the Chinese regime is therefore threatening the wellbeing of the rest of humanity. If it continues along this path, it will no longer be regarded as a country with whom the West can do business. It will be seen as a rogue state.
It is inconceivable that a China which ignores Western interests by blocking a comprehensive and unbiased investigation could be allowed to make future investments in this country.
Remember that the Chinese state nuclear company has a third share in the construction of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset, and hopes to play a major role in the construction of two reactors at a planned nuclear power station in Essex.
The Chinese Communist Party has been allowed to embed itself in our most prestigious academic institutions. That will have to be reversed, in Britain as in the U.S., if Beijing insists on pulling down the shutters on the origins of Covid.
Beijing fears the embarrassment of an honest study of what happened in Wuhan. The West must make it clear that, if China continues to bury the truth, she will end up paying an even greater price.