NEW DELHI: The pressure on China to prove that Covid-19 did not originate in a Wuhan lab and leaked from there has ratcheted up following a call by US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.
Fauci is now urging China to release medical records of nine people, including three who had taken ill with Covid-19 symptoms before China officially declared the outbreak of the pandemic, according to a Financial Times report. The three patients had worked in the WIV, a US intelligence report quoted by The Wall Street Journal had said.
Is COVID Lab-Leak in Wuhan?
Analysts say that the occurrence of Covid-19 among its personnel before the officially declared outbreak if established will further strengthen suspicions that the pandemic originated in the WIV and leaked from there.
"I would like to see the medical records of the three people who are reported to have got sick in 2019. Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick with?" the FT report said.
Chinese scientists and officials have rejected the lab leak theory. They have, instead, argued that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic could have been present in some other locations before reaching Wuhan. They have also asserted that the virus may have entered China through shipment of imported frozen food, or even via wildlife trading.
Meanwhile, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added another twist to the mystery of the Covid-19 origin by asserting that not only the Chinese, but sections of the US officialdom are also resisting a full and transparent investigation. According to the Epoch Times, Pompeo confirmed to the website on June 3 that his efforts to get to the bottom of origins of the virus met with sustained opposition within the US government.
The cause of that resistance was revealed on Thursday by The Vanity Fair. The magazine reported that key officials deep within the State Department sought to keep the public from knowing that US funds had supported gain-of-function research at the WIV. In plain-language gain-of-function research refers to experiments to enhance the ability of dangerous animal viruses to infect people.
Elaborating on the US collaboration with the WIV, the article points out that the gain-of-function research was partially funded as far back as 2012 through the National Institutes of Health in the US and a non-profit foundation known as the EcoHealth Alliance. The Vanity Fair analysis "found that conflicts of interest, stemming in part from large government grants supporting controversial virology research, hampered the US investigation into Covid-19's origin at every step."
Separately an article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has identified Shi Zheng-li as a nodal researcher at WIV, who was engaged in gain-of-function experiments. The write-up points out that Shi had earlier collaborated with coronavirus researcher Ralph S Baric. In November 2015 the duo created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV).
Baric currently works as the distinguished professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Gillings School.
Shi is well-known in her circles as "Bat lady," because of her frequent visits to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China. From there she collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses. Though it cannot be authoritatively proved that Shi did or did not generate SARS-CoV-2 in her lab because her records have been sealed, she certainly was on the right track to have done so, the article said. (IANS)